‘Old Henry’ Star Tim Blake Nelson Discusses Honing His Gun Skills

by Allison Hambrick
Photo by Jared Siskin/Getty Images for Netflix

Old Henry actor Tim Blake Nelson revealed that his approach to using a gun in the film differed from previous films he starred in. He emphasized the importance of catering use of a firearm to the mentality of the user.

“I had done Buster Scruggs,” Nelson told Deadline. “And spent a good six months training with pistol tricks for that movie. It certainly familiarized me with the gun, with the same sort of pistol, a .45 revolver from the turn of the century, that I was going to use in Old Henry. And yet, at the same time, the character’s dispositions and attitudes toward the gun were completely different, because Buster Scruggs sees the gun as an extension of performance, and Henry sees it as a laconically lethal tool.”

In Old Henry, Nelson doesn’t play an overconfident outlaw. Rather, the O Brother, Where Art Thou actor plays a repressed father, trying to protect his son. As a result, Nelson felt the character wouldn’t relish in shooting at others.

“He wants to minimize its use, rather than demonstrate its use,” he continued. “When he shoots, he needs it to count, and he uses it with regret ultimately, in the film. When he is done, he tosses it away, which was something very deliberate that Potsy and I came up with. So, while I had a lot of training with the pistol, I also had to relearn how to use it, because the relationship was utterly different. That was great, and I luckily had a lot of time to do that.”

Why Nelson Chose to Star in Old Henry

In the same interview, Nelson unpacked why Old Henry appealed to him. The actor, like the lead character, is a father. Though while his character has one son, Nelson has three. Because he himself is a father, he found the film’s perspective on fatherhood compelling.

“I think (director) Potsy (Ponciroli) really got two really essential aspects of parenthood,” explained Nelson. “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.”

This role allowed Nelson to look inward and think hard about his approach to parenting. Additionally, the actor appreciated having the opportunity, especially with a director who understood parenthood.

“In one case you’re extending childhood, which is a good thing, to a degree,” the actor continued. “But in the other case, you’re teaching them how to deal with life’s challenges, and one is always struggling as a parent, with that balance. I felt that Potsy examined that, in a sensitive, tender and knowing way.”

“It was exciting for me, to get to rehearse that every day, playing this role,” Nelson stated.