“When they called and told me that I was nominated, I was knocked out by it,” said Bruce Dern about his first Emmy nod in a five-decade career in both television and movies. “Sometimes you go to a set, you get the scenes with actors, and they’re there trying to win an award. I’m just there trying to deal with the humanity of the people we’re playing.”
Dern had the recurring role of Frank Harlow on “Big Love,” which ended its five-season run on HBO in March. Frank was the father of the main character Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and estranged husband of Lois (Grace Zabriskie). For the first few seasons, Lois was constantly trying to kill Frank herself or through other people, but the final season provided somewhat of a reconciliation due to her advancing dementia. “That was their (the producers) gift to us by letting us turn that corner, particularly me the last half of the last year,” added Dern in a video interview with senior editors Rob Licuria and Chris Beachum.
HBO has submitted the episode “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.” to the Emmy judging panel in the category of Best Drama Guest Actor, where Dern is up against three Emmy champs — Beau Bridges (“Brothers and Sisters”), Michael J. Fox (“The Good Wife”) and Robert Morse (“Mad Men”) — and two other first-time nominees — Jeremy Davies (“Justified”) and Paul McCrane (“Harry’s Law). The episode features a powerful scene between Frank and Bill as they fight over where Lois is going to live followed by a touching moment between Frank and Lois as she makes the move back home.
After television guest roles on such programs as “Route 66,” “Sea Hunt,” “The Outer Limits,” “Wagon Train,” “Rawhide,” “The Fugitive,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Bonanza,” Dern’s film career took off with the westerns “Hang ‘Em High,” “Support Your Local Sheriff,” and “The Cowboys,” where he famously shot and killed John Wayne‘s character Wil Andersen. Wayne had warned him during filming, “I told you they were going to hate you.”
Dern received his only Academy Award nomination for the 1978 Hal Ashby film “Coming Home,” which won lead acting Oscars for both Jon Voight and Jane Fonda. Dern as well as Richard Farnsworth (“Comes a Horseman”), John Hurt (“Midnight Express”), and Jack Warden (“Heaven Can Wait”) lost to Christopher Walken (“The Deer Hunter”).
His ex-wife Diane Ladd received three Oscar nods (“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” 1974; “Wild at Heart,” 1990; “Rambling Rose,” 1991), and daughter Laura Dern also gained a bid (“Rambling Rose,” 1991). They are the only parents and child to all earn Oscar nominations. The three of them also received stars next to each other on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this past November.
About the whole awards process, he revealed, “George C. Scott was always kind of a hero to me, because he passed on the whole thing. His theory was that it’s not a competition. If they’re going to have it, the nomination is the win.”