In "Nebraska." Bruce Dern plays the cantankerous and not-so-gracefully-aging Woody Grant, who insists on walking across three states to claim sweepstakes winnings, which his son (played by "Saturday Night Live" alum Will Forte) says don't exist.
"I knew when I saw the script on paper that I had to play the role," Dern told correspondent Lee Cowan. "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."
Bruce Dern first met director Alexander Payne (left) when Dern's daughter, Laura Dern. starred in Payne's "Citizen Ruth." Ten years ago, Payne showed him the screenplay for "Nebraska." "He didn't say, 'You're the part.' He said, 'What do you think of it?' And I read it, and it was all on the page. It struck me that it worked. Every character worked, the story worked, it was wonderful.
"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) Eighteen months ago, he actually gave me the role."
Bruce Dern (far left) with his siblings in a family photo.
Bruce MacKleish Dern was born into old money in Winnetka, Illinois, in 1936. His grandfather was the governor of Utah, who later went on to become Secretary of War under FDR. His great-uncle was Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Archibald MacLeish.
Bruce Dern was a competitive runner in high school and college.
When Dern dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania to pursue acting, his family largely disowned him.
"When I decided to become an actor, I was gonna make a living 'pretending,'" he said. "They thought that's what acting was, pretending."
Left: A head shot of Bruce Dern from 1964.
After studying with Lee Strasberg at Actors' Studio, and appearing in Broadway productions of Sean O'Casey's "The Shadow of a Gunman," and Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth," Dern moved to California to pursue an acting career unsustainable in New York theater.
Meet Your MakerLeft: Dern meets the business end of an axe in the 1964 horror film, "Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (left). Dern also came to a grisly end courtesy of a little girl wielding a fireplace poker in a flashback scene of Alfred Hitchcock's "Marnie."
Among Bruce Dern's numerous TV guest roles in the 1960s were the "Outer Limits" episode, "The Zanti Misfits," where he encounters an invading force of alien insects (left). Dern also made several appearances on the western "Gunsmoke."
Dern told Cowan after one of his "embroidered" death scenes, "Gunsmoke" star Jim Arness looked down at him and said, "My God. That's pretty interesting, but who gives a **** about how you die. Just die already! Otherwise we're gonna cut away and you're still alive."
"Well, that's the point," Dern responded. "because then I can come back in another episode!"
"The Wild Angels"Bruce Dern with Peter Fonda and a bevy of Hell's Angels in Roger Corman's "The Wild Angels."
Bruce, Diane and LauraAn undated family photo shows Bruce Dern with his then-wife, actress Diane Ladd, and their daughter, Laura (born 1967).
"The Trip"Bruce Dern played a proponent of LSD in the Roger Corman film, "The Trip."
"The Trip"Bruce Dern takes Peter Fonda on an LSD ride in Roger Corman's "The Trip." Dennis Hopper was a fellow passenger.
"Psych-Out"Bruce Dern is just one of the colorful residents of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury in "Psych-Out," costarring Dean Stockwell, Jack Nicholson and Susan Strasberg.
"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"Bruce Dern and Bonnie Bedelia compete against Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin in a Depression-Era dance hall marathon, in Sydney Pollack's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"
"The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant"
Bruce Dern played a scientist who predilection for transplanting extra heads on to living bodies of animals takes its natural progression, in "The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant."
"I had to go out the week I married my wife, Andrea, and sell a movie called 'The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant,'" Dern told Cowan. "And we weren't even the best two-headed transplant movie that year! That was ['The Thing With Two Heads'] with Rosie Greer and Ray Milland!"
Bruce Dern was a familiar face in westerns in the late 1960s and early '70s, including "The War Wagon" opposite John Wayne and Kirk Douglas; "Hang 'Em High" with Clint Eastwood; Will Penny, starring Charlton Heston; and "Support Your Local Sheriff," starring James Garner.
But his most memorable role was in 1972's "The Cowboys" (left), as the dastardly Long Hair.
"The Cowboys"Bruce Dern as "Long Hair," terrorizing a little kid, in the western, "The Cowboys."
Long Hair (Bruce Dern) shoots Wil Andersen (John Wayne) in the back in "The Cowboys." Although the Duke had died on-screen a few times (such as by an enemy sniper in "Sands of Iwo Jima"), he had never been shot dead by another actor.
Dern told Cowan that, even today, people still come up to him: "'You killed my buddy!'
"I said, 'Hey, bud, he died of cancer. It was a movie. Can you get over it?' 'We'll never get over it.'"
"Silent Running"In the 1972 sci-fi film "Silent Running," Bruce Dern played opposite three tiny robots (actually amputees in mechanical costumes), seeking to preserve the last remnants of Earth's foliage aboard a spaceship. It was his first major leading film role, but he told Cowan, even today, he's never considered himself a "movie star."
"No, my definition of a movie star is, A, someone who dominates a decade above the title, starring in movies; B, someone who gets money raised because he decides or she decides to do the movie. Well, Bruce is not the first person they've been going to to get a movie made. Brucie gets movies when 17 other guys pass on the role and the studio, or whatever it is, is already invested in a certain amount of money. So they say, 'Okay, well, I'll choose Dern.' Seventeen guys turned down 'Silent Running' before it came to me."
"Silent Running"Left: Bruce Dern teaches the robots poker in "Silent Running."
Cowan asked Dern about the difficulty he's faced as an actor: "Didn't that get discouraging? I mean, you've got your parents who don't want you to do it, you've got Lee Strasberg even saying, 'This is gonna be a tough road ahead,' and you just kept plugging. I mean a lot of people would have bailed."
"Well, you keep plugging because you get a chance to do something because you are an individual and you're unique, to be involved with a group of people that just might do something that's never been done," Dern replied.
"The King of Marvin Gardens"In Bob Rafelson's "The King of Marvin Gardens" (1972), Bruce Dern played a con man who pulls his brother (played by Jack Nicholson) in on a real estate scheme in Atlantic City.
"The Laughing Policeman"Bruce Dern starred alongside Walter Matthau in "The Laughing Policeman," which adapted a Swedish thriller novel featuring detective Martin Beck was transposed to San Francisco.
"The Great Gatsby"Bruce Dern earned a Golden Globe nomination as Tom Buchanan in the 1974 film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," opposite Robert Redford, Sam Waterston and Mia Farrow.
"Smile"In Michael Ritchie's comedy "Smile" (1975), Bruce Dern played a car salesman recruited to be a judge at the Young American Miss beauty pageant. The film co-starred Barbara Feldon and, among the contestants, Melanie Griffith and Annette O'Toole.
"Family Plot"Bruce Dern played an amateur gumshoe allied with a phony psychic investigating a missing person's case in Alfred Hitchcock's comic thriller, "Family Plot" (1976).
In his autobiography, "Things I've Said, But Probably Shouldn't Have," Bruce Dern writes that he asked Hitchcock (for whom he'd played a bit part in "Marnie") why he was cast in "Family Plot."
"You know why you're in the picture?" Hitchcock said. "Because you're unpredictable. I know the frame is perfect because I have it in my office. And my setup is perfect, but, within the setup, I have to be entertained. And you're entertaining, Bruce, and you're unpredictable. That's why you're in this film."
In Claude Chabrol's "The Twist," Stephane Audran and Bruce Dern play a couple who partake in affairs with others.
"Black Sunday"Bruce Dern played a disturbed Vietnam veteran who becomes an accomplice in a plot by a Palestinian terrorist (Marthe Keller) to blow up the Super Bowl in "Black Sunday" (1977), based on the Thomas Harris bestseller.
"Coming Home"Bruce Dern earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor as the husband of Jane Fonda, who finds his marriage disintegrating after returning from the war, in "Coming Home" (1978).
"Coming Home"Bruce Dern in "Coming Home."
"When the movie came out," Dern told Cowan, "the difficulty for me was I started getting a lot of congratulatory stuff for the performance and for the movie, and I never served myself. It's not that I ducked it in 1956, '57; no one was going anywhere [at that time]. Some Marines went to Suez, I think, but that was it. But I felt bad about the fact that I hadn't done that - I'm the grandson of the Secretary of War - and I was being somebody who had done that."
"Harry Tracy, Desperado"Bruce Dern played a 19th century train robber adept at escaping jail in the 1982 Western, "Harry Tracy, Desperado."
"That Championship Season"Stacey Keach, Martin Sheen, Paul Sorvino and Bruce Dern starred in the film version of Jason Miller's play, "That Championship Season."
"After Dark, My Sweet"Bruce Dern played the mastermind of a kidnapping plot who picked the wrong person to carry it out, in James Foley's 1990 noir, "After Dark, My Sweet."
"The 'Burbs"Bruce Dern's physicality got a comic workout in Joe Dante's "The 'Burbs" (1990).
"The Astronaut Farmer"Bruce Dern with Virginia Madsen in "The Astronaut Farmer."
"Last Man Standing"Bruce Dern and Bruce Willis in Walter Hill's Prohibition-era "Last Man Standing," adapted from the Akira Kurosawa samurai classic, "Yojimbo."
In "Monster" (2003), the true story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Bruce Dern played Thomas, a barfly who befriends Wuornos (Oscar-winner Charlize Theron).
"Monster"Bruce Dern in "Monster."
"Big Love"Actors Bruce Dern and Chloe Sevigny talk at the after-party for the premiere of HBO's "Big Love," at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, February 23, 2006, in Los Angeles.
Dern received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for "Big Love."
"Big Love"Actors Harry Dean Stanton and Bruce Dern talk at the after-party for the premiere of HBO's "Big Love," at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, February 23, 2006, in Los Angeles.
"The Golden Boys"Actors Bruce Dern and David Carradine attend a meet-and-greet for ''The Golden Boys'' at the Playwright Tavern on April 9, 2009 in New York City.
"The Hole"Bruce Dern played "Creepy Carl" in the 2009 3-D horror flick, "The Hole."
Hollywood Walk of FameActors Bruce Dern, Laura Dern and Diane Ladd attend their Hollywood Walk of Fame star ceremony, November 1, 2010 in Hollywood, California.
"Twixt"Val Kilmer and Bruce Dern starred in Francis Ford Coppola's 3-D horror film, "Twixt."
"Django Unchained"Bruce Dern as the plantation owner Old Man Carrucan in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained."
"Nebraska"For "Nebraska," Bruce Dern (here with Will Forte) won the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival - and is considered a front-runner for an Academy Award.
The fact that recognition for Dern should come so strong after half a century doesn't surprise the actor; famed director Elia Kazan told him so, flat-out.
"He said, 'When you get out there, it's gonna take you a long, long time,'" Dern recalled. "'Nobody's gonna appreciate what you do until you're in your late 60s.' Well, that was thrilling to hear at 24 years old, you know what I mean?"
"Very prophetic though now, right?" Lee Cowan said.
"Oh yeah, well, but who knows that then?"
Cannes International Film FestivalLaurn Dern, Bruce Dern, Alexander Payne, June Squibb and Will Forte attend the "Nebraska" premiere at the 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festival on May 23, 2013 in Cannes, France.
Cannes International Film FestivalDirector Alexander Payne and actors Bruce Dern and Will Forte attend the "Nebraska" press conference during the 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2013 in Cannes, France.
"Nebraska" co-stars Bruce Dern and June Squibb, who play Woody and Kate Grant.
Dern said being offered the role in "Nebraska" was the opportunity of a lifetime. "Well, so far," he told Cowan. "I'm not stopping, knocking wood, you know? 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 [being] in a movie like this let me have an opportunity to have a crack at.
"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. 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."
"Nebraska"Actors Laura Dern and Bruce Dern attend the "Nebraska" premiere during the 51st New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on Oct. 8, 2013, in New York.
Director Quentin Tarantino and actor Bruce Dern pose for a picture at the AFI Gala Screening Tribute to Bruce Dern, at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif., November 11, 2013.
Tarantino called Dern a "national treasure," because "Bruce Dern is one of the finest and most entertaining examples of great American acting - full of raw vitality, grabbing your attention, never letting go, spontaneous. Always looking for a moment, always looking for an opportunity to do something. Not content with being palsey-walsy with the other actors, he's trying to BEAT them!
"He doesn't need six weeks of rehearsal like the Brits; he shows up on Monday on 'The Big Valley,' he kicks Lee Majors' ass, and he goes home!"
Governors AwardsActor Bruce Dern and wife Andrea Beckett arrive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Governors Awards at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center on November 16, 2013 in Hollywood.
New York Film Festival
Actor Bruce Dern speaks during the 51st New York Film Festival at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, October 10, 2013 in New York City.
For more info:
"Nebraska" (Official movie site)
"Things I've Said, But Probably Shouldn't Have: An Unrepentant Memoir" by Bruce Dern with Christopher Fryer and Robert Crane (Wiley)
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan