An interview with the Coen Brothers: “We sold out long ago…”

Plus John Goodman, Oscar Isaac and T Bone Burnett!

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It feels significant that Inside Llewyn Davis is John Goodman’s first film with the Coens since O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Both films feature specific strands of American roots music; and both films include a significant off-camera role for T Bone Burnett. In this instance, overseeing the film’s multiple real-time jams and performances. “T Bone became involved as soon as we were done with the script,” says Ethan. “He was the first person we sent it to. It was never even discussed, it was assumed that T Bone would be working on the music.”

As with John Goodman, T Bone’s relationship with the Coens stretches back to the earliest days of their filmmaking career. “I saw Blood Simple, that was shot in Texas, where I’m from,” begins T Bone. “There were people I’d grown up with who were on the crew. Then I saw Raising Arizona. Even more than Blood Simple, it was so familiar that after having watched it about 10 times I just called Joel up and said, ‘Hey, I’m coming to New York. You want to have dinner?’ It’s the only time in my life I’ve ever just called somebody out of the blue like that. I have a very strong reaction to their work, let me just say that. Why? The detail in it. The details are so smart, so specific. And funny. It was as if we’d grown up together. It seemed like there was already a conversation. We became friends, then about six or seven years later I ran into Joel in New York, and he asked me to work on The Big Lebowski.”

(Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
(Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)

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“When people ask how we see this film in connection to our previous films, it’s not so much as what the movie is as a movie, or a story, or any of those other issues,” explains Joel. “We put it in context in terms of process. In that respect, it felt familiar for us to be working with T Bone. The movies we’ve done with T Bone seem to have a continuum for us that’s interesting. But it’s all connected to process.”

“We had a different idea to O Brother…,” says T Bone. “The idea was to find actors that can sing the part and shoot it all live. We pre-recorded everything, as we did with O Brother, but only as a map to make sure we had everything dope before we got anywhere near a stage. The performances were all filmed live, actual coffee house performance, documentary style, without any click tracks. We started six months out in front on this film, with this music, and by the time we got to the shoot, I was there with a stopwatch timing measures to make sure they didn’t speed up or slow down so we could cut between takes. Every take, I was there with a stopwatch. Isn’t that wild?”

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