Hollywood icon Bruce Dern, currently starring in the new film The Mustang, on the secret to a happy marriage, acting advice for 9-year-olds, and that time he ran from Santa Monica to Denver.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
I had an uncle named Herbert F. Goodrich, who was a Third Circuit Court of Appeals judge in Philadelphia. One day he said to me, “Let me tell you something, lad—I have the best job in the United States.” I said, “How’s that?” He said, “Every day I get to get up and go to the courthouse with a chance to be fair.” I never forgot that. My principle in life, if there is one, is to always try and be fair.
Despite being 82 years old, you’ve got something like nine projects coming up in 2019. What’s your secret?
I don’t look back well. Charlton Heston once told me, “You know, an actor is only as good as his next film.” I’m trying to get to 100, and I will get there working.
You’ve been a hardcore runner your whole life. Do you still do it?
I still race in my age group, 80 to 85—the 800 or 1,500 meter. I’ve run a ton of marathons and I’m one of the grandfathers of ultra-long-distance running in America. Runner’s World once calculated that I’d run 105,000 miles. That’s four times around the world.
What’s the longest you’ve ever gone?
In 1967, me and another guy started in Santa Monica, and in 34 days we ran to Stapleton Airport in Denver—1,096 miles. We had a motorhome following us, and we’d run three hours, go in for 45 minutes, run another three, go in for another 45, until it was dark. What I liked about it was, it was perpetually moving forward. Onward, if you will.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve taken away from a lifetime of running?
I’ll give you a Bruce Dern credo about running: If you miss a day of running or training, no one knows it but you. If you miss two days of training, your opponent knows it. And if you miss three days of training, the crowd knows it.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life so far?
I’m not picky. I can learn from whoever it is that’s out there. The people who have impressed me most in my life are the people who get shit done.
Your daughter Laura is also an accomplished actor. Did you give her any advice?
At 9 years old, she told me she wanted to act and said, “Daddy, what’s the drill? What do I have to do?” I said, “Take risks. Go to the edge of the cliff and take roles other actresses won’t take.”
What’s the secret to a happy marriage?
Marry a friend. If you can’t say your wife is your best friend, then you’re doomed.
What human quality do you most deplore?
And what do you most admire?
When people, immediately when they’re walking toward you, show you a bit of their heart.
How should a man handle criticism?
Well, it’s there, and it’s not going away. Hopefully, you get plus criticism from peo- ple who know what they’re talking about.
What role should vanity play in a man’s life?
There’s nothing wrong with being proud of what you’re doing, the way you look, or anything else. But to obsess with it? That’s disgusting.
What is the best cure for heartache?
Everybody gets their heart broken. I get my heart broken every time I see the Rams put themselves in the toilet.
How do you want to be remembered when you’re gone?
The last line in my book is, “A bunch of folks got together and decided that Bruce Dern could play.” I don’t need to be the best—I just want folks to know that I could play.
-As told to Larry Kanter