Richard Linklater’s newest movie, Bernie, received a rollicking hometown reception Wednesday at the Paramount Theatre, and Linklater, Jack Black, and Matthew McConaughey all participated in a Q&A after the film’s only SXSW screening.
If you haven’t watched the movie’s trailer or read the TEXAS MONTHLY article the film is based on (Skip Hollandsworth’s 1998 story, “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas”), consider this a SPOILER ALERT.
The movie is based on the true story of Carthage funeral director Bernie Tiede’s unlikely relationship with Marjorie Nugent, an elderly widow. Tiede was a pillar of the local community, while Nugent (played by Shirley MacLaine) was less than beloved, so when he later confessed to killing her, most of the town rallied around Tiede.
The Q&A primarily focused on the fact that real events inspired the movie. McConaughey, who plays Carthage district attorney Danny Buck Davidson, said that he couldn’t share his character’s zeal for prosecuting Tiede. Although McConaughey said it was the second or third time he’d seen the film:
The thing that got me tonight–it felt like it got everyone else–was, after Bernie goes down, as soon as he gets life … and I know I’m playing Danny Buck, who’s trying to send him that way and then some … I felt–‘Oh shit! No! That’s a long time!’
The audience agreed. When Linklater asked how many people in the theater thought that Tiede deserved a life sentence, only six or seven raised a hand.
McConaughey, who delivers a high-motor performance, was asked how close his portrayal was to the real Davidson. He said “I’m told by those in the know that I, if anything, underplayed him.”
Jack Black, outfitted in bright green sneakers, said the movie asked the question, “How could such a kind and gentle person be capable of this heinous crime? And if he could be capable of it, maybe anyone under the worst possible cirucmstances could be capable of a horrible crime like that.”
“We all know we could do it,” Linklater cracked. “We’re in the entertainment industry.”
But Black acknowledged that knowing it’s a true story “is a heavy thing.”
Linklater also recounted his initial contact with Bernie Tiede, who is serving his life sentence in the Telford Unit outside of Texarkana:
I wrote him a letter, introduced myself, once the film looked like it was