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NEBRASKA

The Veteran - Stacy Keach
"I'm a man with a real strong sense of right and wrong. And if Woody hit it rich, and I don't see any of it, that's wrong." -- Ed Pegram

When Woody arrives back home in Nebraska it isn't long before he leaks the secret of his supposed fortune - and it isn't long before some of his old friends, enemies and acquaintances try to cash in. The man most determined to share in Woody's dream, one way or another, is his long-ago business partner, Ed Pegram, played by screen and stage veteran Stacy Keach, who first came to the fore in John Huston's 1972 classic "Fat City" and has recently been seen in "The Bourne Legacy."

Keach also happens to have long-ago friendship with Bruce Dern (the two starred together, along with Robert Mitchum, in the 1982 sports drama "That Championship Season"), which made his playing Pegram a fortuitous choice. "The casting couldn't have been better in that respect, because I hadn't seen Bruce in almost 30 years, just as Ed hasn't seen Woody in almost 40," he notes.

As with his cast-mates, the story pulled Keach in. "What Alexander captures in 'Nebraska' is a slice of Americana that we haven't seen before. It's a story that reflects a lot about what America is in the heartland and in the heart," he observes.

While his character brings moment of comic relief, as well as tension, to the film, Keach makes little distinction between comedy and drama. "I've been teaching a course by Skype at George Mason University and I'm always telling my students: ' if you're doing comedy don't try to be funny, just try to be real. The comedy will take care of itself.' That's reality," he says.

In one sequence, Ed Pegram sings an unlikely Karaoke version of "In The Ghetto," the 1969 Mac Davis song about inner-city poverty that became a hit for Elvis Presley, in a Nebraska restaurant. Though the effect is dryly comic, Pegram, who has never left the town where he grew up, is dead serious. "I really felt that Ed relates to that song," comments Keach, who is also an accomplished composer. "Not that Ed grew up in the ghetto, of course, but I think he identifies with victims in a strange way. I've never sung in a movie seriously. I'm an actor who can carry a tune kind of, but I think that's just about enough for Ed. I felt it was his idea of a cross between Elvis and Johnny Cash."

Moments like these give the character a depth that gives his aggressive fortune-seeking a humanity. "Alexander wanted somebody in the role of Ed Pegram who could be intimidating, yet also open up an avenue of sympathy towards the character," says Berger. "On the face of it, Ed's a bully, but Stacy found a way to embrace all of Ed and create a very complex performance."

Other standouts in the ensemble include Tim Driscoll and Devin Ratray as Woody's trouble-prone nephews; and Angela McEwan as the newspaper editor who once carried a torch for Woody. Several smaller roles, including Aunt Betty and Uncle Cecil, were cast locally with non-actors.

Much of the cast doesn't say much but it's how they say so little that becomes humorous, human, or both. "There aren't many filmmakers who do as much comedically with silence as Alexander," observes Yerxa. "The humor comes in part from the audience filling in what's going on in the characters' minds. Often, Alexander's philosophical ideas are so deeply entwined in the characters and the absurd situations; they just flow into the story. A great example is the scene where David's uncles are talking about an old Buick and Uncle Ray says 'Those cars'll run forever. Whatever happened to it?' and Uncle Verne says 'Stopped running,' and Uncle Ray replies, 'They'll do that.' It's a very funny scene but it gets to the idea that you have to accept reality one way or another."

Berger notes that no matter how large or small a character's presence in the film, Payne is 100% focused on actors as individuals. "One of the great pleasures of the film was watching Alexander with the actors," he says. "I think of David standing at the Woody's hospital bedside - and Alexander's note to Will was, 'look at this man, stare down on him as an albatross that's been around your neck for the last 35 years.' The kind of humor and humanity he is able to express with the actors is a real treat."

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