VENICE — The first time Tim Blake Nelson went to the Venice Film Festival was three years in the past, as one in every of the featured gamers in the western anthology “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. As Nelson quickly discovered, trailing these filmmakers round Venice can open an countless variety of doorways.
“Traveling to a film festival with the Coens is a completely different experience than traveling with any other movie,” mentioned Nelson, whose breakout position got here in “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” additionally directed by the Coen brothers. “It’s like being associated with Picasso or Matisse.”
This 12 months, Nelson is at Venice to help “Old Henry,” a western he’s starring in. It’s a a lot smaller film than “Buster Scruggs” — Nelson has even described “Old Henry” as a “micro western” — and it comes from Potsy Ponciroli, a younger filmmaker who’s nonetheless incomes his spurs. That means Nelson is shouldering a lot extra accountability than he did throughout his first journey to the pageant.
“We’re on a completely different stratum,” Nelson mentioned. “I think this might be one of the lowest-budget movies ever to premiere in Venice! This is a very small movie, and it’s kind of extraordinary that we’re here next to ‘Dune.’”
But modesty works in the film’s favor: “Old Henry” is a solid-as-a-rock western that, because it goes on, gently suggests it’s about greater than you’d anticipated. In a uncommon main position, Nelson performs Henry, a widowed farmer dwelling on a small patch of land in the Oklahoma territory. It’s 1906, and Henry’s teenage son, Wyatt (Gavin Lewis), is anxious to hunt journey, go away the farm, and wrest himself from the grip of his overprotective father.
But journey finds them as an alternative when Henry and Wyatt occur upon a practically useless cowboy and his pouch full of money. When Henry brings each again to his farm, it isn’t lengthy earlier than a sinister gunslinger (Stephen Dorff) comes sniffing round for that bounty. And in the standoff that follows, possibly father and son will come to study extra about one another than both was anticipating.
“As an actor who’s 57 years old and has been doing this a long time, there’s something incredibly exciting about being associated with a younger filmmaker who’s created something very special,” Nelson mentioned Monday night time at da Ivo, a Venice restaurant that had been really useful to him by his “O Brother” co-star George Clooney, who held his bachelor get together there.
For a supporting participant like Nelson, who just lately appeared in HBO’s “Watchmen,” main roles like the one in “Old Henry” are few and much between. Still, Nelson is humble about the promotion. If something, it simply means he’s taking over extra accountability to get the movie seen.
“It’s tricky because when you’re a character actor who’s been in a lot of movies, people tend to inflate your value,” mentioned Nelson. “They think, ‘Oh, if he’s in my movie, then I can get financing or critical attention.’ They’re actually wrong, because there are a lot of character actors out there. I always say that I’m not some sort of magic bullet.”
And although the movies at Venice are dominated by stars like Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya and Penélope Cruz, who can earn headlines merely for what they put on on the purple carpet, Nelson harbors no such illusions.
“I’m wearing an outfit picked out by my wife,” Nelson advised me, tugging at the lapel of his black jacket. “Because I forgot to pack two blazers, we actually bought this jacket today, two blocks away from here.”
So, sure, Tim Blake Nelson is headlining a film at one in every of the most glamorous movie festivals on earth, however no, he doesn’t return to his room at the Hotel Excelsior to seek out a free Tom Ford tuxedo despatched over by a stylist.
“I wish!” he mentioned, laughing. “That’d be great. But you know, I don’t say this disingenuously: Nobody’s ever sent me any suits. And there were no offers for this. None.”
Nelson grinned. “I’m not complaining,” he mentioned. “It’s just, we’re a bit of a minnow.”