Richard Linklater on Living With Bernie Tiede

Bernie Richard Linklater

The Austin filmmaker opens up about his friendship with the now ex-con subject of his 2012 movie 'Bernie.'

Less than two months ago, a judge in Panola County, Texas, ordered the early release of Bernie Tiede, the now-55-year-old convicted murderer played by Jack Black in Richard Linklater’s 2012 dark comedy, “Bernie.” One of the conditions: that Tiede live in Linklater’s garage apartment.

“It got reported strangely,” the director admits. “There were headlines like ‘Judge Orders Murderer to Live With Filmmaker.’ There were jokes immediately on the Internet, like ‘Zodiac Killer Crashing at Fincher’s.’

“Austin’s kind of a garage-apartment town, so it’s not a big deal for me to let Bernie live there while he gets back on his feet,” he continues. “(But it sounded) almost as if the judge had said, ‘OK, you Austin liberal, you want to let him out, well, fine. But he’s got to live with you!”

What didn’t get reported immediately was the fact that Tiede’s release marked the culmination of a roughly two-year concerted effort by Linklater and others — chiefly Danny Buck Davidson, the district attorney who prosecuted Tiede for the 1996 murder of his 81-year-old companion, Marjorie Nugent, in the East Texas town of Carthage. Their goal: to reduce Tiede’s sentence to time served (17 years) in light of new facts dug up by Jodi Cole, a local attorney who became intrigued by the case after seeing “Bernie” and discussing it with Linklater at the film’s Austin premiere.

A psychiatrist’s report revealed that Tiede had experienced sexual abuse as a child, a detail that considerably impacted Davidson’s view of the motive for the crime. The report stated Tiede’s history left him vulnerable to unhealthy relationships, bearing out the notion that Nugent’s psychological hold on him had pushed him over the edge.

“My whole point in the movie was this: Can the nicest guy in the world actually be capable (of murder)?” says Linklater, who befriended Tiede while researching the film. “The answer is yes. So anybody who’s too sure of their own behavior … given the wrong relationship, who knows what anyone’s capable of?”

In looking back at what he calls a “fascinating, fascinating case,” the director reserves particular praise for Davidson (played in the film by Matthew McConaughey) for having the courage to reverse his stance once the full facts came to light.

“This is Texas justice,” Linklater says. “(Davidson) didn’t have to do that, but I always sensed he was a good guy.”

One of the case’s lingering ironies is that Davidson just can’t seem to win, partly due to shifting local opinion on the matter of Tiede’s innocence. While the district attorney was widely hated at the time for prosecuting a beloved fixture of his community (borne out in “Bernie,” which presents its subject as the most charming and sympathetic widow-killer imaginable), he has now been lambasted by those who believe Tiede should serve out his full sentence.

As for Tiede, Linklater says he has a therapist, a steady job as a paralegal, and a bicycle (a gift from his new neighbors), and is doing well, although he’s understandably keeping a low profile. And no, he hasn’t yet seen the movie that ended up playing a significant role in his release.

“It’s not like the guy got off or anything,” Linklater says. “Seventeen years is 17 years.”

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  1. Carol Chilton says:

    Who cares where Bernie Tiede lives I’m just glad he’s out of jail…. 17 years was way too long for him to serve for relieving the world of a mean mean person that hurt more people than just him!! not that I think murder is okay.. I do not !! It says in the Bible “Thy shall not kill” and I’m sure God makes no exceptions but lordy … that woman was mean😨

  2. Michael B. says:

    Richard Linklater does not live with Bernie Tiede. Bernie lives with Linklater’s sometimes girlfriend and his twin daughters. Linklater has a separate home in downtown Austin away from his family. He only spends one night per year at home and one vacation per year per his arrangement with his children’s mother. Just because a director tells his story, doesn’t mean he’s telling the truth. He stuck his kids and lady with Bernie. Richard Linklater never has and never will live with Bernie Tiede.

  3. Dr. Cathy Marston says:

    As a battering survivor and advocate for incarcerated battered women who defended themselves and their kids, I am appalled at the attention given to this cold-blooded killer with no evidence that he defended himself. If Linklater or anyone else wants to make a film, how about making it about how Texas police arrest battered women instead of their male batterers at 6 times the national rate, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence. There are women who’ve been in prison for 25 years after being recommended for pardons by TCFV via SCR 26. Men arrested on DV offenses only are incarcerated on .1% of cases b/c of misogyny like this.

    • Steve says:

      You sound like the usual Austin Liberal Scum ! Close your hole !

    • Michael B. says:

      Not only that, but Linklater isn’t honest with the public. I live in Austin, know the family, and know that almost nothing he says in the media is true. Bernie Tiede lives with the mother of Linklater’s children and his children. Linklater has a place downtown where he lives by himself.

  4. Ali Rich says:

    I hope this will eventually turn into the Bernie sequel. Linklater’s a stand-up guy and not merely our best independent filmmaker.

  5. TJM says:

    Went to college with Bernie. He is a very sweet guy who did all he could to help anyone out. Sympathies and prayers for the Nugent family but also prayers for Bernie.

    • Ash says:

      I don’t know Bernie personally but after seeing the movie I did some research on the case and reached out to people that worked on the case so I’d have an idea of what his character really was and from my understanding he really was a great person. People can only take so much and people tend to walk all over those that are kindhearted.. It’s a shame when people like that are rare. I’m glad Bernie got a second shot at life!

  6. Reblogged this on The Burden of Empathy by James Jackson and commented:
    This is it’s own movie, I got mad respect for Linklater now.

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