Seventeen years ago in East Texas, a former mortician named Bernie Tiede killed a wealthy 81-year-old woman named Marjorie Nugent. He confessed to the crime, but because she was so unliked many people in the small town of Carthage, Texas that many of the folks living there rallied to his defense.
This strange, but true, story is the subject of Richard Linklater's newest film, "Bernie," starring Jack Black, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance.
How did you first hear about the story of Bernie Tiede?:
"I didn't hear about the story when it happened. This was a real Texas take that everybody in East Texas knew about but not really many people in Southern California heard about it. It was only a couple years ago when Richard Linklater who I worked with on 'School Of Rock' said Hey I have a part for you in this script that I wrote based on a true story… I thought it was compelling because of its peculiarity. You don't' hear about that kind of crime very often where everybody in the town loves the person who has confessed to a murder and doesn't want to convict them because they were such a sweet person. Very interesting stuff."
Why do you think director Richard Linklater chose you for this role?:
"I think he thought that I could pull off the likeability quotient, apparently. I don't want to tweet my own horn, but people like me. Although it's not heavy metal its very musical, he wanted someone who could pull off all the singing. He was a real musical theatre buff and was very active in the community theatre. Even though it seems like a much different character than I've played before it fit in my wheelhouse very well. it felt like while I was doing it I was born to play this character, which was strange. Its very far away from me, this gay mortician from East Texas, why does it fit like a glove?"
Why was Bernie so popular among senior women?:
"I got a chance to meet the actual Bernie Tiede, we went to the prison and spoke to him before we started shooting, and I asked him what his life was like before he met Marjorie [Nugent] and what was growing up in East Texas like, and he said that his parents died when he was very young and his grandma raised him, and maybe that explains why he had such a way with the older ladies. Maybe there was a grandmotherly comfort there. "He was really good at his job, he was a fine mortician and went beyond that. he didn't just make sure the corpses looked presentable and respectable, but also he took great pains to make sure the ceremonies were beautifully appointed and that the whole experience of the passing of a loved one was smooth and made to be meaningful. As is the case, women usually outlive their male counterparts and there were lots of widows in this small town of Carthage that loved him because he gave their husbands these great funerals and he knew he would do the same for them some day."
What did you learn from Bernie when you visited him in prison?:
"Just got to see his day to day thing and see how all the other inmates related to him and he was indeed very popular there. He was the most loved guy in the prison as I could see. And he was making the best of it, he was working on some crochet memorials for people who had lost family members back in his home town of Carthage. So he was keeping emotional connections to people he knew back home. "I got to talk to him a little bit about some personal things that I felt the audience was going to want to know the answer to. Mainly just why. Why did you kill her? Why didn't you just leave? What gathered was it was very similar to the reason why married couples don't leave. Why sometimes there will be a murder in a family. Why does that end tragically and violently instead of separations? Because there's a codependence there. It's not that simple. There's love there mixed in with the hate."
What was the reaction like from the people in Carthage, Texas, where the murder took place?:
"It is tricky. Whenever you're telling a true story and there's tragic elements its a touchy subject. I didn't go to Carthage, we shot mostly in a town called Bastrop that had similar architecture and scenery. But Rick did go to Carthage to shoot some exteriors and to interview some people from the town. You know how churches sometimes will have a message of the day on the board outside? It said "Murder is dark, not comedy." So yeah, message received, but that's the courage of Richard Linklater is he found something moving, and also funny, and sometimes those two come together and he wasn't afraid to explore that."
Can you tell us about Tenacious D's "Simply Jazz EP"?:
"It just came out of our sound checks in-between songs…Our drummer Brooks Wackerman, who is an incredible musician, just started playing a little Jazz just messing around with the Jazz drums…me and Kyle just looked at each other and thought, this is so wrong, we started playing Jazz. There shouldn't be anything so funny about that but it just felt hilarious, and we explored that and then sad we've got to do this in front of the audience and that night I said this is a taste of the new direction of Tenacious D, it's a new direction, its Jazz. The audience at first booed and then they laughed and then they loved it. There's something titllating about testing the boundaries of what's expected."
Trailer for "Bernie":
A young Jack Black in a commercial for Pitfall: