Bruce Dern: ‘Why Would I Retire? So James Caan Can Get the Part?’

Bruce Dern
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Bruce Dern honored by Alexander Payne, Quentin Tarantino at AFI Fest Tribute

At Nov. 11’s AFI Fest tribute to Bruce Dern at the Chinese, “Nebraska” director Alexander Payne issued an ambitious forecast for the year 2163.

“People will still be talking about him 150 years from now,” the director asserted.

The tribute started with an assemblage of clips and a valentine from Quentin Tarantino, who directed Dern in “Django Unchained,” and highlighted Dern’s ability to make any role utterly his own — “You can tell him ‘Give me a Dernsie,'” he added.

“If you look at Bruce Dern’s filmography, it exemplifies hard work,” Tarantino said.

Dern discussed his career with Leonard Maltin for half an hour, recapping work with Elia Kazan, John Wayne and Alfred Hitchcock. “One of the great advantages my generation had was working with legends… They were bigger than life,” he said.

In 1972, Dern played the killer of John Wayne’s character in “The Cowboys” and recalled that Wayne warned him, “America will hate you for this.” Dern retorted, “Yeah, but they’ll love me in Berkeley.”

Dern said he benefited from a profound shift in Hollywood four decades ago. “The conventional leading man was not as popular in the 70s,” he noted. “They started paying attention to the guys on the edge.”

Dern also praised Payne particularly for enabling his portrayal of the cantankerous Woody Grant in “Nebraska.”

“He gets it better than anyone I’ve worked with,” Dern said. “He told me, ‘Don’t show us anything — let me find it’ — and tried to find a way to never let them see you act.”

Dern won the best actor award after “Nebraska” premiered at Cannes but indicated he’s unconcerned about further trophies, adding, “I won the minute I got the god damned part.”

Dern, 77, also asserted that he has no plans to retire and recalled being quizzed about that possibility seven years ago: “I told them, ‘Why would I retire? So James Caan can get the part?'”

SAG-AFTRA hosted a post-screening bash at the Hollywood Roosevelt.

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