Extended interview: Bruce Dern

Bruce Dern, with Will Forte, in Alexander Payne's "Nebraska." Paramount Vantage

(CBS News) No other actor can claim to have shot John Wayne in the back -- and if that were Bruce Dern's only claim to fame, it would be enough to ensure his status as a Hollywood legend. 

But Dern's resume for the past half-century -- more than 80 movies, including "Coming Home" (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), "Black Sunday," "The King of Marvin Gardens," "Silent Running," "They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Family Plot" -- has proven his gift for playing characters slightly skewed, deviant, and off the trodden path. In other words, unforgettable.

A veteran of Lee Strasberg's Actor's Studio, Dern made numerous TV appearances in the 1960s while working with such film directors as Hitchcock, Elia Kazan, John Frankenheimer and Sydney Pollack. He also received continued education at the University of Roger Corman (a.k.a., B-movie production house American International) alongside Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda, burnishing his resume with such titles as "The Trip," "The Wild Angels," and "Psych-Out." 

Dern -- father of Oscar-nominated actress Laura Dern, and ex-husband of Oscar-nominated actress Diane Ladd -- received the Best Actor Award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival this year for his performance in Alexander Payne's "Nebraska."  He has been a leading contender for this year's Academy Award ever since.

In this web-exclusive extended transcript, correspondent Lee Cowan talked with Dern about his career, including his family's rejection of his pursuit of acting; his reaction to an award received for "Coming Home"; and why John Wayne gave him permission to "kick him in the ass" every day. 


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Lee Cowan: What's all this attention been like? 

Bruce Dern:  Well, it's wonderful.  I mean (laughs), I've done a long time, 55 years.  And I don't mean it like I've 'done time' (laughs), I mean it like, it's been the best ride of my life these 55 years.  It's what I do, it's what I wanted to do.  And I think it all begins with the fact, how did it all come to pass?  Well, it all came to pass because Alexander Payne asked me to come on down. 

Ten years ago now, first time, without an offer.  He didn't say, 'You're the part.'  He said, 'What do you think of it?'  And I read it, and I'd only met him an hour in my life because Laura was the star of 'Citizen Ruth.' 

And it was all on the page.  It struck me that it worked.  Every character worked, the story worked, it was wonderful.  And he was asking me about it.  And then I didn't hear anything. 

He went off and did 'Sideways.'  And then I didn't hear anything, and he went off and did 'The Descendants.'  So I figured, 'Wow, obviously, I must be in the way of helping this get made.  (laughs) But yet, he never said to me, 'I want you to do the role,' or anything like that.'

 [Then], 18 months ago, he actually gave me the role. That's the biggest win I'll ever have . . .  being offered the opportunity to have the role of a lifetime.

Cowan:  It is the role of a lifetime, you think?

Dern: Well, so far for me.  I'm not stopping, knocking wood, you know?  But, I mean, I got a lot to do that I still want to do as an actor.  I mean, I'm 77, but I still look forward to the kinds of roles that the opportunity to be in a movie like this let me have an opportunity to have a crack at -- that can still let me do stuff, you know?

I mean, yeah, I know there's limited roles for guys my age.  For women my age, it's really limited.  But in our movie, you look at June [Squibb], you look at Mary Louise {Wilson], you look at Angela McEwan.  I mean, those are three women older than I am, and they're fabulous in the movie, and they're being discovered.  They're in a movie that is opening all around America and is getting a certain kind of nice reception, and that was a treat. 

The big treat for me was I knew when I saw the script on paper that I had to play the role. I don't mean THEY wanted me to have to do it, but Bruce Dern had to find a way to be able to play this role.

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