Tim Blake Nelson is one of “those guys”: a scene-stealing character actor you see in small but key roles in movies, most noticeably “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (as jailbird Delmar), “The Good Girl,” “Lincoln” and, most recently, “Fantastic Four.” But he’s also an esteemed playwright and filmmaker, who made the devastating Holocaust drama “The Grey Zone” and the dark weed comedy “Leaves of Grass.” He’s part of the vast ensemble in his latest, “Anesthesia,” which follows several New Yorkers dealing with various problems, played by the likes of Sam Waterston, Glenn Close, Michael K. Williams and Kristen Stewart. But he says it’s definitely no “Crash.”
Is it difficult corralling so many actors into a low-budget film?
In this day and age you’re more likely to get actors to do your movies, because there are fewer films being made. In many of the ones being made these days, actors are second to special effects. So when you write a drama with really interesting stuff to do, with characters who actually have something to say and face difficult challenges, you can really get actors to join you. The actors who show up want to be there, because they’re certainly not being well-paid.
A lot of terrific actors wind up in big budget films, I gather in part so they can fund themselves as they do smaller films.
Exactly. Certainly “Fantastic Four” was one. Weirdly “Lincoln,” too. We didn’t get much up front on that, but Steven [Spielberg] was really great about box office bonuses. I’d like to think without “Lincoln” and “Fantastic Four” there would have been no “Anesthesia.”
There have been a lot of movies about interconnected characters, the most famous being “Crash.” Would you say it’s like one of those or more like a collection of scenes around characters?
I like a collection of scenes around characters. I certainly didn’t say to myself, “I want a pinwheel structure film.” It just evolved that way. I didn’t really have “Crash” in mind. I think the characters have a lot more in common than the connections that end up emerging. These are really smart people trying to figure out their way in New York right now. Many of them are overwhelmed by technology; one is overwhelmed by drug addiction. But they’re all facing their discontents. It’s more a movie about commonality than connection.