Tim Blake Nelson joins a Spielberg cast for a second time in "Lincoln"
BY MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2012
11/15/12 at 3:21 AM
With his appearance in "Lincoln," Tulsa's Tim Blake Nelson becomes one of the few actors to appear in multiple films (other than sequels) directed by Steven Spielberg, following his role in 2002's "Minority Report."
There are Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise and Richard Dreyfuss, all headliners of multiple Spielberg movies. Then there is Nelson and only a handful of other character actors who can claim to have been asked twice to appear in one of the Oscar-winner's motion pictures.
Nelson said in a recent telephone interview that he's fortunate the first opportunity worked out, as he made a demand that Spielberg's camp isn't accustomed to hearing.
"The way that it works with Steven (is that) you get called with an offer. You're told 'It's a good role, you'll like it, are you in or are you out?' " Nelson said. "When I got that call for 'Minority Report,' I suppose I had the hubris of youth - I was in my 30s at the time - because I said, 'I'm not taking it without reading the script.' "
This was more than a decade ago, but Nelson was already a veteran actor (the call came shortly after "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"), as well as a playwright and the director of films like "O" and "The Grey Zone."
His request to read the script was hardly unreasonable - but then, this was Spielberg.
"The person told me, 'That's not going to happen,' and I asked to speak with Steven, and the response was, 'Are you serious?' " Nelson said with a chuckle.
"It wasn't long (before) I received a call, and his assistant says Steven is calling, and after Steven tells me that he'd seen 'O Brother,' I said 'I am so honored that you want me to be a part of your movie, and, uh, gee, do you think I could read the script?' "
The script for "Minority Report" arrived, and Nelson read it and took the role - "Which I was probably going to do regardless," he admitted. Nelson knew to play it differently when he received the call for "Lincoln," one of this year's most anticipated films, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president of the U.S.
"The call came: 'Steven wants you to be in the film, and no, you can't read the script, but he assures you that it's a good role.' They were ready for me, and I knew that working with Steven again was something that I wanted to do," Nelson said. "It really meant a lot to me. He is a remarkable man, a kind of walking manual on how to make a movie in every respect."
Nelson's role is that of Richard Schell, and it's based on a real person who in the film works in concert with characters played by James Spader and John Hawkes in a profession that would essentially be an 1865 version of a trio of lobbyists.
"Lincoln" concentrates on January 1865, when the president had a month to gain enough votes for passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. There had been the Emancipation Proclamation, but freedom for slaves was not yet the law of the land - especially a land to include the South's seceded states following the Civil War's end.
In a move that will surprise many viewers but confirm that dealmaking and special interests have always been a part of the political process, Nelson and his collaborators play characters who go hunting for votes among members of Congress, armed with job offers and other perks being offered up to members of Congress.
"What really interested me was to be a part of this politically seedier side of the 13th Amendment's passage - and Lincoln knowing what those guys were going to do," said Nelson, who spent six weeks shooting in Virginia.
"Then there was the boldness and intelligence and brave honesty that (screenwriter Tony Kushner) and Steven had in making this portrait of Lincoln (and his) doing whatever it took, whether or not that meant (Lincoln) being willful, stubborn or arrogant."
As Nelson continues writing a new script at his New York home, he reflected on the epic achievement that Spielberg's film aspired to, and which he believes will result in Academy Award nominations - likely for best picture and most assuredly for Day-Lewis, who plays the president and who completely inhabits the role.
"His portrait is so sophisticated as to rival what George C. Scott did for 'Patton' and Gregory Peck did for Atticus Finch (in 'To Kill a Mockingbird')," Nelson said.
"This is a performance that will define for generations who and what Lincoln was, and to just be a part of that was really exciting."
Original Print Headline: Second term
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
From left, Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) meets with "The Gang of Three," Richard Schell (Tulsa native Tim Blake Nelson), Robert Latham (John Hawkes) and W.N. Bilbo (James Spader), in a scene from "Lincoln." DAVID JAMES / DreamWorks II Distribution Co. and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
Tim Blake Nelson speaks during a question and answer session during the TATE awards at the Lorton Performance Center in June. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World file