Hal Holbrook: From Mark Twain 'Into the Wild'

Hal Holbrook has received an Oscar nod for best supporting actor for his role in 'Into the Wild' i i

Veteran actor Hal Holbrook has received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his role as Ron Franz in Into the Wild. His character befriends Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), a young wanderer. Chuck Zlotnick/Paramount Vantage hide caption

itoggle caption Chuck Zlotnick/Paramount Vantage
Hal Holbrook has received an Oscar nod for best supporting actor for his role in 'Into the Wild'

Veteran actor Hal Holbrook has received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his role as Ron Franz in Into the Wild. His character befriends Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), a young wanderer.

Chuck Zlotnick/Paramount Vantage
For more than 40 years, Holbrook has portrayed humorist and author Mark Twain on the stage. i i

For more than 40 years, Holbrook has portrayed humorist and author Mark Twain on the stage. Robert W. Kelley/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Robert W. Kelley/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
For more than 40 years, Holbrook has portrayed humorist and author Mark Twain on the stage.

For more than 40 years, Holbrook has portrayed humorist and author Mark Twain on the stage.

Robert W. Kelley/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Hollywood veteran Hal Holbrook received his first Oscar nod this year — at age 83.

He has won a best supporting actor nomination for his role in the film, Into the Wild.

But the actor is probably better known for two other roles: for the glow of his cigarette and the whites of his eyes, as the quintessential anonymous source, Deep Throat, in All the President's Men, and for his portrayal of humorist Mark Twain.

Holbrook knew the tragic story of the young wilderness wanderer in Into the Wild. He read about it years before director Sean Penn ever sent him a script.

Holbrook says he felt an emotional connection to the 22-year-old Christopher McCandless, played in the film by actor Emile Hirsch.

"I tried to climb a mountain myself all alone once without ever knowing what I was doing," Holbrook says.

"I was up there four days alone, passed out on a glacier. So I've done a few things like that."

Even now, Holbrook doesn't shy away from physical challenges: In one scene from Into the Wild, his character climbs up a steep, rocky hill.

"They asked me if I wanted to have a stand-in ... and I said, 'No, of course I don't. My lord, I want to do it myself.' I see a hill or a cliff, and I want to climb it. It's just part of my nature. My wife's not too happy about it, but I can't help myself," Holbrook says.

Holbrook's character in Into the Wild, Ron Franz, is based on a real person. But Holbrook says he did not meet Franz — an older man who befriended McCandless during his wilderness wanderings — and he doesn't regret it.

"I have modeled myself on characters all my life, and I've enjoyed it. But I've always had a hunger to find the role where I didn't have to characterize anybody, where I could just be myself. This was the role," Holbrook says.

Modeling himself on one particular character — humorist and author Mark Twain — has been a significant part of Holbrook's career. He has performed that role more than 2,000 times, dating back more than 40 years.

Despite his love for Twain and his witticisms, Holbrook says it wouldn't even occur to him to quote the humorist if he were to win the Academy Award.

"Mark Twain is something precious to me. It's my side arm through life. I've always wanted to just be an actor ... that's all I've ever wanted to be, playing different roles, and [Ron Franz] is a different role for me, and one I've hungered for for a long time. I'm very grateful for it."

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