#TBT: Bruce Dern

6:31 PM

Bruce Dern at the American Pavilion at Cannes


Not a day goes by that I don't think about my experience with the Cannes Film Festival. I met people I've been idolizing my whole life and made friends I'll never forget. And it was at Cannes that I achieved Nirvana for a little over a second when in the singular more beautiful moment of my life, Steven Spielberg and I made actual physical contact. When he shook my hand, I could've sworn I was for a split second, best friends with an animatronic alien puppet, that Sean Connery was my father and that this was all taking place on a Dinosaur Island. As overwhelming as that one and half seconds was, I didn't really make a connection with Stevesie, other than completely breaking down in tears in front of him. This is where Bruce Dern comes in. Being an intern at the festival, I was privy to certain perks, like private panels with industry professionals and sometimes actors, directors and producers. Once, over the span of three days, we had Bruce Dern, Will Forte and James Franco speak. At James Franco's panel, every single person who worked at the Pavilion pushed into the little room to get a glimpse. He came prepared with his own interviewer and allotted us lowly students only three questions in total. I'll never forgive the girl who asked with such naive, and completely misguided sincerity "what was it like on the set of Oz (2012)". No one fucking cares? You know what we do care about? Vintage Freaks & Geeks Franco, back when he was drop-dead gorgeous Daniel Desario. 


Me too, James, me too. 


But enough about  James. The most incredible speaker got to follow Franco the Great and Powerful, and that was Bruce Dern. He arrived only with an assistant, wearing khakis and runners and a baseball cap. Most people in the room didn't know who he was, hell, I barely knew him other than him being Laura Dern's father, and for his work in Family Plot (1976) and Big Love (2006-2011). In retrospect, it's embarrassing how much I misjudged his importance in the film world. Luckily for us, he went on every possible tangent, from stories about rowdy times with Jack Nicholson, to ones about Mick Jagger's baby of all things. My favourite story he told though, was about two of my most cherished idols, Alfred Hitchcock and Steven (the heart-stealer) Spielberg. Apparently while Dern was working on Family Plot with Hitch, Spielberg had been hanging out on the set, kind of bobbing along in the background out of everyone's way (remember this is right after Jaws (1975) had been released). According to Dern, one day, Hitchcock asked him if the guy who had been hovering around on set was the "man who did the fish movie" (i.e. Jaws), which of course he was. Bruce told Hitchcock that he should go say "Hi" to Spielberg because he was such a huge fan of his, to which Hitchcock said that he couldn't possibly because it would "make me feel like such a whore". Apparently Hitchcock had been paid $2 Million to be the voice of the shark on the Jaws ride at Universal Studios and was embarrassed at having "sold out". Dern told a few other stories as well, each one better than the last. It was like a film student's wet dream. And then, being the absolute chillest guy ever, he stayed forever afterwards and answered all of our incessant questions. Even when we left the panel, he hung out around the edges of the pavilion in the sunshine while we all fawned from a distance. I was standing a few metres from him at one point and he must've sensed I was about to suppress all my nerves and go talk to him because he locked eyes with me and said "you have a wonderful smile!". And then I died a few times in a single second." And without sounding too much like I'm projecting here, he treated us as if we were his grandchildren. Just the more sincere, wonderful person. 

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