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Tim Blake Nelson Lights Up ‘Leaves of Grass’

17 Sep, 2010 By: Billy Gil

Nelson and Norton

When it came time for venerable character actor Tim Blake Nelson to direct his latest feature, Leaves of Grass (coming to DVD at $28.98 Oct. 12 from First Look Studios), Nelson looked for one actor in particular to drive the feature: Edward Norton, who plays identical twins in the film, one a scholar (Bill) and the other a pot dealer (Brady).

“We sat down together and had a very productive conversation in which we quickly understood how seriously we take what we do, even if we’re working on something that’s comic,” Nelson said. “And, of course, this movie is somewhat of a hybrid in that it’s comic but it gets pretty serious as well. Armed with the script and what I intended to do with it as well as the enthusiasm of Edward Norton, it was pretty easy to get everyone else to sign on.”

That “everyone else” includes Keri Russell as a sexy local English teacher who helps pull Bill out of his stuck-up ways, Susan Sarandon as his formerly hippie mother and Richard Dreyfuss and Nelson himself in bit roles. In the film, college professor Bill is coaxed by his troublesome brother to come back to Oklahoma, a home he’d rather forget.

Nelson himself is from Tulsa, and he said some of his experiences informed the black comedy whose name is inspired both by Walt Whitman and marijuana. He said in particular Southeastern Oklahoma, where much of the film takes place, has its problems due some of its marijuana-growing residents.

“The dangerous nature of that place … [is that] down any back road you can encounter tattooed people wielding firearms who are more interested in protecting their illicit crops than in property rights,” Nelson said. “It reaches mythic proportions in the state of Oklahoma, and I always wanted to write about that.”

But neither the film, nor Nelson, is particularly judgmental of the Bradies of the world.

“The dichotomy of Bill and Brady is, I guess, born of my own schizophrenia, having grown up in the Southwest and very much continuing to feel very rooted in that place but also having gone out and studied classics on the East Coast and now living in New York,” Nelson said. “The journey Bill goes on and the version of himself he ends up facing when he goes home is just an amplified rendition of what I myself feel as a person.”

And, speaking of his Southern background, Nelson says that of his numerous roles, he gets recognized as Delmar in the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? — especially when he’s in the South, or in Los Angeles or New York.

Nelson said the Leaves of Grass DVD and Blu-ray Disc are “chockblock” with bonus features, including a commentary with Nelson, Norton and producer Bill Migliore, as well as deleted scenes and interviews with the cast and crew.

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