‘Northern Borders’ film star sees career resugence, Oscar nom

Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2014 
By Ben Beagle, Special to The Daily News

Bruce Dern, who starred in a film adaptation of the 2004 “A Tale for Three Counties” book selection, is enjoying a career renaissance at 77.

Howard Frank Mosher’s novel, “Northern Borders,” a coming-of-age story about young Austen Kittredge, was featured in the community reading project and adapted by frequent Mosher collaborator Jay Craven in a film released last spring.

After making “Northern Borders,” Dern made “Nebraska” with Alexander Payne. The latter brought Dern his second Academy Award nomination on Thursday. The black-and-white “Nebraska” earned six nominations, including best director for Payne.

Dern – previously nominated 35 years ago for Hal Ashby’s “Coming Home” — was nominated for best actor for his performance as a gruff, taciturn wandering Montana man in “Nebraska.” He told The Associated Press after his Oscar nomination was announced that he’s been revitalized by a film he estimated he’s happily viewed “approaching the upper 30s.”

“I can’t see it enough to realize how lucky we all were with the collaboration that went on on this particular movie,” said Dern. “I feel somehow that the industry has suddenly today put their arms around out little movie.”

Dern’s performance has also earned him best actor nominations from the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Golden Globe awards, though he did not win at either.

In “Northern Borders,” Dern leads an outstanding ensemble as Austen’s grandfather, Austen Kittredge Sr., who calls himself “the meanest bastard in Kingdom County.” Dern’s no-nonsense grandfather barely speaks with Austen’s dotting grandmother, Abiah, played by Genevieve Bujold. The two grandparents are strong-willed and stubborn, describing their marriage as the “40 years war.”

Craven, speaking during a screening of “Northern Borders” at Genesee Community College on Jan. 11, said the seemingly strained dinner conversation scene in which the elder Austen and Abiah relay their conversation through young Austen did not require much acting.

“At the beginning of filming, they didn’t get along,” Craven said of Dern and Bujold, noting a difference in the preparation and acting styles between the actors.

“It translated very well on screen for the two characters,” Craven said, noting that Dern and Bujold would eventually work out their differences and ease the tension.

And yet, as gruff as Dern’s grandfather presents himself, there are also glimpses of a compassionate side below his surface. After suggesting a very poor family would be better off dead because that is what you do to wounded animals to end their suffering, he quietly brings the family one of his dairy cows.

More than 100 people attended the screening, which was a fundraising event for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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