Tim Blake Nelson on Buster Scruggs and reuniting with the Coen Brothers

Nelson appears on "Popcorn With Peter Travers" and talks about his new film, "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs."
3:00 | 11/28/18

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Transcript for Tim Blake Nelson on Buster Scruggs and reuniting with the Coen Brothers
Hi everybody I am Peter Travers this is popcorn we would tell you what's happening at the movies. And there's a movie that I Levin you're gonna love called the ballad of buster Scruggs and it's complicated. To do it that's why I have but whose god himself Tim Blake Nelson. To explain it all to us you know who is buster. Who is this guy went I'd look to Q and at white kept singing cowboy who's a murderous psychopath as well. Well. It just says Timberlake L yes exactly that but you know it's actors I guess we have to love or care Purcell I can't think of him as a psychopath. And he lives by a certain code. And he'd never kills unprovoked Newton. To serve him with few winning want to guess exactly. And don't call obtainable in. Yeah so it was a great care that the plight so when Joseph and you can come on come to you and that. Kim. We've got this guy in a kind of Roy Rogers singing cowboy white suit. Who Hong he's gonna shoot people who do provoke him. And then you can sing again and do it you say watt. I teach a when you gonna do this it's when do I get that to do it and who's gonna finance it with me in this role. Luckily Joseph when the thin. Who are. Manifestly. Unconventional cast unconventional. Actors. In unconventional roles that they write in their unconventional stories that somehow. They kept the main beautifully. With all the production values and meticulous in this that they. Bring to bearers as writers directors and so I was given the script in 2002. If you can believe it. And they said we've got a right. These the that they Britain mind that won the one they offered me and they've written this other one which. Is about. A leg lifts harmless I'll yes Caspian. Carried around by Lian Neeson so yeah I waited fifteen years. Arrow and they said okay we have the other ones and we're gonna make it. The home of each of these changes. Sometimes very dramatically but it is about that this and it's the old west and it's about. People facing. Being wiped added any man. I think that's absolutely right it's about mortality. Told in six different sub genres of the western genre. And then in the final episode there's this little speech that this character kids. And he talks about. Stories. As. Being. Around in life to distract us from our mortality. And suddenly you say. Wow. That's right that's what dramatically brings this all together all these. Vignettes about mortality. Are ultimately. A distraction from old house. And the character actually says. We love stories because their costs but they're not us. And so. Were watching all of these other people died. Somehow. In an oxy moronic way reassured that it's never going to be us but of course it's where were all headed and that's kind of the point that the final story makes and and then you just. Understanding suddenly in the moment. What this is open about what you've been thoroughly entertained and well well. Use it starts to add up as we see it but. Or bust there comes that the taller of this one is we use singing. On a force. In that and I assume you're just a great rider. Okay I'm okay Granger Heinz. Who's in one of the ones later to wagon test rider yacht all of us but I'm okay. Yeah a I think if it looks like you're really confident and an order and singing and knowing where you go so even if inside you war. Come at a park and up. This horse can it wrote what. You don't see any well but our part we play the guitar while riding because the plane yet it's hard you need two hands and and a net grain of worse. You need at least one hand and so that was. So I was doing a lot of the work with my legs which you can also do but if you're really good writer and since I'm not a really good writer. It took a few takes. Of these the year of the worth. So you've got along. Yes healthy yes that was good divorce was it was only one hauler you didn't hat he didn't have any kind of stand in Morse did don't know if it was. And hate what you're you're singing like cuckoo. The car and you got that smile that's a mile wide and everything is just rate in the world and if they crossed him. It's not going to be pretty yeah. And that's Joel and Ethan I mean you know like I think. They. Every one in their movies. It's very old testament they kept their comeuppance Newton. And if you think you've got it figured out. Life is gonna swat you down. And somehow. He dramatically day achieve that and an almost all of their movies and such a loving. Just loving the way every win gets their comeuppance yes. I'm actually mean that there's. There's a tender justice. To the Cohen's. Aaron of relatives. Attended justice. And you go back with them to O brother where art right. I look at you and I want ago and the jailhouse now I think kick start singing that to do it. And when you had that first experience of working with them and what was that like. I couldn't believe that they they offered me the role. First oval. It was sent to me. By Jules. With a note. That I still have to keep it right in my desk and I often look at it. Because it was a moment. That really changed my life. Any psychiatrist will you read this we need your advice. Because Europe classics. Yeah I remember hearing him say that you're the only want. Forget Clooney to turow and anyone else that actually with the classics major yes I was. And so I thought well you knew it was the home. Yeah they were we yeah and I had read it of course but I ice I sort of thought well. He doesn't he thinks that I know the Greeks I'm really more of a Latin essence. So if this were Virgil I could really talk to him about it but I've only read this in translation I read it. In the regional Greek and I'm note homer Eric scholar. I hope you've you've been saying it. I. OK I've read it now what do you need. And then he said will. Actually I don't need your advice we're good but I want you to play. This part. Del Mar and I didn't take it at first. Because. They're such good guys Jules and me and that the last thing you ever want to do is disappoint them. Or see them be disappointed whether it's at your hands and honest about got a try the role on I wasn't reading it with that in mind so cannot sleep on it and just play around with it a little bit. By myself. So that I can no I'm gonna. Show up in and do a good job for you. And he said yeah but we're pretty sure and I said. I've really I just if I couldn't. I couldn't disappoint you. And so like slept on it and I read it a little bit and tried out some different approaches to the role. And I thought all right I think I can. I think I can do it and then I. It is and articulated and and it was a great great. It's so interesting to me is I've talked to you over the years. You are this. Basically you're June front hall so that's all right yeah it makes notes that it who's the classics scholar. I would say call myself a scholar right I've studied you went to ground. You've studied it. You you don't know that much about homer which we now war right I've just just on my knowledge of homers pretty much equal to any Lebanese red believe me up. But I want to know out of this kid from Oklahoma decides he's going to be in this crazy business. Well that's a good question. I acted a lot in high school. And enjoyed it very much at a great time displaying here who's. And growing up in tolls I. I we reduce gifts. In morning meeting in I would do these oklahomans here brewers and a lot of fun doing that. But then. You know like like as Paul advises. In the new testament. I was gonna put away childish things. When I went to college. And so I decided I would be yet classes I wanted to via. Either Latin teacher or a Latin professor. And so like Wendell like classics Major Wright chose to go to ground because of their classics department. During might. Freshman year my mother civil what are you gonna do this summer. And a settlement come home. And and hang out in the house and get a job somewhere. And she said what you do with your life and that's about wannabe classes. And she said my mother's very educated woman she went to Gregoire and studied philosophy in the fifties if she's a real TrailBlazer. And she said nothing would make me happier than to have assigned to classes this deep alike acting school. And it's this well in your life when. You can do anything. You walk you have no children you have liberal. To whom your whole you can go anywhere on the planet and do anything. Your your nineteen years old. Don't come home and leave that your mother. I love you and have won howls but oh just in to do something out. She said you liked acting in high school what you go to get involved with a summer theater. And once like auto wrote that rarity of a bomb saying go be an actor with child witches I don't think normal. I said all right and I went in. An active in this summer theater in and decided. We do love this one pursue it. We're stuck with the classics major and started acting plays and then I went to graduate schools act. You do that but what you also do brilliantly I think is right direct. Make movies of some of the plays that you've written right I am god or grace which is incredible. Thank and when that came out because it's about the Holocaust. It's very close I mean what's your maternal grandparents you know that basically got at a Germany just before to escape the Nazi. That's right with my mother. There are technically holocaust refugees not survivor season. They left because of the Holocaust. Essentially right. Before kristallnacht. And bay via England they came over to the US. And they ended up in Tulsa for a lot of complicated reasons. Which really had to do with wanting to use dispersed around the country. So that they would be vulnerable to round up some cities this Jews assimilated Jews. Tended to and I suppose still ten dep. Congregate in the cities. To live in the cities and so. Jews were encouraged to get out into the country so that they would populated communities. Everywhere and cannot be vulnerable to being rounded up and so they ended up in tolls. And when you were growing up where they telling you this stories about this. Ash yeah I sure. And my grandfather or my maternal grandfather had an enormous amount of influence over me we were very very close. And he was this brilliant. Brilliant man one of the smartest men I've ever met. And he was a he was a lawyer in Germany. Finally enough. He. Was to be disbarred. During the Nuremberg laws because that's when they said no Jews could be lawyers anymore. But he happened to be at the time. Rep resenting the German government. In us in a dispute. With the Russians that involved Sergei Eisenstein. And so they gave him dispensation to keep practicing so we can finish that case. Which is sustained credible. It really. And I I've I was never able to learn before he died. What in the world was the dispute with one of the seminal film makers in union won one yet. What what what what what. But he says you know this German. Of the big German government against this that presents had to. And I wasn't I was a teenager and so it just didn't. Understand enough at that time what a nugget that was I mean I've really should have just pursued it but I was too ignorant. Now you're with bill one outing was a year mother and watches home and well liked it looks at why's this happening. You know it's it's fascinating to me because when you you make agrees that when you make a holocaust film. There's always going to be people coming out saying you shouldn't be doing right in. Doesn't matter whether Schindler's List starts and I think it's as if the subject is too great to be made into a movie yet you do. And you deal with the what is it this'll become on the right this sense of Jews who say may be to buy himself some time. That they'll participate. Via in getting people to the ovens to where everything like that is what. Rove you'd do it was it your own background Euro. It was my own background and I. I actually spent. Over a year. Writing another play which was very much just about my mother's story. And the for the reasons you describe I put it aside because I felt like. Although it was important in cathartic and personal. To me I really wasn't offering anything new. And then I came across. Sandra commandos. Just I'd never even knew they existed. In this chapter from the drowned and the saved by primo Levy and I while that some. That's something that hasn't been explored and that. Try and I take. We don't backlog longs men. Sentiment very seriously it as soon as you try to do anything fictional about the Holocaust. You're somehow implicitly saying it's ascertain noble but this is so horrible. That. Debt that in itself is kind of a crime against the Holocaust. So you must not fictionalized and and I I understand that point of view. But I ultimately. Did decide well I'm gonna try to do this it just seems that. When you work that way as a playwright. Writer director. That your life comes into a lot the I've got to do is. Woman living in Oklahoma mean all basically not knowing what the next steps are and in leaves of grass it's. Is this whole thing going on Edward Norton is playing. Twin. Who had that same kind of conflict you know that you just described I didn't and just one understands what doesn't want an academic. And the other one is a liver of life is that we can deliver of life doing. And yet with in this career where you're doing all that you still can appear. In. An incredible Hulk. Minority report. Big giant movies like. This is caused massive schizophrenia and you know or is it just that part of being an actor in this world. We live. But certainly there isn't there. That's funny you. Schizophrenia to a degree because sometimes. I mean as aesthetic schizophrenia I guess. Because sometimes on on. The bigger budget movies. There's attention. And an enormous amount of attention. And also an enormous amount of re sources. Paid to certain stuff that doesn't seem so important while other stuff is neglected. And sometimes that's that's a little strange to deal with but ultimately I just feel. Phenomenal the lucky. It's just so. Unlikely. To have a career at all. And and you know all of it is he's. I feel so incredibly blessed blessed to be sitting in this chair talking to you really mean it it's just all of it has been a wonderful. Continuing surprise. What Tim this is the first time he Denish with anti don't know it and install. I didn't it always vote I don't tell people because then maybe they won't come except you I you have song your home are. And they if you give me a little bit of a threat he Doolittle cool clear water you do something for but just got. All day things that apparently. Without the tapes to Walton. You. Waldman. Latin now I think the guns gonna come out and I'm going to be shot him thank you so thank you for. Both having here.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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