'Nebraska' writer - 'a boy from Kent' - gets Oscar nomination

The Seattle TimesJanuary 17, 2014 

“It’s pretty exciting, for a boy from Kent,” said Bob Nelson.

The screenwriter, a Northwesterner and veteran of TV’s “Almost Live,” was on the phone Thursday, not long after learning that his first produced screenplay, “Nebraska,” was nominated for an Academy Award.

Nelson, who lives on Whidbey Island but is in Los Angeles this week, got the news at 5:45 a.m. in his hotel room, after a night of sleeping “on and off.” He’d instructed his wife, who gets up early, to “wake me up if I’m in” — and was up before dawn, “actually kind of surprised,” with the good news.

The film, a moving yet unsentimental road-trip comedy/drama in which a father and son reconnect, received a total of six nominations, including best picture, director (Alexander Payne), actor (Bruce Dern) and supporting actress (June Squibb).

Since the announcement, calls and emails have been pouring in, Nelson said — including many from friends in the Seattle area.

In between media interviews, Nelson squeezed in a call to his mother, Kent resident Jean Wilson, who also got up early to hear the nominations.

“She’s pretty excited,” Nelson said, noting that his mother, at 85, is “still square-dancing and nailing roles in Alexander Payne movies.” (Wilson has a walk-on role in “Nebraska.”)

It’s a lot of recognition, said Nelson, for a film that “wasn’t necessarily expected to be here at all.”

He wrote “Nebraska” more than a decade ago, and waited patiently for years before its production. Payne showed interest in the film early, but made “Sideways” and “The Descendants” before taking on “Nebraska.”

“We wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t signed on,” Nelson said of Payne. “I’m so happy for him, and for everyone else on the film.”

It’s already been a whirlwind awards season for Nelson, 57, who attended the Golden Globes as a screenwriting nominee last weekend — great fun, he said, but “it’s an odd day when you’re walking into the bathroom and Martin Scorsese’s walking by you.”

Though he’s in the planning stages for two upcoming projects (another film, which he wrote and hopes to direct, and a TV pilot), the next few weeks will bring more festivities, with events including the Writers Guild of America Awards on Feb. 1 (Nelson is a nominee), the Academy Award nominees’ luncheon on Feb. 10 and the awards ceremony on March 2.

“I guess I’ll be down in L.A. a lot in the month of February,” said Nelson, who planned to “head downstairs and congratulate Bruce and June and Alexander and the producers” after hanging up. He cheerfully noted that he’d be “putting on the suit” that evening: “I’m scheduled to lose at the Critics Choice Awards tonight.”

Though “a boy from Kent putting on a tux is not the most natural thing,” Nelson said that he finally broke down and bought a tuxedo not long ago. “This might be my third time wearing it,” he said. “I guess it may have paid off here.”

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