Does Will Forte have a master plan? Just when it looked like MacGruber could be his box office epitaph, the 43-year-old former Saturday Night Live star surprised many with his now-celebrated serious turn in the Oscar nominated Nebraska. With the Blu-ray & DVD out this week and the Academy Awards taking place Sunday night, Will talks to ETonline about how he earned the attention of Nebraska director Alexander Payne, who he'll take as a date to The Oscars and what he'll wear (he's a self-proclaimed "idiot" when it comes to dressing himself for events) -- and whether or not there really is a master plan…
ETonline: Congratulations on all of the success that Nebraska has brought you, I think it's so well-deserved. Given the fact that you're known for such broad humor, how did you land the role?
Will Forte: Oh, thank you very much! I really appreciate it. I had to audition for it… [Alexander] will look at anybody. He's so open in the casting process, he'll look at anybody's tape -- actor, non-actor, he'll look at anything. … I put myself on tape doing a couple of scenes. … It didn't feel like I did an embarrassingly bad job, so I thought, 'Oh, what the heck, I'll send it in!' … I didn't hear anything for about four-and-a-half months, just assumed that nothing had come from it – just didn't think about it -- and then I heard that he liked it enough to call me in in person. He didn't even know who I was. I don't think he had any ideas of anything that I had done. That could only work in my favor, I guess.
ETonline: Was there a master plan to transition from MacGruber-like antics to dramatic roles?
Will: It was not like an overall plan to go into drama. I mean, I'm never closed off to anything situation. I would be open to try anything, really.
ETonline: You're actually in another film with a dramatic role, Run & Jump, that was in limited release last month. Was that filmed before or after Nebraska, and did your performance on either film affect the other in terms of casting?
Will: Not really. Run & Jump came around about two years before Nebraska … It's this little tiny Irish drama … for some reason [director Steph Green] came to me to see if I wanted to do one of the parts in Run & Jump, and that was the thing where I thought, 'Oh jeez, why not? It seems like a really fun experience. I've never tried a drama like this before. What the heck?' It's fun to live for two months in Ireland, too, so I went out there. But then there were some financing problems with the movie, so we had to wait for a long time for it to actually get its financing together, and then the Nebraska situation came around, and it ended it up that Run & Jump happened, and then I had a month and a half off, then started on Nebraska, so it seemed much more like this concerted effort to move into drama when it just kind of just happened.
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ETonline: Throughout all of his films, from About Schmidt and Sideways to The Descendants and now Nebraska, Alexander elicits great performances from his actors. What's the secret recipe?
Will: He is amazing, and I'm a huge fan of his. I was definitely nervous and I was intimidated because he is just an amazing director. He gets that script and he knows exactly what he wants to do with the movie, so that's wonderful because there's this confidence to him. You feel very safe as an actor working with a director like that because you know that he's not going to move on until he gets what he wants, so as a result the set is very relaxed… And he's such a gifted writer. In the case of Nebraska, Bob Nelson wrote the script – this was the first movie that Alexander made in which he didn't write or co-write the script -- and so he really gets the script to a place where it's totally ready to go. … It's still hard work and it was very nerve-wracking for me, but he just puts you in a position to succeed, and creates the perfect environment to succeed. (laughs) That was a very round-about way to answer that question, I'm sorry. The coffee's still kind of working its way to my brain.
ETonline: No worries – it's something that clearly is more involved than summing it up in a sound bite. Are you starting to calculate your next move, now that you have all this attention in terms of playing serious roles? Or are you like, if the script is good, you'll dive in if it's good?
Will: I've never planned anything out and it's somehow kind of worked out (laughs). I guess the main thing is I love to write also, and that's been a real blessing for me because before I was acting I was a writer for sitcoms, and so I love that side of the business too, writing, so it gives me an extra little cushion that actors don't have the benefit of. I don't have to take anything just to make some money, because if I don't like something I can just hold off because I know that if it gets to it, I can just write for a while, so as a result I can just be a little pickier I guess. (laughs) It's funny that I say that, because you look at some of the things that I've done in my career and it doesn't seem like I've been a particularly picky person! But everything I've done, even from the stuff that seems like the craziest and weirdest, they're all good reasons I've done it, and everything's been a really fun or really valuable learning experience.
ETonline: Well, I stand proud as a MacGruber fan. That movie really cracked me up.
Will: (laughs) Now that one! That's one I'm very openly proud about. If people don't like that movie, then I think they're crazy.
ETonline: You've said that Nebraska is the first film you've made that your mom has been able to recommend to friends without losing them – pretty much because you don't run around naked in it.
Will: (laughs) Yeah, she lost a lot of friends through the MacGruber movie. She loves it. I love it. I'm really proud of MacGruber, but it had her friends scratching their heads a little bit.
ETonline: Well I told my mom, who is a big Saturday Night Live fan, about that infamous "celery" scene in MacGruber. I didn't necessarily recommend it – but I told her that she needs to be aware of it, because the pendulum swings both ways with Will Forte.
Will: (laughs) Yeah, that movie's definitely not for everybody. I'm not saying it is, but we made it to make ourselves laugh, and we crafted the movie we wanted to make.
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ETonline: You've got a big weekend coming up, with a Best Supporting Male nomination for Nebraska at the Indie Spirit Awards on Saturday, and then Nebraska's multiple noms including Best Picture at the Academy Awards on Sunday. Is this something you're excited about, nervous about? What's going to keep you focused?
Will: Well, it'll be fun because I get to go to the Spirit Awards and to the Oscars with my mom as my date. She's really fun to hang around with. We get along really well. And it will be incredibly fun. I've never gotten to be a part of something like this. I can't imagine how nervous I would be if I were nominated in one of the [top Oscar categories]. I'd be so nervous if, like, I had to potentially give a speech or something. I'm excited about all these wonderful people I got to work with being nominated, and so excited about the movie being nominated, but I actually just get to really watch and enjoy the [Oscar] show because there's no chance that I'll have to get up and give any kind of speech, so it's the perfect situation. But even so, I'm nervous. I just get anxious in those situations. I don't really love going to Hollywood parties and stuff like that.
ETonline: Is wardrobe a factor for you this weekend, or are you just going to wear that MacGruber vest?
Will: There is this wonderful lady named Ilaria Urbinati who just helps me make all clothing decisions. She's this wonderful stylist that Paramount hooked me up with because they know what an idiot I am with clothes (laughs), so that's the hugest thing right there. As long as I'm wearing something appropriate for each thing I'm totally fine.
ETonline: Well, thanks so much Will, pleasure to talk with you -- and best of luck.
Will: Yeah man, nice to talk to you. Say hi to your mom for me!