Texas Tech University

Red Raider on the Red Carpet

Lucy Greenberg

March 24, 2022

TTU K-12 alumnus Jesse Plemons is in the running for Best Actor in a Supporting Role this weekend at the 94th Academy Awards.

Jesse Plemons decided to earn his high school diploma through Texas Tech University's  TTU K-12 program so he could dedicate his time to what he was passionate about: acting.   

It would now seem he made the right choice.  

Since his graduation from Texas Tech, his career has only gained momentum. Plemons has gone from the underdog of “Friday Night Lights” to starring in “The Power of the Dog,” a Jane Campion film nominated for Best Picture.  

The film is chock-full of nominations with Plemons up for Best Actor in a Supporting Role along with his partner (both on-screen and in real life) Kirsten Dunst, in the running for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Other cast members nominated include Benedict Cumberbatch and Kodi Smit-McPhee. 

This is Plemons' first Oscar nomination. Days ahead of the awards show, Plemons circled back to his roots and sat down for an interview with Texas Tech.  

This is your first Oscar nomination, what's that like?  

It's surreal. The fact that it's a film both Kirsten and I are in, and both recognized in, and then seeing the film recognized in so many categories, it's pretty incredible. It's a rare moment that I'm not sure will come around again. To be able to celebrate with both our families makes it that much more fun. Our folks are joining us on Sunday night; they'll be all dolled up and at the show.  

You're living in Texas again. What was the appeal of Texas versus living near Hollywood?  

Well, we split time between Austin and Los Angeles and, to be honest, we're rarely in either place. We bounce around a lot for different projects. However, we both recently had projects shooting in Austin, so it was nice to be here for an extended period. I love Texas because it's home. It's close to my folks and where I grew up. I first moved to Austin when I was on “Friday Night Lights,” and I've loved it since. The people, the music and the food are just incredible, and it's an interesting time to live here. There's a huge influx of people moving to Austin from California and New York. There are upsides and downsides to that, but it's a great place to be. It'll be interesting to see how that progresses in the years to come.  

A review in the New York Times said this about your character in Power of the Dog, “George tends toward quiet, using as few words as possible, including when he's being goaded by Phil (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Phil is alpha to George's beta.” This contrasts other roles you've played with much louder and more-colorful personalities. What was it like playing this role?  

I was immediately drawn to the film because Jane Campion was directing it. And the script was just so alive, especially for where and when it was set. The world as described was so vivid and the characters are fascinating, even though they take some time to reveal themselves.

It took time for me to find my way into George's head. To find what about him resonated with me, in the book and the script. I discovered at a certain point that most of the information you get about George is through the lens of Phil, which is obviously a skewed perspective.  

So, I started combing through the book to find the counterpoint of everything Phil says about George. There is a scene in the book that's not in the film, where George is reminiscing about trips his family used to take to the beach when he was a boy. That scene gave me enough information to realize that as complex as Phil is, George is, too, in his own way. What makes George complex is his struggle to express himself after years of being stepped on, after years of being compared to this brilliant older brother.  

Also, early in filming, Jane referred me to Robert Duvall's character in “The Godfather.” She talked about his quiet strength and dignity and being at the center of everything but also on the outside since he's not a part of the family. That really struck a chord when I was figuring the role out.  

Were there parts of George's character that hit home for you personally? 

I think there is something universal about George's character. There have been times in my life when I've had trouble expressing myself or even knowing what I want. I think that's something most people go through. I will say however, that's something I've gotten better at as I've grown as an actor. It's something you think about because it's part of the job to examine those different parts of yourself. So, my career has helped me personally on that front.  

You've gone from “Friday Night Lights” to numerous Oscar-nominated movies like “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “The Irishman,” “Vice” and “The Post.” Are you seeking those kinds of roles, are they coming your way or is it a mix?

To be honest, with “Judas and the Black Messiah,” I was such a fan of Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, that when I read the script and thought about those two in the parts, I knew it was going to be a really powerful film. Stepping into the role of Roy was special to me; I wanted to lend my support to help tell that story.  

But most of the time, it feels like there is little decision-making happening. I base most of my choices on instinct and how I feel with the people involved. I look to work with people who I can learn from. I really trust my gut on which projects I take on. If I don't, it just gets too complicated. And so far, it's worked for me basing my decisions off those feelings.  

Has there been a character you've played along the way that is most like your own personality?  

The goal is to always find some common ground with the character you're playing, but I would say the character that intersected with my life in the best way was Landry in “Friday Night Lights.” I grew up with that character, and I learned so much in the process of playing him. It felt like the role I didn't know I was waiting for. The fact that he was hard to categorize and put in a box was something I really enjoyed.  

Have you ever made it out to Lubbock? 

Yes, I came out in 2007 for my graduation ceremony from TTU K-12. My dad is a Texas Tech alumnus, so he got to show me around campus and had a lot of stories to share with me. He earned his bachelor's degree in agricultural science during the 1970s and worked at Llano Estacado Winery when it first opened. Clinton “Doc” McPherson was one of his professors at Texas Tech, as was Robert Reed. My dad got to learn and work under them and even helped plant some of the very first vineyards.  

I'm also fascinated by the music that comes out of Lubbock. I'm a huge Terry Allen fan and enjoy listening to the music that came out of Lubbock in the 1970s.  

Did your mother go to Texas Tech?

My mom went to Baylor University, but she and my dad keep it civil.  

Texas Tech has the J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts. There are many students in that college trying to get to where you are now. What would be your professional advice to them? 

It took a long time before I stepped back and realized I'd gotten to the point where I was only taking roles I was excited about. That felt like a huge accomplishment, but getting to that point was hard. There are a lot of lulls and doldrums, and those are the toughest times.  

When you find yourself in those times, you have to find ways to stay engaged in what it is you want to be doing. For me, continuing to grow and learn and feed myself with anything I find inspiring, is crucial.  

Look at what you can control. You can control your own work ethic and you can control your own learning. It's a lot like working out. You've got to be disciplined so that when an opportunity does come around, you're in shape and ready for it.  

What's next for you?  

I'm currently shooting a limited series called “Love and Death” in Austin. It's based on a Texas Monthly article that was written in the 1980s. It's a very strange, true story about a community of churchgoers who move to a suburb of Dallas for a simpler way of life, but things take a violent turn. It'll be coming out this fall on HBO Max. 

Personally, I'm just excited to be with my family. Kirsten (Dunst) and I have two boys now, Ennis, who is almost 4 years old, and James, who is 11 months. It's always exciting and surprising to watch them grow.