Thanksgiving weekend 2006 was all about shooting a movie. Thanksgiving dinner was catered and the craft table was rich with holiday goodies. I ate dinner in heavy age makeup outside under overcast skies at Quixote Studios in Los Angeles.
Judd Nelson played a reporter in the film, A Single Woman. This was the first time I had worked with Judd — the Brat Pack’s bad boy, the notorious wild man, he of the wicked, wicked ways.
Here today, I reveal the terrible truth — Judd Nelson is about the greatest guy you’ll ever meet.
I was shocked. Here was a handsome, young (he couldn’t really be my age, could he?!), polite, interested, interesting gentleman, with genuine enthusiasm for life and the project. Rehearsals with him were extremely stimulating — we mostly discussed the politics that permeated the subject matter. Being the son of a lawyer and a retired state congresswoman (Maine), Judd grew up in a highly educated, liberal, fiercely literate home.
Jeanmarie Simpson: How are you?
Judd Nelson: As a very ancient friend of my father likes to say, “I’m able to get around.”
JS: What are you working on?
JN: My next project is All Saints Day, a film written and to be directed by Troy Duffy. It is the follow-up story to The Boondock Saints, Troy’s 1999 film. I have three other projects in the works, but all are in various stages of financing.
JS: I’ve seen the trailer and several other YouTube clips of Dirty Politics. It looks absolutely delicious!
JN: Dirty Politics is a black comedy about political morality, “spin,” and the lengths people will go to to be elected. It’s the story of a Louisiana senator running for president who is 20 points up in the polls. The only thing standing in his way is himself. I play the candidate’s “spiritual advisor,” an ex-priest.
JS: And you’re in love with a dead woman. But let’s move on to more germane topics. Judd, I am eight days older than you yet you look ten years younger. What’s your secret?
JN: You shameless flatterer. I have an oil painting in my attic of you, Jeanmarie, and through some complex and devilish deal-making, you age in my stead (also, it may be true that not taking responsibility for your actions keeps you younger).
JS: Okay, great. That explains it. What a relief. So let’s talk about A Single Woman. I know you share my enthusiasm for the title character, Jeannette Rankin. What were some of the things that first struck you about her when you read the script?
JN: I was shocked. In fact, I still am — that having a supposed quality education… Somehow I managed never to hear the name of Jeanette Rankin mentioned even once, not until the day I began preparing to work on the film. Jeanette Rankin is monumentally important to American history, yet she is continually ignored and overlooked. She is almost completely unremembered. I am ashamed at my ignorance, as if I had just this very second discovered vegetables or fruit. Woe is me with such a bland and incomplete palate, thinking I am the Master Chef. Shoot — you’d think I might’ve heard something about the first woman ever elected to the US Congress! Maybe a word or two about the only person to vote against the US entering into WWII! It’s hard not to believe there must’ve been some concerted effort to white-wash our history in order to exclude someone essentially woven into the fabric of our nation. So, in addition to everything else, the film is a necessary history lesson. Thank you, Jeanmarie.
JS: You’re so welcome. In what way(s) is her story meaningful in today’s political climate?
JN: Well, for one thing, she laid to rest the question of whether a woman is as qualified as a man to serve as an elected representative about 100 freakin’ years ago. She was easily qualified and then some! Isn’t it about time we moved on to the next level of important questions our country is facing? She also demonstrated how difficult it is, yet possible, to remain true to your own core values and honestly represent the political wishes of your constituency.
JS: What do you think is/are the most important thing(s) she had to say?
JN: I like so much of what Ms. Rankin had to say. I am captivated by many of her quotes, especially this one about the nature of war:
There can be no compromise with war; it cannot be reformed or controlled; cannot be disciplined into decency or codified into common sense; for war is the slaughter of human beings, temporarily regarded as enemies, on as large a scale as possible. You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.
JS: Do you have any favorite moments from the shoot?
JN: The brief time I worked on the project was all good, and none of it felt like “work.” You provided me with a great script, and Kamala Lopez provided me with great direction. What more could an actor want?
JS: One of the things that struck me about working with you was how you had the whole crew absolutely riveted during the set-up. You were entertaining us all, making us laugh, saying your lines with a thick German accent…which was particularly funny since you were playing a post-WWII Jewish reporter. You contorted your face 72 different ways inside of a minute. This was before a very long scene full of serious dialogue containing the most troubling questions anyone had (and, in many cases, still have) for Rankin. She voted against US entry into the second world war. When it came time to shoot the scene, you seemed inordinately prepared, especially after clowning around just moments before. How does that process work for you?
JN: My work “process” is constantly evolving — adapting to the material (text, tone, style), the circumstances (within the piece, as well as without), the conditions, time constraints, co-workers… There are so many factors involved. I like to be as prepared as possible beforehand, so my on-set awareness level can be high, and I greatly enjoy the positive engine of the esprit de corps that develops while making a film. The film-making process itself is a living organism.
JS: Thank you, Judd, for taking the time. I know you have thousands of things going on right now.
JN: Today’s words that make you go, “hmm…” come to us from The Talmud, the book of Jewish law, ethics, and customs: We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.