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Filmmaker casts Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine for lead roles in Carthage crime story

By Glenn Evans
Aug. 9, 2010 at 7:30 p.m.

An East Texas murder story as gruesome as it is bizarre appears destined for the big screen.

The story behind, "Bernie," is fodder for a dark comedy if it ever existed. Drawn from the fatal relationship between a 39-year-old Methodist lay preacher and 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent, described as the richest woman in Carthage, the film is set to begin filming next month.

"Bernie" reunites East Texas native filmmaker Richard Linklater with Jack Black, who broke out as a dark horse leading man in Linklater's 2003 feature film, "School of Rock."

Black is cast as Bernhardt Tiede II, according to multiple sources including Variety and a casting company hunting extras with East Texas flavor. Shirley MacLaine is cast as the late Nugent.

The story of Nugent and Tiede exploded out of Carthage when Nugent's body was discovered in her deep freeze unit in August 1997. A medical examiner later testified Nugent had been killed by .22-caliber gunfire the previous fall.

Tiede, her companion on world-ranging vacations and cruises, and the recent beneficiary of $10 million in her will, was convicted of murder in early 1997. He is serving life in prison.

Director Linklater and Texas Monthly Executive Editor Skip Hollandsworth co-wrote, "Bernie," which Linklater will direct, according to the casting announcement from Austin-based Detour Filmproduction.

"Where they are going to go with this, I don't know," Northeast Texas Regional Film Commission Director Ron Hollomon said. "It's going to be a dark comedy for sure."

The commission is one of several regional panels promoting movie-making in Texas under the State Film Commission in the governor's office.

A casting company was in Texarkana Saturday hosting tryouts for extras. An announcement from the casting outfit says filming will begin in September in both East Texas and Bastrop, the latter home to a large sound studio.

Carthage Chamber of Commerce President Tommie Ritter-Smith learned about the movie Monday. Her reaction displayed the conflict of a lifelong resident and skeptical Carthage defender.

"We welcome all film crews to our town, and we're supportive of the film industry in East Texas," she said. "One thing I don't want to happen is for East Texas - not just Carthage but East Texas - to come out in a derogatory manner."

Attempts to reach Linklater Monday were not successful. E-mail and phone messages sent to the casting company owner did not receive an immediate reply.

Lee Ellen Benjamin, a spokeswoman for the Northeast Texas film commission, said the head of the casting company plans to bring auditions to Longview on Aug. 22. Auditions will be in Carthage the day before that, Benjamin said.

Linklater plans to cast people reflecting his image of East Texas.

"I'm trying to make as authentic a portrayal of small-town East Texas life as possible," Linklater is quoted in the casting announcement. "So I'm looking for the real deal - funny and interesting folks. There are a lot of small parts in the movie, especially for people over 40."

The phone number for casting information is (512) 472-5385 ext. 1.

According to News-Journal reports at the time, Tiede's arrest shook the Carthage community where he worked nine years as an embalmer at a local funeral home. Tiede was a frequent community volunteer, especially in local theater and choral groups who also took on occasional preaching engagements.

Investigators testified at trial that Nugent became increasingly demanding of Tiede's time and attention, while he became more and more dependent on her financial support.



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