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The Old Dudes of 'Land Ho!' Taught Me About Life, Love, and Chasing Tail

<i>Land Ho!</i> is about having fun, even if you’re supposed to have forgotten how. It was hard to wrap my head around this movie because the character’s oscillate between people I wish I knew and people I believe I’ll become. After seeing the film, I...

by Jeffrey Bowers
Jul 11 2014, 2:38pm

Photos Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

I didn’t know exactly what to expect before I saw Land Ho!, but I suspected it would be a movie my grandparents would like. The film was directed by Martha Stephens (Pilgrim Song) and Aaron Katz (Cold Weather). The basic premise follows two old dudes, Colin and Mitch, who are both disappointed with their work and unsuccessful relationships and are looking for a change, even if they don’t know exactly what it should be. Sounds boring, right? Well, after seeing it, I can confirm that my grandparents would fucking love it, but so would anyone else interested in seeing two old farts jet setting around Iceland while drinking, cursing, smoking pot, chasing tail, and soul searching.

Mitch is the kind of character books should be written about—for now, movies will suffice. The dude is pushing 80, but his southern swagger and profound baritone accent are still intact. Whether it’s cursing, misogynistic sayings, or poor advice, Mitch’s quotes ring like poetry. Take, for example, his simplest description of tasty food: “…this is so delicious, it’s like angles pissin’ on your tongue!” Mitch is played by Earl Lynn Nelson, who is an oculoplastic surgery in real life and the cousin of director Martha Stephens.

Australian native Paul Eenhoorn, who most recently starred in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival hit This Is Martin Bonner, plays Colin, the square one of the duo. Colin gets dragged along on a last-minute “for their own good” trip to Iceland. The two are long-lost brother-in-laws whose wives were sisters and ultimately left them to their own devices by different methods. There’s an affinity between the two, but they also can’t stand each other.

Land Ho! is about having fun, even if you’re supposed to have forgotten how. It was hard to wrap my head around this movie because the character’s oscillate between people I wish I knew and people I believe I’ll become. After seeing the film, I had the pleasure of talking to its stars. Here's what the old geezers had to say. 

Earl Lynn Nelson: Did you see our movie?

VICE: In the first few minutes, I got what it was about—two old guys hanging out, drinking, smoking pot, and trying to have a little bit of sex on a sort of land mass.
Paul Eenhoorn: That sounds like a good assessment.
Nelson: Well, only one of us had sex.
Eenhoorn: It’s not a porn film.
Nelson: When we have a follow-up, maybe I will get my sex scene.

Land Hoes
Eenhoorn: So what do you got? One column, six inches.

Yeah, I’ll write 40 to 50 words. I’ll write your names, the title of the film and place in a graphic.
Eenhoorn: Then you’ll write, “These two guys were fun, you should go see the film.”

More like, “Not bad.”

[The press agent for the film brings us a few bottles of water. Earl looks at her thanks her and then turns to me and says “that’s Cupcakes by the way.”]

Nelson: I like nicknames. I give everybody nicknames.

What’s Paul’s?
Nelson: Paulie. [With a sly grin.]
Eenhoorn: His is Asshole. [Points at Earl Lynn]

What are Martha’s and Aaron’s?
Nelson: Aaron is Aaronski and Martha’s is Martha the Magnificent.

Martha the Magnificent is kind of a cheat.
Nelson: I promise you, she’s unbelievable. Her and I are first cousins. I’ve been around Martha since I could hold her in my hand.

I understand how you came to be part of this movie, being related and all, but did she write this part for you specifically?
Nelson: She called me up on the phone and said, “Do you want to go to Iceland for about a month?” and I said, “Yeah.” Then they called and got Paul. That’s when they wrote the script. Little different than a lot of things, but the character is based on me. I like to drink whiskey and I like to smoke pot.

How’d they win you over, Paul?
Eenhoorn: Aaron saw another movie of mine, This Is Martin Bonner, and they thought [snaps fingers] he’s the guy.

The foil.
Eenhoorn: The fool.

Had the two of you met before?
Eenhoorn: No. We met two days before we left in Kentucky to shoot the first scene and see if the chemistry worked. The chemistry was mostly alcoholic.
Nelson: That would be because of the freezer in my house. They stayed with me see for two nights. I have tequila, moonshine, rum... all of that. But you’re not allowed to pour it out into a glass. You have to drink it out of the jar or bottle, because you waste too much when you pour it into a glass.
Eenhoorn: So Aaron and Martha used those first scenes of us drinking to secure more funding. The financiers must have looked at the two of us and realized we’re brilliant.

Drunk, but brilliant. Are these characters much like you in real life? Are you both married?
Eenhoorn: Yes. Happily married.
Nelson: Yessir.

So where did you dig up all of this pain and longing?
Nelson: This is my third marriage.
Eenhoorn: Yeah, this is my third marriage.
Nelson: That might tell you something.
Eenhoorn: As you get older, I think as an actor too, it gets easier, because you’ve done it. You’ve done all of it. You know there will always be other things I’ll want to do that I haven’t done, but…
Nelson: Just because you’re on a diet doesn’t mean you can’t look at the menu.
Eenhoorn: I would not say that. My family would not like that.

In the movie, you’re brother-in-laws and the sisters you were married to split or passed away.
Eenhoorn: Yeah, we made a go of it and then she took all of my money. Which in real life, would’ve been stupid because I didn’t have any of it, but I’m working on it! [Laughs]

It’s never too late to start.
Eenhoorn: We were just talking about that. You should never give up too early—or just never give up.

Was that something you connected with regarding this movie? Tossing caution to the wind and going on a trip.
Eenhoorn: It’s about two old farts that were retiring and were going out of their duh, dah, duh and the thing about it is... How old are you?

Nelson: Say you were married and you found out your wife was foolin’ around on you and you got a divorce, then lost your job, and your mother was killed in a car accident.  You’re 27—you still gotta reach down and get life movin’ forward again. What’s happening to us is not exclusive to people in our age group. You know, it can happen to people anywhere. The thing I’ve always done in my life is I’ve squeezed it for every nickel’s worth. Every day. I’ll tell you, if there’s tequila within 50 miles I’ll get a couple shots of tequila today.
Eenhoorn: He can actually only smell it from 30 miles away.
Nelson: But I’m just saying to you that I enjoy life and you know, I’ve never met a stranger.

That’s a good way to live, but people still have unseen motivations. That’s dealt with in this film too.
Eenhoorn: It’s got a redemptive quality to it. If you spend too much time looking back, you’ll never have time to look forward. This film is about changing expectations and looking at them in a new way.

How much of the film is scripted and how much was you guys just shooting the shit?
Eenhoorn: We had a script. We kept to the script, but we used our own vernacular.
Nelson: We did our own interpretation of what they wanted to get across. We came up with these numbers: Fifty percent was strictly by the script, 25 percent was script changed a bit, and the other 25 percent came from the hip.

How many takes did it take to get the geyser scene?
Eenhoorn: The geyser scene is completely improvised.
Nelson: The funniest takes we couldn’t even use because of people walking through or it not going off—but we got wet and it was cold. Paul learned that waterproof shoes are also waterproof from the inside, too.
Eenhoorn: Yeah, I didn’t have any other shoes or any other socks. I didn’t pre-think that.

Did you do diva shit?
Nelson: He got diva twice.
Eenhoorn: There was one scene were I had to get into a stream, like a hot spring, that people travel to from all over the world. I’m reading the sign and it says, “People swimming here have been known to develop swimmer’s itch.” And I did get a rash after I sat down in that friggin’ pool. There was slime floating down.
Nelson: There was green slime floating down and we’re trying to dodge it. It looks like it’s just on top, but guess what – it’s underneath too.
Eenhoorn: It’s like an octopus. Anyway, I walked up to Aaron and said, “You don’t expect me to get into this fucking thing do you?” And it’s freezing cold.
Nelson: It’s 25 degrees and a quarter-mile from the nearest place you can dry off and change your clothes.
Eenhoorn: I don’t even get into spas with other people, I’m not going to get into green slime shit water… But I got in. Another time, Aaron and Martha ran an open set and I got distracted from what I was doing. Apparently I threw a bottle and nearly killed the digital imaging technician. [Laughs] I just walked off set and said, “Call me when you’re fucking ready for me!”

You did the Christian Bale thing.
 I didn’t do that, but I like doing Christian Bale just for fun. [With his best Bale impersonation] “I’M TRYING TO FUCKING WORK HERE, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!?!”
Nelson:  A couple times when they yelled action, we just wanted to say, “Fuck this,” and walk off just to see what they’d do. We couldn’t do it though—we were all too tight.

Land Ho! was an official selection at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, and the Los Angeles Film Festival. Sony Pictures Classics gave it a limited release today. 

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