Will Forte is known for his wild comic screams, but in the new film Run & Jump, he's heartbreakingly quiet.
In the recently released movie—which Forte made before he starred in Alexander Payne's award-winning Nebraska—Forte plays Ted, a researcher come to observe Conor (Edward MacLiam), the patriarch of an Irish family recovering from a stroke. Ted aims to be an impartial observer, an invisible wallflower, but soon becomes a member of the family, and, at times, a surrogate for Conor, who has become enigmatic and childlike, fixating on animals. Forte manages to capture Ted's inner warmth, even as the character attempts to keep his professional distance. The budding romance between him and Conor's wife Vanetia (Maxine Peake) is sweet and never veers into soap opera territory.
The fact that Run & Jump and Nebraska happened to come out in succession, was simply happenstance, Forte told us in an interview last week, but together they show someone both learning and coming into his own as a dramatic actor. Of course, he also explained that he's not going to stop all the comedy that might embarrass his family.
A lot of people are saying Nebraska’s your first dramatic role, but you filmed this before right?
Yeah. I did this in Ireland. We finished it about three months before I went out to Nebraska.
How did you get involved in this little Irish movie?
The director, Steph Green, approached me about it. I don’t know why she thought about me for this role, but she somehow had me in mind for it. At that point it really kind of came out of the blue. I read the script and thought it was great. It just seemed so different I just thought: what the heck, why not? Go to Ireland have this really fun experience. I had no idea if I could do it or not, but she was much more confident that I could do it than I was and she eventually won me over with that confidence. It just was really really a wonderful experience.
In that period, did you ask Steph "Why me?"
I did ask her why. She knows my agent and I think just got some kind of list of clients at the agency and for one reason or another picked me off that list. You would have to ask her. I still don’t know. I’m happy she did. Had I read the script I know I would have loved the story, but I don’t know if I would have said, “Oh yeah, I would be totally right for this role. “ So just the fact that she came to me. That definitely was the only reason I did it. I would have never even thought to try out for it.
Can you talk about approaching this character Ted, since it came out of the blue for you? He’s such a quiet character, which I feel like has elements of your character in Nebraska.
It’s very interesting. When I read Nebraska, I loved the story and the character made a lot of sense in my brain. It felt like: oh I know exactly who this person is. It just made sense to me. When I read Run & Jump, I loved the story, but I didn’t really know what she wanted from the character and it wasn’t so clear from reading the script. There’s a lot of subtlety. So it really was this process of getting together with Steph and figuring out what she was looking for, and also, because it was the first time I was doing this kind of role. I was constantly questioning how I was doing in my head, and it took a while to get comfortable. Once I did, it was really really just an amazing experience.
What was going to Ireland like? Did the setting help your thoughts about the movie and your character and these people?
There were positives and negatives to doing it Ireland. The negative was just being so far away from family and friends. It was really scary. It was such a new experience. My phone didn’t really work out there. So I was just completely all alone. The first week I just thought, why did I do this? I felt like I was doing a really bad job. I’m used to comedy so it’s kind of easier to gage how you think you’re doing. When I was out there, I just had time to go to worst case scenarios in my head, when all along I was doing fine, but I just drive myself crazy. Steph would be nice and say, “Oh that was really good,” but in my head I would say, “oh she’s just saying that. I did a horrible job.” Then after a while you just keep doing it and feeling better about stuff.
The positives far outweighed the negatives. The positive of doing it in Ireland. First of all, just this amazing experience in a place I had only spent three days before production. And being in Ireland I felt this safety and privacy for some reason. I felt I was just so far away from home. You feel like, if I’m really horrible at this, it will just kind of stay here in Ireland. Which probably is not the case. But in my head. It gave me this real security blanket feeling of being able to try this new thing.
Did that element of confidence help you during Nebraska? Nebraska definitely has more of a comic thread running through it than Run & Jump, which had me sobbing.
Absolutely. Doing Run & Jump first was such a valuable experience. I was still very nervous going into Nebraska because with Steph, she is amazing, but this was her first feature so I felt like we’re kind of in the same boat. We’re both experiencing these firsts. Alexander Payne is somebody I’ve been a fan of for years and years. He’s got such a proven track record. I was still able to get quite nervous going in there. It was just such a different thing. It was a very valuable experience getting to do this with Steph. She is amazing. She helped really fill me up with confidence and she taught me how to act. That’s such an amazing part of it. What I didn’t realize is that, oh the way this movie turned out, she did such an amazing job and I’m so proud of this movie. I got all these different things that were wonderful positives. And getting to live in Ireland for a couple months and have that experience, and then to top it off the movie gets put together and turns out to be this beautiful movie that you’re really proud of. Every part of it turned out to be a big blessing.
Has doing Run & Jump and Nebraska rubbed off on comedy performances for you at all, at least the way you think about them?
Well, you know, I don’t know because I haven’t really done any comedy stuff since then because we’ve been promoting Nebraska so much and we’re just kind of getting to the point where those obligations are loosening up a little, and I finally will have some time to think about the next job. I can’t see how it couldn’t affect you. Everything in life becomes a part of who you are and what you do, and so I’m sure it will shift it in someway. I’ll still embarrass my family. We’re going to try to do MacGruber 2. So my parents thought that after getting this Nebraska experience and Run & Jump, all these respectable jobs, that I’d probably try to put this other disgusting humor stuff behind. No luck for the Fortes. I’ll go back to embarrassing the family name again.
I don’t know if you saw but there was a supercut of you screaming online?
Oh! I did! Somebody sent that to me.
I thought that was so funny because especially in Run & Jump it’s such a quiet character, and then you can look that up.
I know, it’s really funny. What an experience to get to try two things that were so different. It’s so crazy that they were back to back. That is not part of some plan. Run & Jump was in the works several years ago and then there were some financing issues so it got pushed to the point that it happened to back up against Nebraska. Some people because of how close I did them made it seem as if it was a plan to leave comedy for drama. It just kind of happened like that. It was not an orchestrated plan.
So I have to ask. June Squibb: cool person or coolest person?
Oh my God. June is a delight. Nebraska was such a fun experience because I got to work with all these people who have so much experience, but also don’t have attitudes about it. They just are so helpful and nurturing and just passing on these pearls of wisdom. It just was amazing. She’s so awesomely delightful. And nothing like the character she plays in the movie. Real sweet delightful person.
One of the things about your comedy characters is their willingness to go out there from MacGruber to Paul on 30 Rock. Both of the dramatic roles are so restrained. They are people that have chosen to keep their emotions hidden. I was wondering if that was a challenge for you or whether you were thinking about that?
Yes and no. The characters in both Nebraska and Run & Jump are way closer to who I am in my normal life. I’m kind of shy, believe it or not. I'm not shy. I don’t have a problem with talking with people, and I can obviously be in front of large groups of people. Those characters are way closer to who I am in real life. So that’s the positive side of it, it’s closer to who you are. The hard part of that is you feel very vulnerable acting kind of like yourself. When you’re accessing these emotions that people don’t normally get to see except for your family members and, like, girlfriend. It takes a while to get used to exposing yourself. You feel like you’re giving away some of your secrets. That was the main thing, that it took a while to get used to. You bring up MacGruber. I did some crazy stuff in that movie, but all that stuff’s easy because that’s MacGruber doing it. It’s so big and crazy that I can say, oh well people know that I would never do that stuff in real life. It’s so over the top. Or like Paul in 30 Rock, there are so many fun things, but I’m dressed as a woman. There’s something slightly unnerving about just acting like a normal person
Run & Jump is out in select theaters and available on iTunes.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.