After being bestowed with the Chicago International Film Festival’s Career Achievement Award at the AMC River East Theatre on Wednesday, October 16, actor Bruce Dern walked the red carpet. Prior to the festival’s Centerpiece Presentation of Nebraska, directed by Academy Award winning director Alexander Payne, Mr. Dern talked to me about his connection to the Windy City.
“When I come back to Chicago, I think about what is 18 miles north of here – Winnetka and Glencoe,” says Mr. Dern, who was born and raised in Winnetka. “Thomas Wolfe once said, ‘You can’t go home again.’” That is to say, once you’ve lived in a big city, returning home to your small town (and, well, sometimes small minds) can be difficult. Mr. Dern explains, “But you must go home again, because it reminds you of what the folks before you, and with you, did in that house.” He adds, “Don’t avoid going home because of the emotions, or because of what you became. There is a scene in this movie [Nebraska] where we have to go through my old house. It is a good scene, I was very touched by it.”
Nebraska features a troubled relationship between a father and son. Reflecting on his own background, Mr. Dern discussed his family history – one with a privileged past. His grandfather Andrew MacLeish not only was a partner at Carson Pirie Scott & Co., but he was also one of the co-founders of the University of Chicago.
Hailing from Chicago’s North Shore, Mr. Dern shared one of his favorite pieces of trivia – his ‘six degrees of separation’ to F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. ”Of the top three most classic women ever, Ginevra King, dowager of Chicago society from the 1940s to the 1970s, is at the top of my list.” Ms. King, a Dern family friend, was part of an elite group of privileged women in Lake Forest. When Ms. King brought a young Fitzgerald home for Christmas one year, Mr. King took the aspiring author aside and told him to never contact his daughter again, ending the conversation with “Poor boys don’t marry rich girls.” Fitzgerald went on to loosely base the Daisy Fay Buchanan character on Ginevra King in his now classic book The Great Gatsby. And to add to the Gatsby/Dern connection, Mr. Dern eventually starred in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
And there is a family connection to director Alexander Payne of Nebraska – Mr. Dern’s daughter, actress Laura Dern, starred in Payne’s 1996 movie Citizen Ruth. The film garnered the actress critical acclaim as a drug-addled pregnant teen, acting alongside her real-life mother, Diane Ladd.
In May, earlier this year, Mr. Dern received the prestigious Best Actor award at Cannes Film Festival for his role in Nebraska. The 77-year old actor runs daily to keep in top physical shape. And, it is a good thing because after this award-winning role, there will be more roles…much more.