‘Old Henry’ Star Tim Blake Nelson Believes the Western Genre Will Never Die Out

by Josh Lanier
(Photo by Eric Stringer/FilmMagic)

Tim Blake Nelson thinks we keep reinventing western films because the genre has so much to say about the American experience. It’s something that he thinks will never change, either.

The actor stars in the new “elevated western” Old Henry. He said the new, smaller-budget western such as his movie or Power of the Dog are just the latest variation of a genre that’s been around as long as film has.

“I think our relationship to the Western is permanent,” Tim Blake Nelson told Deadline. “There’s never going to be a divorce. It will always be with us. I think it’s a quintessentially American genre, inside of a quintessentially American art form. The reason it’s so specific to America is that the Western deals with American westward expansion, and that’s because we’re a young country, tied up with the gun. As opposed to in Europe, where borders were drawn, mostly with swords and the mace. … Then you have the Western hero, who’s an individualist, and that again, I think is very American, because we are obsessed with individual rights here, as opposed to in Europe where it’s more of a collectivist approach.”

Nelson starred in O’ Brother Where Art Thou and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. He believes the idea of the lone cowboy fighting to survive on the rough-and-tumble Western plains speaks to all Americans in some way. That’s why every generation rediscovers the genre.

“So, you have the Western heroes, the individualists, tied up with the gun, in this art form, which is this popular art form, which was at least originally, mostly American film making,” he said. “That’s the Western, which of course came out of Western serials, which were books in the 19th century. … But then anyway, every generation reinvents the Western.”

Tim Blake Nelson Discusses His New Western ‘Old Henry’

Old Henry follows a farmer who helps a wounded man carrying a large amount of cash. Tim Blake Nelson stars as the titular Henry, who must keep the man and his money safe from robbers who will kill to take it.

But Nelson said that’s not what attracted him to the film. At its core, he said, Old Henry is a story about a father trying to raise his son the best way he can. Nelson thought the script nicely captured the push and pull every parent feels of wanting to protect their children while also preparing them for the real world.

“I think (director) Potsy (Ponciroli) really got two really essential aspects of parenthood: One is the desire for the healthy parent to want their offspring not to make the mistakes they did, and therefore, to be able to live a better and more healthy life; then, in the raising of kids, the tension that exists between wanting to protect them from the dangers and challenges of the world out there, and the desire to expose them to it,” Nelson told Deadline.