Photo by Millennium Entertainment
Rarely has a convicted murderer been portrayed with such heart, humanity, and humor as one is in "Bernie
," the ripped-from-the-headlines story of a popular small-town Texan undertaker (Jack Black) who snapped, shot a wealthy widow (Shirley MacLaine), and was prosecuted by an ambitious D.A. (Matthew McConaughey). In the hands of director Richard Linklater ("The School of Rock"), it becomes a black comedy about court justice and common courtesy. I sat down in New York with the director and star to discuss life, death, and Broadway musicals.
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Thelma Adams: You optioned a magazine article in "Texas Monthly," Richard, but how did you know this was the story you had to do next?
Richard Linklater: It got its hooks in me. I felt I knew the town. I knew the people: Bernie and Shirley's Miss Nugent. That's where it starts. The article ends inconclusively. I attended Bernie's trial. At that point, it became a legal question. I saw all the dominos fall backwards. They disallowed the psychiatrist. They allowed the jury to see Miss Nugent being pulled out of the freezer. I had one look at the jury, and I knew: If this was a capital trial, they would gladly [have] given Bernie the death penalty.
TA: I love that relationship between Bernie and Miss Nugent — and how it sours.
Jack Black: It spoke to me. When I read it three years ago when Rick slipped me the script, I felt like I knew Bernie's voice and how I wanted to move. It was a very compelling story: The most beloved man in a small town that's least likely to commit murder. That's what it should have said in his high school yearbook
RL: And Miss Nugent would have said "the one most likely to be murdered."
JB: It's about that flaw in the pearl. It's a little eye-opener about crime and what it is to be at the center. Is Bernie a monster, or is it possible that anyone in the worst possible circumstance could be capable of monstrous thing?
RL: That's the central question. You could have a little brain tumor that could change you. It's an intriguing...
Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images
I'm curious, Jack, about how you put Bernie together from the outside in. He has such a distinctive way of walking and moving.
JB: I got to meet Bernie in person. I spent some time in [a] maximum-security prison.