Brady Coleman as Scrappy Holmes and Jack Black as Bernie Tiede in BERNIE, a film by Richard Linklater. Picture courtesy Millennium Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Bernie (2011/2012)

Opened: 04/27/2012 Limited

Angelika/NYC04/27/2012 - 06/21/201256 days
The Landmark04/27/2012 - 06/14/201249 days
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Regent Theatre06/15/2012 - 06/28/201214 days
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Village East06/22/2012 - 07/26/201235 days
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Quad Cinema/NYC07/27/2012 - 08/09/201214 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

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Genre: Comedy

Rated: PG-13 for for some violent images and brief strong language.

In the tiny, rural town of Carthage, TX, assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede was one of the town's most beloved residents. He taught Sunday school, sang in the church choir and was always willing to lend a helping hand. Everyone loved and appreciated Bernie, so it came as no surprise when he befriended Marjorie Nugent, an affluent widow who was as well known for her sour attitude as her fortune. Bernie frequently traveled with Marjorie and even managed her banking affairs. Marjorie quickly became fully dependant on Bernie and his generosity and Bernie struggled to meet her increasing demands. Bernie continued to handle her affairs, and the townspeople went months without seeing Marjorie. The people of Carthage were shocked when it was reported that Marjorie Nugent had been dead for some time, and Bernie Tiede was being charged with the murder.


When the soft-spoken, chubby-cheeked Bernhardt Tiede II arrived for his first day of work as the assistant director of the Hawthorne Funeral Home in the little rural town of Carthage, Texas, no one was sure what to think. The town's barber called him "peachy and sweet." Some men who spent their afternoons swapping stories at Leon Choate's combination barber-and-gunsmith shop just off the town square openly speculated that he might be "a little light in the loafers."

But it wasn't long before Bernie, who never had an unkind word to say about anyone, became one of Carthage's most beloved residents. His greatest attribute, however, was his ability to create beautiful funerals for Carthage's deceased. As one townsperson said, "With Bernie doing your service, you just knew you were going to get to heaven."

One afternoon Bernie organized the funeral for Rod Nugent, a rich Carthage oilman and chairman of Carthage's bank. There, he met Marjorie Nugent, the town's domineering grande dame, despised by almost everyone in Carthage for her arrogance and rude behavior. Like he did with many of the town's widows, Bernie regularly visited Mrs. Nugent after the funeral. Soon, she began asking him to run errands for her, to take her to both lunch and dinner, and act as her escort on trips. Then, in August 1997, in a story that made headlines in newspapers around the country, Mrs. Nugent was found dead, shot four times in the back, and buried under some frozen foods in the large, rectangular freezer in her garage.

In the dark comedy "Bernie," directed by Richard Linklater, Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, Shirley MacLaine plays Mrs. Nugent, and Matthew McConaughey plays the town's blustery real-life District Attorney, Danny Buck Davidson, who was determined to get to the bottom of the crime. "It's my Fargo in East Texas, where I grew up" says Linklater, "a story that captures all the hilarity, friendliness, eccentricity and absolute strangeness of small-town Texas life."

What made the story of Mrs. Nugent's murder so peculiar was that she had been dead for nine months before people noticed she wasn't around. ("The truth was that no one really cared about looking for her because no one missed her," one resident said.) What made the story truly bizarre, however, was the announcement by police that Bernie not only had murdered Mrs. Nugent but had been using her money to give to people in need throughout Carthage. He even donated $100,000 in Mrs. Nugent's name to build a new Sunday school building at the Methodist church. Almost immediately after his arrest, Carthage citizens rallied around Bernie, going so far as to drive around the courthouse blowing their horns, and begging District Attorney Davidson not to prosecute their favorite assistant funeral home director.

"Bernie" is filled with the kinds of characters that one might think could only be invented in fiction -- characters that do things that are simply unpredictable. But much of the movie is a re-telling of what actually happened. Linklater even hired numerous East Texas citizens--many of them Carthage residents who knew Bernie and Mrs. Nugent--to play minor roles or act as extras in the movie.

Director's Statement

Back in December of 1998, I read Skip Hollandsworth's Texas Monthly story about Bernie Tiede, Marjorie Nugent, and the town of Carthage and something just clicked. It's hard to articulate what exactly draws one to a particular story, and what would compel one to undertake the often lengthy and often fruitless task of trying to make a movie out of a real life story. Maybe it was my being a native East Texan and feeling like I knew everyone involved. Maybe it was Bernie's unique character and the complex relationship between him and Marjorie. He played roles in her life from chauffer to chef to best friend and confidant. Maybe it was the interesting legal proceedings that were playing out at that time. Maybe it was what I saw as the dark humor surrounding the entire story. I called Skip and we started talking about how it might work as a movie. I optioned the rights, and not long after we were attending some of the trial, where I would first see the real Bernie, Danny Buck, Scrappy, the many visitors from Carthage and the jurors from San Augustine where the trial had been moved. It all ended for Bernie in the opposite way it felt it was going at the time of the article. In the movie, it is overly apparent during the trial that those on Bernie's side truly believed that he had done nothing wrong and didn't deserve to be punished. One witness even says "It's not as bad as people say; he only shot her four times, not five."

Early on, Skip gave me all his journalistic notes and the treasure was revealed: with Marjorie now gone and Bernie sitting in jail, unable to give interviews; it was what the many townspeople were saying about them that would be the record. Whether you like it or not, on a perception level, you ARE what they say you are, especially in a small town. The majority of the story is told through townspeople's accounts of what happened and their feelings of Bernie and Marjorie. They are the narrators. I'd never seen a movie told from the perspective of a group of gossips, but in this case it seemed like the proper narrative technique that would reveal everything you could ever really know about the town and the people involved. And what characters! There's no storytelling like that of a townsperson from East Texas with that deep southern drawl. It was also this unconventional storytelling device that almost kept the movie from ever getting made. But eventually, ten years later, once Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey had come aboard, Bernie, Marjorie, and Carthage's story could finally be told.

-- Richard Linklater, Writer/Director