Old Henry‘s Tim Blake Nelson discussed why he took on the role of the reclusive frontiersman, as well as why he typically prefers supporting roles. In an interview with Deadline, he said he found the director’s take on fatherhood interesting. The actor is a father of three boys.
“I think (director) Potsy (Ponciroli) really got two really essential aspects of parenthood,” said 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.”
In the film, the titular character lives in seclusion with only his son for company. He is pushed, however, to open up after an encounter with an injured stranger. A central focus of the film is the relationship between the father and son, which Nelson enjoyed contemplating.
“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.”
Additionally, Nelson addresses his past as largely a character actor–a conscious decision on his part.
Old Henry Star Discusses Previous Supporting Roles
“I think who and what I am, is a self-selective phenomenon,” Nelson said. “And usually that’s going to put me in supporting roles. Unless the filmmaker has a peculiar take on life. What’s lucky for me is, those are the films in which I most want to appear. I’m not going to end up the lead in a cookie-cutter movie. But I’d rather play the interesting supporting roles in larger movies, and be given leads in more interesting movies, even if they’re smaller.”
In the past, Nelson has played mostly quirky characters. Perhaps his most iconic role was in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, alongside George Clooney, John Turturro, and John Goodman. That film was a loose adaptation of The Odyssey. He played one of three escaped inmates who end up finding musical success as one of them attempts to reclaim his home life. Interestingly, Nelson was the only lead who sang his own parts in the film.
That isn’t to say Nelson has never headlined a film before Old Henry. The actor did star in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which shared the same directors as O Brother, Where Art Thou?. However, as far as big-budget studio films go, Nelson is happy to stay in his wheelhouse.
“I’d love to imagine a world in which a mainstream movie would dare to have me as its lead,” the actor stated. “But I don’t think that’s realistic, and so I’ve got to count on people like Potsy, or the Coens with Buster Scruggs, to want me to headline their movies, with off-center characters.”
“You are who you are, and there’s only so much you can do to change that,” Nelson added. “I’m certainly not going to go get any surgical augmentation, and I don’t want to do roles that don’t interest me, and so I’ve got to count on people like Potsy to think I’m the right guy for their lead, and thankfully, usually in that case, it’s going to be an interesting project.”