Richard Linklater Casting Bernie, Fargo-Like Crime Story

Speaking at a screening of Fast Food Nation last month, Richard Linklater gave some details of his next project, Bernie:

It’s a film I wrote about ten years ago, set in a little town of Huntsville, East Texas, kind of a little black comedy. It’s my Fargo in East Texas, where I group up, so it’s crazy local with fifty characters. It’s about a funeral home assistant who befriends this old lady. It’s kind of a true crime story.

This funeral home assistant is Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede, previously immortalised in the highly fictionalised TV Movie, Strange Felony. Here’s a summary of what makes the true story so unsual, from Texas Monthly:

This past August, however, Carthage captured the attention of the entire country when the news broke that the town’s richest and snootiest widow, 81-year-old Mrs. Marjorie Nugent, had been found in the bottom of a large freezer in her home. What made the story peculiar was that Mrs. Nugent had been dead for almost nine months before people began searching for her. What made the story truly bizarre was the way many of the townspeople rallied around the 39-year-old man who had admitted to killing her and stealing her money — the soft-spoken, chubby-cheeked Bernie Tiede, the former assistant funeral director at Hawthorn Funeral Home who had gotten close to Mrs. Nugent when he supervised her husband’s funeral.

That very article from 1998 was apparently Linklater’s inspiration in the first place. He wrote the script with Skip Hollandsworth. This info, and the first casting comes from Short Film Texas. They say:

Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine will be arriving in Texas this fall to shoot a dark comedy about a relationship in a small East Texas town between a fussy, but beloved assistant funeral home director and the town’s domineering grande dame.

Fargo; Jack Black being fussy; Shirley MacLaine being dominerring; black comedy. Okay – something’s coming together in my mind now. Yeah, I think I like it.

The casting call has gone out as Linklater is looking for “Texans who are not necessarily professional actors”. He has said:

I’m trying to make as authentic a portrayal of small town East Texas life as possible, so I’m looking for the real deal – funny and interesting folks. There are a lot of small parts in the movie, mostly for people over 40,

Texans note: the open casting call is taking place tomorrow morning. Details at the link.

More on Bernie as we learn it.