The name may not have universal recognition, but the face looks awfully familiar — and for good reason.
Actor Brett Cullen has appeared in a lot of movies and television series, working with some of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood. My favorite Cullen role is in “Something to Talk About.” He plays a horse trainer who has the hots for Julia Roberts while she is separated from her philandering husband, played by Dennis Quaid. Quaid and Cullen went to college together at the University of Houston.
“Making out with Julia Roberts is really not problematic,” Cullen understated last week. “It’s a great way to make a living.”
Recently, Cullen has had a recurring role on the CBS series “Person of Interest.” He just finished shooting “Devious Maids,” a series that premiered Sunday on Lifetime.
Last week, Cullen was in Omaha, not only to catch the Mississippi State-Oregon State game at the College World Series but also to begin work on another movie that will begin shooting here in August.
Cullen will play a father with Alzheimer’s disease in “It Snows All the Time,” a highly personal movie based on Omaha actor Erich Hover’s family. Hover’s father, Ed, former manager of the biolab storeroom at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, was diagnosed four years ago with frontotemporal dementia, similar to Alzheimer’s disease.
Erich Hover, a Benson High graduate, had a small role in the 2011 best-picture nominee “Moneyball.” He recruited producer Eric Watson (“Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream”) and actor Jay Giannone (“The Departed,” “Gone Baby Gone”) to co-write a script with him. Watson also will direct the movie, and Giannone will act in the film. They reached out to Cullen through his agent.
“I read the script, and I thought it would be a scary part to play, challenging,” Cullen said last week. “It’s a really good script, and I like to stretch myself artistically when I can.”
The visit to Omaha was about preparing for the role. Cullen met Ed Hover and talked with Ed’s doctor, Daniel Murman, about how dementia presents itself in patients.
Cullen’s mother has dementia, and he is her legal guardian.
“Talking with the doctor, it was interesting to hear what he said about some of the behavioral stuff,” Cullen said. “It enlightened me about my mother’s condition. Mother has it worse than I thought she did.”
Cullen said he likes the fact that part of the proceeds from “It Snows All the Time” will go to Alzheimer’s research. The Midlands chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is supportive of the film.
Erich Hover, who will play Cullen’s son, said he plans to start filming Aug. 20 and shoot for four weeks. Locations will include the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where Ed Hover receives treatment; Eppley Airfield; the Hover family home; a local bar, not yet chosen; and an undisclosed rural location in eastern Nebraska for a fishing scene.
“I’m excited to work with my cast and crew,” Hover said. “We have actors showing up to work for little pay because they believe in the cause.”
Cullen said there’s no logic when it comes to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“I find it more challenging, as an actor, to look at the behavioral aspect of the role, to make it organic,” he said. “You don’t have a logical reason why things happen. I have to somehow find that life and bring it to the screen. I think it’s really honorable Erich is willing to share this story.”
About 15 to 20 speaking roles will be locally cast before filming begins. One of those roles went to State Sen. Colby Coash, who has a verbal altercation with Hover’s character in a bar.
Pre-production work has taken a year longer than Hover planned, but he said reshaping the script has made it a better movie. He also delayed a bit to fit Cullen’s schedule. The film’s budget is under $1 million.
Cullen has made movies with a lot bigger budgets than that. In “42,” a movie about Jackie Robinson integrating Major League Baseball that opened this spring, Cullen played a baseball coach opposite Harrison Ford, who played team manager Branch Rickey.
“Harrison Ford is a great guy, a wonderful actor who’s really concerned about getting it right,” Cullen said. “And Brian Helgeland (who directed ‘42’) is one of the kindest guys I’ve met in my life.”
He also liked working on “Apollo 13” under director Ron Howard, playing an astronaut in the control room who talks to the astronauts in space. He described Howard as a smart filmmaker who never raises his voice.
“Being a former actor, he understands what we go through,” Cullen said. “And Tom Hanks is one of the nicest guys in the world.”
You may have heard Barbra Streisand is difficult on a film set. Not in Cullen’s experience. He played her romantic interest in “The Guilt Trip,” which opened last December. “She was really warm and giving,” he said. “I couldn’t have had a better time working on that film.”
Cullen loves studying the best actors as they work: Robert Duvall and Gena Rowlands in “Something to Talk About,” or Gene Hackman in “The Replacements,” in which Cullen played a striking NFL quarterback.
“My work is where I study,” he said. “Watching the greatest actors in the world, my goal is to continue to grow and learn, to stretch myself.”