Tim Blake Nelson, Sam Waterston, Jessica Hecht, Mickey Sumner, and Gloria Reuben at the Tribeca Film Festival Premiere of Anesthesia
Many people know Tim Blake Nelson as the hapless Delmar O'Donnell in the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). More recently, Nelson has given memorable performances in Netflix’s the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the Discovery Channel’s Klondike (2014), a miniseries nominated for an Emmy. In addition to acting, however, Nelson is a filmmaker in his own right. At the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, we caught up with him at the red carpet for his latest movie, Anesthesia (2015), which he wrote, directed, and starred in.
When Columbia University Professor Walter Zarrow (Sam Waterston) is violently mugged, the crime brings together several disparate people, and the narrative weaves us through their scattered lives, exposing the common struggles of the modern age they all face.
Nelson is joined by a stellar cast that includes Waterston, Glenn Close, Michael K. Williams, Gretchen Mols, Kristen Stewart and many other actors familiar to theater and television enthusiasts. We were lucky enough to speak with Nelson, Waterston, Jessica Hecht, Mickey Sumner, and Gloria Reuben at the premiere, and that’s still only a handful of the talented performers who believed in Nelson’s script enough to sign on for its production.
We asked Nelson whether or not the film makes a strong statement on technology and our interconnectedness, a common reflection in this day and age. “I’m not anti-technology,” the filmmaker explained. “I love my iPhone and my computer… It [the film] just asks questions, and ultimately, it’s not anti-technology in any respect. It’s asking ‘Is there room still for introspection?’”
Anesthesia Ponders the Role of Introspection in Our Modern Lives
Actress Mickey Sumner discussed her role as Nicole in the film, explaining that her character gets caught up in a love affair with a married man. Sumner felt it was important not to judge Nicole, but rather to “find why she’s in this relationship that’s not as satisfying as she deserves.”
Judging Character Isn’t Mickey Sumner’s Job—Understanding Them Is
ER star Gloria Reuben plays Meredith, best friend to Sarah, the character played by Gretchen Mol. It’s an onscreen friendship whose importance is “palpable and deep” within the world of the film. “Even though they’ve taken very different paths,” Reuben explained, “it’s clear they have a longstanding affection for each other.”
We also asked Reuben about her 2006 performance of Condoleezza Rice in David Hare’s play Stuff Happens, a role for which Reuben received the Lucille Lortel Best Actress award. Reuben called the former Secretary of State “an enigma….She had this exquisite way of being able to be the best at what she did and be present, and be human, and still be a mystery. I think that was a real feat.”
Gloria Reuben Explains Her Character’s Anesthetic Tendencies
When asked about the film’s relatability, veteran actor Sam Waterston commented, “When I read it, I thought Tim Blake Nelson had been stealing my thoughts….The film in its entirety was a surprise to me,” he continued. “But my character, the things he was thinking about and wanted to talk about… it’s fairly rare that the part comes over [to you] and says ‘We know each other already.’” Sounds like this creative pairing may have a future together if they’re that in synch.
Sam Waterston’s Immediate Connection to His Anesthesia Character
Jessica Hecht’s role of Jill in Anesthesia certainly isn’t her first one in an indie film, but her television performances are perhaps the most familiar to audiences. They include Gretchen Swartz on Breaking Bad, Susan Bunch on Friends, and a great many more. Episodic television likely gives her great insight into the film’s structure of characters in their “own little fiefdom.” Hecht continued, “The beauty of the film is that everything we go through—and I would imagine all the actors would say the same—seems completely understandable based on the lives we all live. Completely, beautifully believable.”
Jessica Hecht Was Thrilled with Anesthesia’s Relatable Characters