Will Forte still can’t believe he’s in “Nebraska.” A comic actor known for his long stint on “Saturday Night Live,” where he birthed the ever-resurrecting ‘80s hero MacGruber, he repeatedly and sincerely expresses shock that he’s in a more serious comedy from Alexander Payne, known for “Sideways” and “The Descendants.” In “Nebraska,” Forte plays the son of an old cranky alcoholic (Bruce Dern), whom he accompanies on a foolish road trip through the Midwest.
What did Alexander Payne say to you when he picked you for the role?
He didn’t come to me. My agent sent me the script. I don’t think he’d ever heard of me. After I got the part I think he realized that he had maybe seen me on “30 Rock” without knowing that that was me. Of course, on that I’m dressed up as a woman most of the time.
Had you been looking for more serious roles?
No, no. I had read drama scripts before that my agent had sent me, and either not thought I was right for the part or loved the part and tried out for it and didn’t get the part. I have never closed the door on any kind of opportunity. I’d love to try a little bit of everything.
Dern seems intimidating — not him, per se, but the thought of acting with a legend like that. How did you get over that?
We just hung out. We had to spend time together because we’re together so much in the script. We’d spend the whole day together, then we’d hang out after work, too. We became very close. What you see happening in the movie was happening to us in real life.
You were once directed by Bob Odenkirk, who plays your brother here, in “The Brothers Solomon.”
I feel like I’ve known him forever, but we never had the chance to hang out much. On “The Brothers Solomon” he had to do a million things. I had far more time with Bruce than Alexander on this, and it was the same with Bob on “The Brothers Solomon.” But it was nice to spend time with Bob. He was the only person I’d known from this movie before doing this movie. It was good to have a buddy there.
Are you consciously searching for more dramatic roles?
I don’t know. I didn’t plan on doing this one. It just sort of happened. I feel like by not developing any kind of career strategy [laughs], that might be best. It worked out in this case, so why start planning now?
You’re from Northern California. Do you have much history with the Midwest?
My grandparents are from Kansas. A lot of the morals I learned growing up and ethics and values were Midwestern values, I think. My whole life people thought I was from the Midwest. I feel like Northern California is the Midwest of California. There’s a similarity there. When I was in Nebraska it didn’t feel so different to me.