Tim Blake Nelson on ‘Old Henry,’ Westerns

Filmmaker-actor Tim Blake Nelson commands the screen in the Western thriller “Old Henry,” written and directed by Potsy Ponciroli. Nelson’s intense performance as a man driven to extremes in order to protect his son in early 1900s Oklahoma drives the narrative.

What appealed to you most about the script?

I’ve always loved Westerns. It was a true meat-and-potatoes take on the genre, but my main connection to the material was as a dad, as I’ve got three ornery kids in New York City, two of whom are in college. Raising kids is tough because you always want to shield them from the challenges of the world, and I loved how Potsy’s script examined the real tension that comes with parenthood, and how parents always have to decide how much of the real world they should be exposing their children to.

Who is Potsy Ponciroli?

I didn’t know Potsy in the least before I read his script, and initially, his name reminded me of another filmmaker I had worked with a long time ago, Helmut Schleppi, because it was such a strange name. But I loved Potsy’s script, and met him over Zoom with his producing partner, Shannon Houchins, and right away I knew I wanted to do it. Potsy is one of the most decent people I’ve met while doing what I do, and he took the subject matter very seriously. You want to work with a director who has a very strong opinion of what the film should be, and with a producer who can execute that vision.

What are some of your favorite Westerns?

Growing up in Oklahoma, the Sergio Leone movies had a tremendous influence on me. Invariably, one of his films was always playing on television on Saturday or Sunday when I was kid, back when there were only four channels to pick from. His films were my introduction to cinema as an art form, because in every Leone picture, the way he shot them, they were entirely subjective experiences, and I think he pushed the western genre to a place where nobody had gone before. And I am very much a student of the films of Howard Hawks and John Ford and many others, but nobody had the same impact on the Western genre, on the whole, as Leone.

Do you prefer to be the center of attention with a leading role, or more part of an ensemble?

I want to play the most important role that the director needs me to play, so for me, it always comes down to what is the role bringing to the project and what is the director trying to say with their work. Because film is very much a director’s medium, not an actor’s medium, and I really believe in that and live by that. With “Old Henry,” the leading role was the right role, so it all just made sense.

What’s up next?

I’ve got two or three movies coming up during the first half of 2022, but it’s still too premature to discuss anything, because it’s not real until it’s actually happening. But I’m definitely staying busy.