Inside Llewyn Davis Interview
Inside Llewyn Davis Interview
The Coen brothers have made some of the best critically acclaimed and award-worthy films in the past twenty years, including the likes of No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading and O Brother Where Art Thou? and having a three year gap between True Grit and their latest film, there has been much anticipation about Inside Llewyn Davis. Telling the story of a talented folk musician living in the Greenwich Village in the sixties, the film follows him as he struggles to make a living from his records and challenge the preconceptions about folk in the music industry. Here Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, and stars Oscar Isaac, John Goodman and Carey Mulligan talk about working on the film set together.
I’ll start by asking Joel and Ethan, what comes first here? The context, this world in 1962, or the character?

Joel Coen

Years ago we had an idea, as we were sitting around talking. Dave Van Ronk gets beaten up outside Gertie's Folk City. Does that go anywhere as a story? We decided it didn’t, and we put it aside for a couple of years. But we kept thinking about it and returning to it, and eventually thought, ‘Maybe it does go somewhere.’ It was sort of a situation, the situation that begins the movie was the catalyst for the movie. We were thinking about the context, we were thinking about that scene in the village, but that was the catalysing idea.
How did the character develop? He’s such a fully rounded character in so many ways.

Ethan Coen

The character turned out not to be Dave Van Ronk. He was just shorthand for a folk singer, he was the biggest folk singer on that scene before Dylan showed up. The biggest person on a pretty small scene. Our fictional character became defined by the different kinds of abuse we heaped upon him.
Success and failure and creative paralysis have been things you’ve worked with throughout a number of films. Could you expand on your attraction to those themes?

Joel Coen

In thinking about it, what was interesting to us was telling a story about a character who was very talented, and good at what he did, but wasn’t successful. The ambition of the movie was to raise the question of why he wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t interesting to us to think about it in terms of - there’s this character who is bad at what he does and isn't successful. That doesn't seem like a story. But the other did. It developed along those lines.
Oscar, can I ask you about how you came to be involved in the film, and the challenges it presented to you as an actor, as there’s so much singing involved.

Oscar Isaac

It was traditional, I auditioned for the casting director then came in for the Coens, I played some songs for them and they cast me. I’ve been playing music for quite a while. I say I’ve been playing guitar for twenty years, but I’ve owned a guitar for twenty years and have been playing for maybe a few months. I learned how to do this particular style of playing for the film.
Can I ask for an expansion on the collaboration with T Bone Burnett, who you’ve worked with before on O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and the musical writing of the film?

Joel Coen

This is the fourth movie we’ve done with T Bone. The things we do when there’s live music in the movie, he’s very involved from the beginning. We sent him the script at the very beginning. Some parts of the musical ideas of the movie were written into the script. Others were things T Bone suggested, and others were things that came mutually as we were working through the story. That’s pretty typical. We had a week of pre-records, even though we knew we were going to record all the music live on the set.

T Bone brings a big group of people together, and all the music was worked out and recorded as a one week rehearsal, the arrangements of the music were all worked out during that one week. Also working with other musicians and Marcus Mumford, who was one of the co-producers on the music with T Bone.
Carey and John, your characters are so distinctive and so beautifully performed. It might seem like an obvious question, but what was the attraction of working with the Coen Brothers, and also how did you come to be involved in the film?

Carey Mulligan

I had a similar thing to Oscar. I read the script and did an audition in my hotel room, and they very kindly asked me to do it. It was a Coen Brothers film, so that was extraordinary. And it was a character where I got to march around saying flipping, fudging things a lot at him, which was great.

John Goodman

I received an email from Ethan saying they had a gasbag for me to play, and I’d always done well with gasbags in the past.
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Content updated: 16/12/2019 01:50

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