LAFF Opening Night Coverage: 'Bernie' World Premiere

Monday, 20 June 2011 11:11 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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LAFF Opening Night Coverage: 'Bernie' World Premiere

Thursday night was the official start of The L.A. Film Fest, which runs June 16th-26th and is presented by the Los Angeles Times, Film Independent, and the Independent Spirit Awards. The festival is taking place downtown at L.A. Live and many of the activities are taking place at the new JW Marriott, Regal Cinemas, Nokia Plaza, and Nokia Theater. Opening night saw the world premiere of director Richard Linklater’s (Dazed and Confused) new film Bernie, which is based on a true story and stars Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and screen legend Shirley MacLaine. I had an opportunity to attend the premiere last week, screen the movie and even speak with Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine.

Bernie is based on the true story of Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede (Black), a man who murdered 81 year-old Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine) in Carthage, Texas. In the movie, Bernie is a loveable and beloved member of the community that befriends the rich but hated widow. She gives him everything he can imagine but then treats him like garbage. Eventually the good-hearted, gentle (and fancy) Bernie snaps and shoots his benefactor in the back four times with a shotgun. But because of his habit of doing good deeds for people in his community, no one wants to prosecute him. They all want to forgive him, except for one-man … district attorney Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey). Buck then leads a one-man crusade to have the truth revealed and Bernie put away for good.

The film reunites actors Jack Black, and Matthew McCounauhey with director Richard Linklater, with whom they’ve both worked with before. Black and the director first collaborated on the box office success School of Rock, and McConaughey and Linklater have worked together twice before on the movies Dazed and Confused, and The Newton Boys. Black, who walked the red carpet arm and arm with Shirley MacLaine spoke to us about reuniting with Linklater. “It’s Incredible. I’ve been waiting for years, since School of Rock to reunite with Rick and it’s a dream come true, said the actor. “I was looking forward to working with Rick again ever sense we did School of Rock together. It was my most satisfying experience as an actor and there is something about Rick. No one that I’ve worked with works as hard as Rick and has the patience, I never work as hard as I do when I’m with Rick. I never have as much fun either. It’s strange that I could be sweating and having so much fun at the same time.”

McConaughey had this to say about working with his Dazed and Confused director once again. “Working with Rick is always fun. I get excited even before I know what it is. If I find out, and I have any kind of understanding, I’ll say yes quicker with Rick than anybody else because we’ll go create something. I love working with him and being back home in Texas (where the film was shot) is a dream.” The actor went on to talk about shooting in his home state of Texas where the story took place. “Really fun, I love the crews, and I love the people. I’m living there and I’m just walking out the front door. It’s a really calming work experience. I love the people and it feels like home.”

MacLaine was asked what it is like for her to work with Jack Black. “He is very, very colorful and he is a very good actor, said the Oscar winner. “We had some serious talks about his children but he is so complicated and authentic. I love going to work everyday knowing I was working with him,” she added. “ I did my best to keep up. It’s Shirley McClain, it’s like a master class in acting everyday. I did my best to keep up and hold my own,” Black said.

Bernie is a departure for Black who was last seen in the big screen comedy Gulliver’s Travels and the actor discussed what he liked about working on an independent film. “Here is the joy of doing independent movie. Usually you do a movie in three months and there is a bout a thousand hours of sitting in your trailer waiting to work. With an independent, you are going to get it done in about five weeks and there will be zero trailer time,” explained Black.“There is a lot of satisfaction at the end of the day knowing you sweat it out.” “And you don’t sit around and wait,” added MacLaine. “You do it when you are feeling it, which is like … you better or its over!”

Matthew McConaughey is no stranger to portraying lawyers on screen after A Time To Kill, and this year’s The Lincoln Lawyer, but this is the actor’s first time playing a prosecutor and I asked him what it was like for him to be on the opposite side of the courtroom for a change. “Well this is my first prosecutor. A prosecutor is much different that the defense attorney, the prosecutor goes for blood,” said McConaughey. “I play a guy named Danny Buck. Danny Buck was a prosecuting attorney who tried to prosecute Bernie and put him away in this small town,” he continued. “He did a very interesting thing, he had the trial moved to another county because Bernie was so beloved that no one was going to find him guilty, no matter what the proof was. It’s one of the few cases where the prosecutor took the case out of that county because they were going to acquit the guy because he was so beloved. Usually it is the other way around and its based on a true story.”

Right before the film began, the director and the cast said a few words to the packed theater. MacLaine spoke to the audience and had this to say about working with Black. “It is terrific to be in the presence of my new friend, and I wouldn’t mind calling him a lover actually, Jack Black,” 77 year-old actress joked. “He’s made me laugh more than the last twenty put together. He’s the most authentic, mixed comedy and drama actor I think I’ve ever met. He is my third favorite Jack,” MacLaine said. “That’s after Nicholson (Terms of Endearment) and Lemmon (The Apartment). I adore him. We had a fantastic time together and it was very interesting that I loved getting up at 4:30 or 5:00AM in the morning because I knew I would be working with him. And that is from me a huge compliment.” The actress also commented on the downtown Los Angeles venue for the film festival and her misgivings on traveling this far east of Beverly Hills. “I haven’t been down here … I had to have my visa renewed to come down here. I don’t know about L.A. down here. I think a lot of independent stuff goes on down here.”

With that the screening finally began and I have to say I enjoyed the movie. It was surprising in many ways and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. The film, to a certain degree, is told in documentary style featuring interviews of the townspeople of this small community telling their side of what happened to Bernie. These segments are fantastic and in many cases are the real people giving their testimony. McConaughey is quite funny as Danny Buck and fits the part well. MacLaine and Black have a great chemistry together and she is perfect in the role. What is most surprising about the film is how good an actor Black actually is. While he does play comedy in the movie, it is subtle and he does show some acting chops. His character is slightly effeminate and Black plays it real, rather than for laughs. The movie also feels different than any other Linklater film from the past and it is certainly one of his best in years. Overall I thought Bernie was a touching, entertaining, and well acted film.

The L.A. Film Fest runs from now until June 26th.

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