Tim Blake Nelson
An accomplished playwright, screenwriter, director and actor, Tim Blake Nelson is perhaps most familiar to movie audiences as the dim-witted Delmar in Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2000 Oscar-nominated comedy “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” A native of Oklahoma, Nelson is a graduate of Brown University, and studied at Juilliard before embarking on an Obie Award-winning career as a stage writer. He made his film debut in Nora Ephron’s “This Is My Life,” and went on to play roles in numerous films, including “Donnie Brasco,” “The Thin Red Line,” “The Good Girl,” “Syriana,” “Minority Report” and “Holes,” among others.
Along with film acting, Nelson turned to filmmaking with the screen adaptations of his plays “Eye of God” and “The Grey Zone,” as well as writing and directing two original screenplays: 1998’s” Kansas” and “Leaves of Grass,” released in 2009. He also helmed the modernized, teen version of Shakespeare’s Othello, re-titled “O.” Nelson is on the Board of Directors of the Creative Coalition as well as the Actors Center in New York City and Soho Rep Theatre.
Robin Bronk: If you had five minutes in the Ova l Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?
Tim Blake Nelson: I would discuss education, and I would first compliment him on the job he and [Education Secretary] Arne Duncan are doing so far. It’s very difficult for Democrats to find cover with innovations that at all threaten the interests of the teachers unions, and President Obama seems very effectively aware of that as he moves to put students rather than teachers first.
Our success as a country derives from decades of great education opportunities that stemmed from the unrestricted freedom to learn here, along with the government’s support of that privilege. That we have fallen so dramatically behind other industrialized nations, particularly in secondary education, will contribute more to our potential demise than any other factor. Education is central to capitalism; it allows for the development of better products, better producers and more discerning consumers. A smarter citizenry makes us a far more powerful and sustainable nation. We need accurate and challenging standards for both teachers and students, the freedom for schools to innovate and parents to choose and strong arts funding. The president and Secretary Duncan seem to understand this, and must pursue their goals doggedly, no matter the objections of those whose fiefdoms are threatened.
RB: If you could give President Obama one piece of advice, what would that be?
TBN: As an avowed centrist (who voted for this president), I grow nervous when extremely clever and articulate leaders believe they know better than everyone else. Of course, we elect officeholders because in some sense we respect their having specialized in politics and governance, but that does not allow for benign dictatorship. At times I feel this administration thinks it has, by virtue of its intellectual power, the right to impose its will — from Keynesian economic policy to ObamaCare to redistributive tax policy — even while the country strains against it. If the president becomes a one-term leader, this perceived tendency will have been his downfall.
Scandals aside, what made President Clinton such a great leader was his ability to forge alliances — often co-opting the Republican agenda — when the national interest coincided with or even impacted his beliefs. Examples abound: NAFTA, welfare reform, deficit reduction, among others. President Obama can and should be this sort of leader. He’s every bit as savvy and engaging as President Clinton was and can, therefore, know when his personal aims contravene too directly what the country wants.
RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?
TBN: For what issue or accomplishment would you most like for your presidency to be remembered?
RB: Would you ever consider a political career?
TBN: First, I have too much to learn in my own profession to assay another. Second, perhaps because I study politics so avidly, I don’t think I yet have the mettle to enter the fray.
Bronk is a seasoned Capitol Hill strategist and advocate. She started her career at The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group for the arts and entertainment industry, in July 1998. During her tenure as CEO, Bronk has taken The Creative Coalition from a New York-based entity to a national organization. www.thecreativecoalition.org