But at a Saturday screening for the SAG nominating committee, nothing was muted: The film played like gangbusters, with enthusiasm for all the other actors as well (which is important, not only in SAG voting but in the large actors’ branch in the Academy). And in a Q&A afterwards, the audience applauded enthusiastically when the actors (Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb and Stacy Keach) enthused about the work of director Alexander Payne, scripter Bob Nelson, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael and casting director John Jackson, who spent eight months in the Midwest looking for the right faces.
Dern (who got a standing ovation when he entered for the Q&A) said some directors push actors, but Payne pointed out to him that there were 80 crew members on the set, and 41 of them had worked on all of his previous films. Dern said it was immediately clear this was a family and a comfortable environment and Payne said “I’ve made it free for you to dare to risk on every take.”
Audience members expressed admiration with Forte’s range; he said Nelson’s script “was such a beautiful template.” Even though he’s been working for years, even doing comedy scenes in the past where he was nearly naked, “this was the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt. It was pretty terrifying.”
Squibb said she grew up in Illinois and “I knew these people. Boy, did I ever.” She said there’s a lot of her mother in her performance as Dern’s wife. She praised the black and white cinematography, saying that Papamichael and the director totally caught the mood and look of the Midwest.
Keach said Payne “He’s a special, special director. He’s like a conductor. He gives us the freedom to express ourselves.”
The Q&A was conducted by Deadline’s Pete Hammond.