ABOVE: NICK KRAUSE (RIGHT) WITH SHAILENE WOODLEY IN THE DESCENDANTS.
Seven years after the release of the critically lauded Sideways, writer/director Alexander Payne returns to movie houses this awards season with The Descendants. Set in Hawaii, the story centers on the hard-working invisible patriarch of an upper-middle-class family, played by George Clooney, who, after a boating accident leaves his wife in a coma, is forced to deal with the children and life he had hardly noticed in the past.
While Clooney is the front and center name on the marquee, his performance is enhanced by the rich and essential supporting actors that surround him. Most surprising is the work of Nick Krause, playing the dim-witted but affable Sid, a broad comic character that in the wrong hands could have been a one-note joke but is played by the young actor with gentleness and emotional depth. Interview spoke to Krause about his audition process, getting trained to be punched in the film, and his days as a teenage traveling musician.
CRAIG HUBERT: How did you get involved with The Descendants?
NICK KRAUSE: I first heard of it as a tape audition to send out when I was living in Austin. My sister and I got up early one morning and we went through the hotel scene, between me and George, her reading George's lines. I sent it off to L.A. and kind of forgot about it after that. A few months later, I got a call from John Jackson, who was the casting director for the project, asking me to come up to New York to see Alexander. So I went up to New York and while I was there, my mom was with me, and we were looking around, trying to find something to make it a little unique, to make my audition stand out a little bit. So I went into a convenience store and I found a big ol' bag of Cheetos and stuck it in my front pocket with my headshots. I went into the room and told Alexander he must be hungry after a long day at work. He started munching on the Cheetos, we read through the sides, and I got the part in the room.
HUBERT: That's great. Good thing he liked Cheetos.
KRAUSE: Yeah. [laughs]
HUBERT: Were you a fan of his work before you went on the audition?
KRAUSE: Yeah, I had seen Election before I went in, and now I've seen all of his stuff. I was a big fan of Election.
HUBERT: What interested you specifically about the character of Sid?
KRAUSE: I really like Sid, because even though he comes off as really abrasive, he warms up, and you figure out not only that he's a pretty intelligent guy, but really well intentioned. It was cool for me to get a character that has more than one shade to him, that has a little depth.
HUBERT: Was it hard to do some of the goofiness, or the comedy, in the middle of this family turmoil around you in the film?
KRAUSE: Well, one thing that made it a lot easier for me to do Sid is that when I got out to the islands, I got brought out a couple weeks early to get into the ebb and flow, to see what the culture was like, and I also toured a few of the local high schools. Seeing how the Hawaiian guys act, how the high schoolers and teenagers there are all like, made it much easier to bring out Sid's personality a bit.
HUBERT: So is Sid based on some random high-school kid in Hawaii?
KRAUSE: [laughs] Yeah, he's a little bit of all the quirks of everyone there.
HUBERT: That's part of what I wanted to ask you next, which is about building the character. Once you have the part, how do you prepare? You said you visited some schools—do you rehearse or do other kinds of preparation?
KRAUSE: Alexander wasn't too big on the rehearsals. For the most part, he just wanted to keep it as human as possible, to get as real a reaction out of us as he possibly could. We didn't do too many rehearsals outside of blocking. There wasn't any contrivance anywhere. He just wanted us to be people.
HUBERT: So there are no discussions with him, like when you go to the high school, to say: are these choices all right?
KRAUSE: Right, no. He brought us out and just trusted us to act natural, and that's what we did.
HUBERT: The film has a great range of actors, from young actors starting out, to established and veteran actors who have been working a long time. What was the atmosphere like on set?
KRAUSE: Everyone on that set was so cool. Alexander brings on a lot of people he knows, so it was very lighthearted, fun atmosphere. All the actors got to know each other really well, it was great.
HUBERT: Did you have a chance to explore Hawaii a little bit, hang out around town?
KRAUSE: We had a lot of chances to go around. Hawaii has got such a wealth of natural beauty, there's so much to explore—one day you can be at the beach, another day you can be in a giant volcanic crater, the next day you can be on top of a 400-foot waterfall. We had a lot of chances to go and see all of that. It was really cool.
HUBERT: You talked a little bit about the big scene between you and George, which you said you ran through with your sister for the audition. That's a pivotal, powerful moment in the film, and real reversal for the character. It's a really intimate scene.
KRAUSE: That day, we had been shooting awhile before that scene, but I was still really nervous coming up to it, because it was such a one-on-one thing. Like all the other days, as soon as I stepped on the set, immediately, the atmosphere made it so much easier. That was one of the more interesting days for me, because it was so intimate—it was really George, Alexander, and I in there. It was great learning experience for me to get to see it all happen so up-close.
HUBERT: It's in the trailer, so I don't think I'm spoiling anything, but I have to ask about getting punched in the face by Robert Forester.
KRAUSE: [laughs] When I got to set that day there was this big ol' guy that I didn't recognize, and I went and talked to him. He was a martial arts instructor there to teach me how to get punched in the face—the proper technique.
HUBERT: Were you nervous doing that, like, "He may actually hit me"?
KRAUSE: No, I trusted Robert not to hit me. He did get close a couple of times, and I got scared. [laughs]
HUBERT: I know you're from Austin, a great music town, and I read that you went to the School of Rock there, and toured with the band there.
KRAUSE: Yeah, I was with them for several years, and went on a national tour with them.
HUBERT: I watched a video of you guys performing. I saw you tearing up the solo to "I See All Good People" by Yes. It was pretty awesome.
KRAUSE: Oh, yeah. Thanks. I loved my entire experience with School of Rock. I love playing music, whether it's guitar, bass, or I'm back there fiddling on the drums. It also gave a structure and an orderly competitive atmosphere to really get better at what you do. You have your guitar, and you practice every day, but you practice a lot harder when you go to the school and there is, like, three or four guys playing a solo you don't know yet.
HUBERT: The connection I wanted to mention, as well, was that I understand you've been working Richard Linklater on his ambitious 12 Year Project.
KRAUSE: I've been in two episodes of it. It's structured with 12 ten-minute episodes, shot over the course of twelve years. Richard is so laid-back, and it's been a really cool project to work on.
THE DESCENDANTS IS OUT NOW.