Tim Blake Nelson Says His Son’s Directorial Debut ‘Seeped Into My Dna’

Asleep in My Palm is a quiet but commanding, funny, and heartbreaking indie film that may have flown under your radar when it was released March 1st, but now that it’s available on digital platforms and on demand, you have a chance to rectify that. Tim Blake Nelson is phenomenal as a protective father living with his teenage daughter in a storage unit, hustling for money however he can; we see him up all night in the cold, stealing bicycles and transporting them one at a time to the pick-up location. It’s a fascinating portrait of someone living off the grid, perhaps an unreliable narrator, and what it’s like to be a parent in a hostile world.

Nelson’s son, Henry Nelson, actually wrote and directed the film in his feature directorial debut. However, it was never intended to have his illustrious father in it; Asleep in My Palm began much smaller than that, as Nelson will explain. But the actor (who is also an excellent director himself) certainly brings a lot of attention to the film. Nelson is famous for his supporting character roles (Lincoln, The Incredible Hulk, The Thin Red Line, The Fantastic Four, Collateral, etc.) but has garnered acclaim for big roles in several Coen brothers’ films like O Brother Where Art Thou and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, not to mention leading the excellent Western Old Henry.

Nelson spoke with MovieWeb about making Asleep in My Palm with his son and the future of their collaborations.

‘We’ve Always Wanted to Make Movies Together’

Asleep in My Palm


Release Date
February 26, 2024

Henry Nelson

Tim Blake Nelson , Grant Harvey , Gus Birney , Jared Abrahamson , David Aaron Baker

Henry Nelson

Red Barn Films , Hideout Pictures

Strike Back Studios

With a scraggly beard and thin wire glasses, hostile and paranoid undertones, and deep paternal instincts, it’s hard to imagine the character of Tom being played by anyone other than Nelson, but that was almost the case. While films with non-actors can absolutely be successful, Nelson knew that the amount of dialogue and emotion involved would benefit from an experienced actor.

“He didn’t write it for me,” said Nelson. “We’ve always wanted to make movies together, and we’re gonna keep doing it. And he was in college, he wrote this for his professor to play the role of Tom. And he gave it to me, and I loved the script, and nothing against this professor, but I said, ‘Henry, you know, you need a real actor to play this role.’ And it wasn’t even an acting professor; if it was his acting professor, I would’ve said, ‘Okay, great.’ But it was his composition professor, because he was in music conservatory.” Nelson continued:

“And I said, ‘It’s just that you’ve got this — it opens with this five-page monologue, and that’s really not easy to do. And then there are emotional places that this character goes and… yeah. And he’s like, ‘Well, what do I do?’ And I said, ‘Well, maybe this should be our first collaboration. Why don’t I play the role? And let’s try to raise the money and make it as a real, a bigger feature, a real indie feature.”

Related: Asleep in My Palm Review: Tim Blake Nelson Delivers a Powerful Turn in This Off-Grid Drama

“And I was lucky enough to have done this movie called Old Henry that had been very successful for these financiers out of Nashville, and they said, ‘Yeah, we’ll make this,’ and they financed it,” explained Nelson. “And once that happens, Henry and I melded together and kind of collaborated on the role, in terms of the writing of it, to suit it to certain things I was gonna be able to bring to Tom that the professor might not have. So that monologue got longer, and some of the emotional distance to travel got longer. And we set about to make a movie.”

Satanists and Chicken Little

Speaking of that long monologue, the film starts with a bedtime story of sorts. It’s a perfect way to open this specific film for reasons we can’t completely divulge without spoiling it, but it’s also a quirky and slightly unsettling scene. Nelson’s character, Tom, tells a profane and dark variation on the Chicken Little story to his teenage daughter, Beth Anne (played by Chloë Kerwin of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). She interjects here and there, and he elaborates on certain points, and she lies there falling asleep. They’re in a storage unit filled with odds and ends and the warm glow of Christmas lights, and it goes on for quite a while.

“I thought it was really a provocative way to start a movie. I loved it,” said Nelson of filming the scene. “And what an opportunity, as an actor, to get to take that on. I had months to work on it, so it seeped into my DNA, it really seeped into my being, and it was a joy performing it. And I also had a great team partner in Chloë Kerwin. I mean, in most of this movie I’m acting opposite an exquisite young actress doing her first film, which is astonishing. And so yeah, I loved it.”

Though Asleep in My Palm is fundamentally a character drama about people on the fringes of society, it’s also pretty humorous in places, because life is pretty humorous. From the Chicken Little story to Tom’s annoyed reactions to his motormouth partner-in-crime (a hilarious and sad Jared Abrahamson), the film makes room for levity. One of the most entertaining and bizarre aspects concerns a band of merry Satanists who parade around the college campus, close to Tom’s storage unit. Their leader is a trip; whether he’s performing an animal sacrifice or walking around naked, the Satanists help flesh out the snowy little word of the film.

“I love the fact that he’s also a graduate who’s still hanging around 10 years later,” said Nelson. “I think that’s just really funny, and also absolutely typical of the environment around liberal arts colleges. There are always those guys who just don’t leave, and they experienced high status as a junior and senior in college, and they’re afraid to leave that behind. So they just hang around in the town and prey on the devotion of the credulous.”

Directed and Composed by Henry Nelson

MovieWeb has been speaking to a lot of parent-child pairs recently, from Kurt and Wyatt Russell to Ewan and Clara McGregor, and we’ll be speaking with Ethan Hawke and Maya Hawke soon, too. Parents like working with their kids, and vice versa, and that’s definitely the way it is for Tim Blake Nelson.

Related: Best Movies Tim Blake Nelson Directed, Ranked

From the actor’s perspective, this is only the beginning of what will be a fruitful artistic collaboration between him and his son. He really respects his work and comes across as a genuinely proud father, and he should be. Henry Nelson does a great job here, and he also created the score of Asleep in My Palm (which also features songs from great indie artists like Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief).

“Henry and are going to do something together,” explained Nelson, “and we’ll direct that together, or he will be the director and I’ll be the producer, I mean, whatever. It doesn’t really [matter], but I’m gonna act on it also. And we wrote the script together. And then I have another project I’m raising money for right now that I would do solo, although Henry would compose the music for it. And he may come on as a producer, we’re not sure. But it’ll depend on what he’s up to at the time. So yeah, there’s definitely stuff in the works.”

For now, there’s Asleep in My Palm. From Red Barn Films and Hideout Pictures, Strike Back Studios released the film in theaters on March 1st, and onto VOD March 19th. You can rent or buy it from digital platforms like YouTube, Google Play, Fandanga at Home, and through the link below on Apple TV.

Watch on Apple TV


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