Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tim Blake Nelson Breaks Character for 'Big Miracle'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tim Blake Nelson Breaks Character for 'Big Miracle'

Article excerpt


There's a trick to the character actor's trade. And Tim Blake Nelson, who has been the good guy ("The Incredible Hulk"), the bad guy ("Holes," "Hoot"), the stoner ("The Good Girl," "Leaves of Grass") or the rube ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?") will share it with you:

"You never want to take on a character that they could cut from the film and not have it make a difference."

An Oklahoma native, Mr. Nelson has played more than his share of slow-speaking, sometimes slow-witted drawlers on the big screen. He can thank, or blame, the Coen brothers for that.

"They saw my movie [based on his play] 'Eye of God' and cast me in 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?'"

But in his latest film, "Big Miracle," he plays the smartest guy in the room. He's the wildlife biologist who explains whales and the arctic to the media and other "cheechakos" (Alaskan for "naive newcomer") in a movie about those three stranded-under-the-ice whales that the world came together to save back in 1988. Think of his character as the Jeff Goldblum of the movie -- the guy who explains the science.

"I didn't think of myself as 'The Explainer,' but I'm pretty happy to serve that function," Mr. Nelson, 47, said from Los Angeles. "It's myopic of me, but I love getting the chance to play a smart, articulate character who is close to the real me. Normally, I'm asked to play more outlandish and extravagant guys."

He certainly is. But the real Tim Blake Nelson is a graduate of Julliard, the Jewish son of a geologist father social activist mom, a playwright, screenwriter and director. He's a writer and actor with an eye and an ear for the outrageous. Check out the little- seen dark comedy he wrote, directed and co-starred in (with Edward Norton and Keri Russell), "Leaves of Grass." It's about an Ivy League Latin professor, his pot-dealing twin brother and a poetry teacher with a thing for Walt Whitman. It reveals Mr. Nelson's gift - - "He never condescends to his articulate redneck characters," as the New York Post put it. …

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