Alexander Payne hits the road with Bruce Dern, Elijah Wood plays piano for his life, and Tim Roth scores three new roles.
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18 May 2012 - 4:55 PM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 7:30 PM

There was a long and unsatisfying seven years between Alexander Payne's last two movies: 2004's Sideways and 2011's The Descendants. The urbane writer/director is looking to better that this time around, and is already casting Nebraska, a road trip comedy (which will be shot in black and white) about a crotchety, ailing father who believes he's won the lottery and the underachieving adult son who accompanies him to collect the winnings. Payne (pictured) was reportedly keen to lure Gene Hackman out of the retirement he went into in 2004, but the acting great couldn't be persuaded.

Payne's current choices, made possible by a low budget, are intriguing. For the father he's now going with Bruce Dern, the American actor whose credits stretch back to television 50 years ago and who did some of his best work in the 1970s in the likes of The King of Marvin Gardens and Black Sunday. Dern has never stopped working, but he's generally gone for quantity over quality. As his offspring Payne has opted for comic Will Forte, a former cast member on television's Saturday Night Live whose main movie experience was starring in 2010's MacGruber, a very silly MacGyver send-up that was spun out from a television sketch into a feature.

Payne has long had his own ideas about casting, many of them exemplary. It was Payne who gave Reese Witherspoon her defining role as the over-achieving Tracy Flick in 1999's Election, while for Sideways he had the likes of George Clooney and Johnny Depp lobbying for the roles that the filmmaker eventually gave to the relatively low profile Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden-Church, who both gave outstanding performances. Nebraska – titled for Payne's home state – is already in pre-production, so it should be with audiences sooner rather than later.

One from the daft plot but interesting cast pile: Elijah Wood will play a concert pianist returning to the stage after a nervous breakdown who discovers when he sits down to play that he must give the performance of his life to keep his wife and himself alive. Yes, it's Speed at a piano. Opposite the former Hobbit in Grand Piano – hopefully as the overly demanding listener – will be John Cusack.

The cast for French filmmaker Eric Rochant's romantic thriller Mobius continues to expand. With Jean Dujardin, fresh from The Artist, already set to play a French intelligence officer who falls in love with a young financial executive, played by Cecile de France, while tracking a money launderer, the Monte Carlo-set project has now added English actor Tim Roth to the list of actors involved. Roth, who's been working in American television for the last few years, has a slew of films coming up, including playing a hitman in the low budget British thriller Liability and a police detective in Arbitrage, a financial world drama from first-time feature director Nicholas Jarecki that stars Richard Gere as a hedge fund millionaire whose life amongst the 1% is under threat of financial ruin. Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling co-star.