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Black, MacLaine Talk ‘Bernie’

11 Jul, 2012 By: Chris Tribbey

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Even admitted murderers can be likeable. Especially when the victim is “the biggest bitch on the planet,” as Shirley MacLaine puts it.

In Bernie, MacLaine (Terms of Endearment) plays Marjorie Nugent, a real-life Texas widow/socialite who was as mean as she was rich. Jack Black (Shallow Hal, Nacho Libre) is Bernie Tiede, assistant funeral director, community volunteer, and all-around beloved guy, who befriends Nugent, and eventually becomes her companion and emotional crutch.

When Tiede eventually snaps, killing Nugent and putting her body on ice for months, a strange thing happens when he’s caught, confesses and charged with murder: the community of Carthage, Texas rallies around him. As one resident says: “It’s not as bad as people say; he only shot her four times, not five.”

Millennium Entertainment releases the DVD ($28.99) and Blu-ray Disc ($29.99) of Bernie Aug. 21 (pre-order July 24). Bonuses include a featurette about the true story behind the film, a featurette about the real-life people of Carthage, Texas, and a special performance of “Amazing Grace” by Jack Black.

The odd combination of a sympathetic murderer and a despised victim was what drew director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, A Scanner Darkly) to the story. He even drafted locals who loved Tiede to appear in documentary-style interviews in the film.

“Lots of these folks are the real deal,” Linklater said. “They all know about this story."

Not that the East Texas town was entirely happy to have Bernie there. Linklater relayed a story about shooting across from a church, where the marquis read: “Murder is dark, but not comedy. Welcome to town.”

“They didn’t like the idea of Hollywood coming to town and making fun of them,” he said.

Black talked about spending time in the maximum-security prison where Tiede is serving his life sentence, surrounded by hardcore criminals. “And then there’s this gentle giant in the middle of it all. ‘What are you doing here?’” Black said. “He’s the most popular person in prison.”

The real-life Bernie is “very magnetic, very charismatic and sweet,” Black said.

“He was seduced by the money and being able to live this life with her and do good things for other people,” he added.

“I just asked Jack, do you want to meet him or not,” Linklater said. “Some actors wouldn’t. In a few hours Jack just absorbed every last bit.”

MacLaine said the dislike for Nugent among her neighbors was nearly palpable.

“Everyone I met during filming truly hated her. She was the biggest bitch on the planet,” she said. “Being so hated gives you some kind of sophisticated outlook on human behavior. I think she understood he would do anything to be loved. To me it was as much about money as anything else. Frankly, anybody would have killer her if she acted like that.”

As for Black’s performance as Tiede: “I think he should get an [Oscar] nomination, I really do,” MacLaine said. “I thought he would chew up scenery, but he can really act.”

That’s saying something coming from someone like MacLaine, Black said.

“I was glad she put me at ease right away,” he said. “You have to get over the legend thing quick if you’re going to work together.”

He then turned to MacLaine, and joked: “You and me, around the world. Minus the murder.”

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