The Unlikely Breakout Stars of ‘Land Ho!’ Reach the End of a Long, Strange Trip (Exclusive Video)

The man on screen is a lot like the man off of it

He began as an anonymous newcomer to the Sundance Film Festival, a white-topped mountain of a man who blended in with the natural scenery more than the red carpets upon which he was walking.

On Sunday, 72-year-old Earl Lynn Nelson was featured in the New York Times‘ arts section after a weeks-long press tour in New York and Los Angeles.

Tomorrow, he’ll be performing eye surgery in Kentucky, hardly worried that his debut as a leading man in a major motion picture, Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz’s “Land Ho!,” will hit the big screen via Sony Pictures Classics.

Also read: Sundance: Sony Pictures Classics Acquires Icelandic Road Trip Comedy ‘Land Ho!’

Nelson is always the life of the party — the guy rides on a float in the Mardi Gras parade every year and drinks tequila and moonshine like Michael Jordan pounded Gatorade — but Hollywood stardom couldn’t be further from his radar. He acted in the film for his second cousin, co-director Martha Stephens, who knew his unique mix of southern charm and fearlessness would make him the perfect subject for a movie about a road trip in Iceland.

As you can see in the clip above, she was very much right, which meant that Nelson was a perfect foil for his co-star, Sundance veteran Paul Eenhoorn (“This is Martin Bonner”). Eenhoorn, the more career and craft-oriented actor, joined Nelson on the trip as his sad ex-brother-in-law in need of a major pick-me-up.

Also read: Sundance Sales Started With a Bang in ‘Whiplash,’ But Never Scaled Lofty Heights

As Nelson recalled at a Manhattan restaurant after a screening of “Land Ho!” last week, he was less excited when the movie was bought at Sundance by SPC than amused at everyone else’s teary-eyed joy. He can take or leave fame: June’s press tour had run him a little bit ragged, and Nelson was drinking his usual tequila and praying for interesting questions each time he was beckoned for another hushed interview the corner of the room.

That is very much a rarity for an actor.

Eenhoorn plans to keep on acting, and is making late-career progress as a leading man. Nelson’s acting future is up in the air, and he’s not all that worried about it. The last year has been a fun ride, for sure, but then again, that’s no different than the other 71 years of Earl Lynn Nelson’s life.