Bruce Dern

Bruce Dern

Shayan Asgharnia
Bruce Dern

Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton) and Frank Zax (Bruce Dern) in Goliath.

Greg Lewis
Fill 1
Fill 1
May 20, 2022
Online Originals

Welcome to the Party, Bruce Dern

The actor looks back at his seventy-year career and his most recent role in Prime Video's Goliath.

Bob Makela

There is a scene in season four, episode two of Prime Video's Goliath, that is sure to delight movie buffs. Bruce Dern, who joined the series for its fourth and final season, donned an iconic costume — thanks to star and executive producer Billy Bob Thornton, who helped track down the items from a facility deep in the San Fernando Valley. In a High Noon-inspired dream sequence, Dern got to slip on the very same western garb he wore in the 1972 film The Cowboys, starring himself, John Wayne and Roscoe Lee Browne.

The gesture speaks volumes for the affection between the two performers. "You're the only person I know that [is] true north," Dern told Thornton when the younger actor was dating the elder's daughter, actress Laura Dern, for five-plus years in the '90s. It was a conversation he reminded his old friend about on the Goliath set.

"Because he never brought wrong to me or lied to me," says Dern during a wide-ranging thirty-minute-interview-turned-four-hour-conversation. "The only other guy I ever said that to was Jack [Nicholson] when I called four days ago on his birthday."

For the uninitiated, Goliath follows Billy McBride (Thornton) as he goes from disgraced lawyer and ambulance chaser to respected (if still haunted) lawyer at a prestigious firm where he tries to take down one of the biggest Goliaths of all: the opioid industry.

Of the introduction to his own character, the tortured Frank Zax, Dern recalls Thornton saying, "'Here's your character... think Rear Window.' I said, 'I get it.'" As the seemingly paranoid neighbor across the street from Thornton's Billy, Dern gets to channel his inner Hitchcock. ("I could go on forever about him," says Dern, who costarred in the iconic director's 1976 thriller Family Plot.) And in the series' penultimate episode, Dern gives a powerful performance that reveals layers of rage, regret, even humor. Asked whether he thinks about potential nominations or awards, he says, "I would be obviously tickled pink if I got nominated."

At 85 years old (he turns 86 on June 4), Dern is nearly seventy years into a performing career that began at the Actors Studio in New York, studying under Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan. Now he has an Emmy nomination — for outstanding guest actor in a drama series for Big Love in 2011 — and two Oscar nominations — for best supporting actor in Coming Home in 1979 and best actor for Nebraska in 2014. Even without the nominations, Dern's pedigree would be impressive: godson of former Illinois governor and two-time presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, grandnephew to Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, playwright and journalist Archibald MacLeish (MacLeish is Dern's middle name) and grandson to FDR's Secretary of War George Henry Dern.

Even so, he is just "Brucie from Winnetka," as he sometimes refers to himself — eager for his next role now that Goliath has wrapped. "I like working," Dern says minutes before heading out for a jog. "I always enjoy somebody who welcomes me to their party."

Catchup viewing of Goliath is available on Prime Video.

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