“There wasn’t any script,” Earl Lynn Nelson (“Passenger Pigeons”) says. “Martha (co-writer/director Martha Stephens) called me up and said, ‘Would you like to go to Iceland? For a month?’ I said ‘Yeah.'”
Paul Eenhoorn, star of “This is Martin Bonner,” says that the location for “Land Ho!” is “spiritually, visually, just stunning. I like geology and geography, and Iceland has plenty of both. It’s so bloody beautiful and alien — black mountains and bright white glaciers, huge waterfalls, geysers. It’s a dream location, and you can do it all in a few days. Not that you’d want to.”
“The people are nice.,” Nelson pipes in. “They speak better English than we do. They’re kind of conservative, in a way. But on Friday and Saturday nights, they party like there’s no tomorrow.”
Off camera, the two men are seemingly every bit as mismatched in real life as they are in “Land Ho!” The film takes two former brothers-in-law on an old-guys-cut-loose vacation in Iceland.
Nelson, 72, is a garrulous Kentucky eye surgeon who likes to “sip and talk. A lot.” He’s taken up acting in indie films late in life. Eenhoorn, 65, is a native Australian, an actor since his teens. Quiet and reserved, he’s every bit the opposite of this loud, swaggering hard-liquor aficionado that was crammed into bars, clubs, small rooms and a Humvee for rattling road trips through the potholes of Iceland.
“Our chemistry started in my kitchen in front of the freezer,” Nelson drawls. “I took the moonshine jar out, made’im take a swallow. Then we switched to tequila. He was about to pour it into a glass and I corrected him. ‘No, you’re wastin’ tequila. Some of it STICKS to the glass. That’s why we drink it outta the bottle.”
The filmmakers of “Land Ho!”, Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz, attended the same film school as Chad Hartigan, who made Eenhoorn famous in indie film circles with “This is Martin Bonner.” Eenhoorn figured this school (The University of North Carolina School of the Arts) “must be on top of the next wave,” and took a chance. He had no idea what he was letting himself in for.
“I’ve never met a stranger,” Nelson says more than once. “There’s only two people in my life I’ve ever been scared of — my daddy and God. And my Dad’s gone.” He is a classic Southern “type” — larger than life, as expansive as his booming drawl.
“I’m close to the surface, when it comes to my emotions. I don’t have to make up a performance. I just use what I know I have.”
The mismatch creates “pitch-perfect performances” Variety’s Justin Chang says, with each man embodying a character of “ceaseless curiosities, distinct tastes, and time-tested wisdom,” Slant Magazine raved.
Eenhoorn says that “In all ages of life, you are with people and you don’t question why, you’re just with them. It seems to work out. I have a tendency to like people first, give them the benefit of the doubt. If I’m wrong, I get hurt.”
He wasn’t hurt with Nelson.
“I enjoy his company,” the Kentucky surgeon growls. “But he’s such a shrimp, he’s always lookin’ for boxes to stand on, ’cause he dreams of bein’ as big as me!”
There’s a hint of truth in that teasing. Eenhoorn’s screen reputation is headed towards a “sensitive older man” pigeon-hole. Nelson, who says of his co-star, “HE’s the actor, I’m the CHARACTER,” is bringing the Aussie out of his shell — if not during the filming, then during the many months of publicity they have done together, supporting “Land Ho!”, which finally starts rolling into theaters July 11.
“I’m going to SO break this ‘quiet, shy, reserved mold these guys have fitted me in,” Eenhoorn says with a laugh. “I’m looking for something like that Gary Oldman performance in the Jean Reno film (“The Professional”). I’ve got to do something extreme! Earl’s convinced me. I don’t want to be typecast as nice. I want to do the next ‘Taken’ sequel. What is it? ‘Taken 6’?”