The National's Matt Berninger, 43, is a big-time indie-scene star; his metalhead brother, Tom, 34, was big-time unemployed; their road movie (out March 28 on iTunes and VOD) is one of the best real-life dramedies of the year
Tom, you set out to film some videos of the National on tour in Europe. How did you end up as the star of this movie?
Tom People started to tell me the best stuff I had was of me because I look like such a fish out of water — and Matt and I are such an odd couple. Even the other guys on tour would say, “The movie should be about you, Tom,” though I didn’t know if they were saying that because they knew I might not be getting flattering stuff of them. [Laughs]
Robert De Niro chose Mistaken to open his Tribeca Film Festival last year, and introduced the movie. What was that like?
Tom Well, that was really special, but he said, like, two words to me: “Nice to meet you.” Which could’ve been kind or dismissive, I’m not sure. He doesn’t talk much. I sat with him at the banquet afterward, along with Blythe Danner and Bryce Dallas Howard. I chatted more with his wife, Grace Hightower.
Matt Look at you! Name-dropping.
Speaking of names, the band shares a stage with President Obama in one scene. How hard was that to shoot?
Tom That was insane. There were snipers everywhere. No one told me to turn off the camera, but I saw the way they were looking me up and down. When I went out there to film my brother on stage, the guy just said, “Move very, very slowly.” He had my shirt in his hand, and very firmly he’d pull me back…. And I still haven’t gotten to meet the president! Matt got to meet him again.
Matt We all did. Except him.
Tom Obamas, if you are listening, I will interview you.
You grew up in the same household, but you’re nine years apart. How did spending all this time together change your relationship?
Tom It kind of broke down the older-brother/younger-brother thing. Matt is extremely successful, and from my vantage point always had been. My 20s and 30s, I really didn’t get much done. But what I learned being so up close with him and the band was how hard they worked, and how often they failed.
In the film, Tom, you’re not very good at being a roadie — after a night of partying, the tour manager, Brandon, fires you.
Tom I was always torn between doing the roadie stuff and hanging with the band. But Brandon didn’t mind being cast as the bad guy.
Matt He gets heckled now. Enough people have seen the film that they know who he is. He’s a little worried he’s going to get pelted with a bottle.
I feel like your mom is the film’s secret weapon. She’s such a champion for you.
Tom Yeah, but I feel bad that my sister’s not in the movie. We filmed stuff [where] I’m complaining to her and she’s like, “Are you kidding me? You’re on the road with a rock band! I can’t quit my job and leave my kids in Seattle to do what you’re doing. Get over it!”