Tim Blake Nelson first heard about “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” in 2002, when Joel and Ethan Coen handed him a short script about a cheerful, singing cowboy who often finds himself in violent situations. The filmmaking siblings told him it was one of several western stories that “would be written over the years.” But it wasn’t until 2016 that the final five vignettes were completed and assembled into a feature-length script. Watch our exclusive video interview with Nelson above.
As the titular Buster, Nelson gets to sing, dance and kill on his journeys through the Wild West. But he doesn’t see the character as a villain. “As an actor, you learn early on that you’ve got to advocate for your character,” he explains. “Mostly that means figuring out how your character always feels justified in what he does. I think Buster Scruggs lives by a code, and he’d be a fantastic friend, but you don’t want to be his enemy. So I could never think of him as a psychopath or a sociopath. I had to think of him as a guy who never threatens first.”
Nelson previously collaborated with the Coens on “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000). Although they’ve worked together on several other side projects, this is their first movie since then. “There’s a shorthand now,” he reveals about his work with the filmmakers. “My relationship with them feels deeper, richer, more meaningful. I didn’t imagine this was possible because I was so grateful to be given the role in ‘O Brother’ and trusted with that, but I’m even more grateful now.” The difference this time around was that he made sure he “enjoyed thoroughly the experience of shooting ‘Buster Scruggs’ every day.”
Nelson won Album of the Year at the Grammys as an artist on the “O Brother” soundtrack. He has also appeared in such films as “The Thin Red Line” (1998), “The Good Girl” (2002), “Minority Report” (2002), and “Lincoln” (2012). And additionally he’s the director of such titles as “Eye of God” (1997), “O” (2001), and “The Grey Zone” (2001).
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