Joel and Ethan Coen Interview – NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

     November 12, 2007

When I found out Miramax was doing a press day for the new Coen Brothers movie “No Country For Old Men,” I figured all we’d get would be the stars and the Coen’s would be nowhere near the hotel. But when I got the invite and it said that the brothers would not only attend, but would be doing roundtable interviews to help promote the movie… let’s just say I was stunned. While many filmmakers and actors complain publicly about having to do junkets and interviews, they secretly enjoy talking about themselves. But after meeting and getting to ask the Coen’s some questions, I think I can safely say they are not those people. While I found them extremely nice, I also got the vibe they would’ve rather been anywhere but at the hotel.

Anyway, while I’ve been raving on and on about “No Country,” some of you will be reading my comments for the first time so I have to do some repeating…

Not since Anthony Hopkins first portrayed Hannibal Lector have I been so completely mesmerized by a screen villain. But that’s what happened when I watched Javier Bardem play Anton Chigurh in the new Coen Brothers movie “No Country For Old Men.” His portrayal of a ruthless cold blooded killer is without a doubt one of the finest performances I’ve seen in a long time, and one that’s sure to be remembered next year at the Oscar’s. While I obviously don’t know if he’ll win, I’m positive he’ll at least get nominated.

And while I single out Javier, I don’t mean to say anything but kind words for both the film and the other performances. Although we’ve all come to expect great movies from the Coen Brothers, “No Country” is a whole other level of great.

The movie begins when Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds a pickup truck filled with heroin and two million dollars in cash. The truck is surrounded by dead men. When Moss decides to take the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law – in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) – can contain. As Moss tries to evade his pursuers – in particular a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives (Javier Bardem) – he can only hope to outrun the people chasing him.

So to help promote the movie, the other day I got to participate in a roundtable interviews not only with the Coen Brothers, but also Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin. Just click on the names in case you missed them.

During the roundtable interview with the Coen’s we talked about making this movie, the test screening process, casting, their next two films, and a whole lot more. If you’re a fan of the Coen Brothers this is not an interview to skip. As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the MP3 of the interview by clicking here. And if you missed the clips from the movie you can watch them here.

“No Country For Old Men” is currently playing in limited release and will be everywhere on November 21st.

Question: Do you find yourselves quoted for each other?

Joel Coen: Yes, it happens all the time. It doesn’t bother us.

Q: Why this book?

JC: We didn’t actually pick it. It was sent to us by Scott Rudin who had acquired the rights to it, he sent it to us in galleys about a year before it came out. He asked us if we were interested in doing it and we read it and both, we’d read other Cormac McCarthy books just for pleasure and liked him a lot, but this one we thought was, could make a really interesting movie.

Q: Did you purposely eliminate the quirkiness from this movie?

JC: Not consciously, we just tried to do an adaptation of the book. It was just a sort of straightforward problem from our point of view, which is, how do you turn that into a movie?

Q: Are there films of yours you feel are more similar to each other than others?

Ethan Coen: Boy, we don’t really compare them. There is just nothing in it for us. There is some pleasure in doing a movie and problem solving on a specific movie and getting a movie made, but once they are done we don’t look at them again, much less relate one to another.

Q: Do you appreciate the process of making them more than watching them?

EC: Yeah, it’s kind of paradoxical. We are never going to enjoy watching the movie. But the whole process is, I don’t know why we do it, yes. Sometimes the process is pleasurable. Yes. On good days it’s fun. I guess that’s why we do it.

JC: I’m to the point now where I have a hard time keeping them straight, honestly, chronologically.

EC: There was an interview with Brando recently where someone asked him about Apocalypse Now and he said – Is that the one I was bald in?

Q: How was shooting in New York?

EC: It was different. We live there and we had never shot and gone home at night to bed. So it was strange by virtue of that.

Q: Any challenges of working in the city?

JC: There are some. It’s a little bit different working in New York. It’s sort of hard figuring out what was what, especially given the fact that we were working with some pretty big movie stars so you are in a big urban environment with high profile people. We’d worked with high profile people before, but not in a big urban environment like that so much. So that was a little bit different. Sort of logistically shooting in the city is a little bit different. And then as Ethan was saying, in the past when we’ve made a movie we sort of go away from home and you are able to a certain extent to sort of divorce your working life from your home life for a discreet period of time. It’s a little bit different in terms of maintaining focus, a little bit easier in a way. So all in all it was an interesting experience. It was really the opposite side of the coin from this shoot.

Q: Why film in New Mexico?

JC: Oh, the rebate.

EC: The economic incentive. As you know, the story takes place in West Texas and we shot for two weeks based in Marfa, West Texas for the stuff you really see landscape because New Mexico offers spectacular scenery, but not of that kind and it is a very different landscape. So we shot, as everybody is in New Mexico now, for economic reasons. And because it does offer things, while it’s not West Texas there are things we could shoot there we couldn’t have shot in Flemington, New Jersey.

Q: How did you cast the extras?

JC: The day players came in combination from New Mexico and Texas, most of them. There were a few, actually, that came from Los Angeles and New York. But most of them were local people from New Mexico and Texas. Texas actually has quite a deep acting pool for the state as a whole, I would say more than New Mexico, considerably more. So quite a few people came from there.

Q: Josh said he didn’t make the first audition?

JC: Yes, but he’s a notorious liar. (laughs) That’s a good question. Javier was cast much before Josh was. Tommy and Javier were cast fairly early on. Tommy first, he was on the short list of people who could really do this part, both from an age point of view, and he’s one of the sort of great American actors of a certain age and who can convincingly be from that area. In fact he is from that area.

EC: Tommy would love to hear that. We asked him to do it because he’s so fucking old. (laughs)

JC: In fact he got up my ass about it one day. “I’m only 59 years old.” Javier is a little more complicated. Look, if you have a chance to cast Javier Bardem in a movie, even if it’s a stretch, which I don’t think it was in this movie, you should do it. He’s fantastic. The problem is once we cast Javier and Tommy in those two parts, it’s a movie about three men, each of whom sort of has equal weight in the movie. So you’ve got a problem. You’ve got to find somebody who can be an equal in the movie with those two guys. We saw everybody and we were not happy with anyone until we met Josh. He came in and read for the part and that was that.

Q: You were more enthusiastic after Woody’s scenes that Josh’s scenes?

JC: That’s because Woody did what we told him to do.

Q: Did you know you wanted Javier and his hair to look that way? Did he come up with that?

JC: No, he didn’t, but he embraced it when it was suggested.

EC: The look, actually the feeling of the wardrobe and the haircut came from, the art department does a lot of research, mainly photo research, because it’s a period thing, although a recent period, it’s 1980 Texas border area. So they don’t just kind of make it up from scratch. They look at archive pictures of the time and place. And the wardrobe department had found this picture of a guy at a bar in West Texas in 1979 and it was that alarming haircut and actually that kind of wardrobe as well. And we looked at it and thought, well, he looks like a sociopath. And Javier really enjoyed it as well.

Q: Do you see this as an action movie?

JC: In a way. It’s not Live Free or Die Hard, but it’s…

Q: Did you see it as a tonal shift towards the end when it get more dialogue heavy?

JC: Yes, well clearly, and this is true of the novel and one of the things that was interesting to us about the novel as well, it does undergo a shift three quarters of the way through. The reason for that and what the engenders or what that means and how that works as a story and all the rest of it was part of what was so interesting about the novel.

Q: Were there other tricks along the way like Josh’s Mmmm?

JC: That’s funny because I remember discussing that. When he’s finding the money, you mean? Hmmmm…not really.

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Q: Were you aware of how in pain he was?

JC: Yes! He wasn’t making it apparent. He had a motorcycle accident about a week or two before we started shooting, and then lied to us brazenly about the implications of the accident. So we felt completely at liberty to ignore the fact that he was in pain.

Q: How did you collaborate before shooting with Roger?

EC: Did we do storyboards? Yeah. It varies actually. Roger didn’t do the one we just finished shooting, but he did this movie and the 7 or 8 previous to that. Except when his schedule doesn’t allow it we actually do a draft of the storyboards for the movie ourselves and then a draft, in effect, with him, we kind of redraft with him and the storyboard artist. And we did that on this movie. We have kind of a general discussion about how the movie is going to look and then we all kind of think and forget about it when we are actually shooting the movie. We forget about everything we’ve decided and just take it day by day, scene by scene. That’s probably the norm for how most people work on movies.

Q: What’s the new film about?

JC: The new film is about the culture of the Central Intelligence Agency and the culture of physical fitness in Washington DC and what happens when those two worlds collide. It’s also about Internet dating.

Q: That sounds funnier than No Country for Old Men?

JC: I don’t know. I guess that depends on how funny you find No Country for Old Men or you find this movie. It’s kind of a…

EC: Somebody might say it’s a comedy where as nobody would say that about this.

JC: We just finished shooting it.

Q: Are you already thinking about another project?

JC: We are doing another project in April, in Minnesota. It’s called A Serious Man. It’s a movie about a Jewish community in the Midwest in 1967, a family basically.

Q: Are there benefits to working with your brother?

JC: I haven’t detected any benefit yet. I don’t think it was intentional.

EC: We didn’t do it on purpose.

JC: We didn’t really. It just sort of, shit happens, and then you look back and you go, oh. That’s how it worked out.

Q: Working with Clooney for the third time? And Brad Pitt?

JC: George loves to play idiots for us.

EC: The day we wrapped, just a few days ago. We called wrap on George’s last shot, and he said – All right, that’s it. I’ve played my last idiot. So we told him it was sad that he wouldn’t be working with us anymore.

JC: We always have a really good time with him and we had a great time with Brad too. It was very interesting. They are both very, very funny in the movie, I think.

Q: Is Brad also an idiot in the movie?

JC: I think that’s pretty safe to say, yeah. It’s a dueling idiots movie.

Q: What about co-directors if you get nominated?

JC: We’ve taken co-directing credit on the last, like, three movies. I don’t think it was ever an issue with (the Academy and the DGA). Although the DGA is a different question. We weren’t in the DGA for many years. But we are now.

Q: Do you listen to reviews? This one should get good reviews.

EC: It depends on the movie. It makes it easier to a degree that varies from movie to movie. A little movie needs good reviews more than…well we don’t do many big movies. Yes, yeah, it helps.

JC: Big stars in movies are, it’s all about business. You are certainly concerned about them because they can affect the business of the movie. And the business of the movie is part of what determines what your options are in the future.

Q: Do you guys appreciate that the Big Lebowski’s stature has grown since it came out?

JC: I’m not sure that it’s stature has grown so much as its popularity amongst a certain group of people. But that’s been interesting to say the least. It’s bizarre.

Q: Do you do test screenings or friends?

EC: More friends because there are certain things you want to know when you are cutting a movie or when you think you’ve finished cutting a movie or when you hope you’ve finished cutting a movie and you want to make sure certain things work in terms of clarity more than anything else because those are the really specific questions that educated sympathetic friends can give you an answer to that you’ll trust. Does X work or are X or Y clear? So that’s kind of useful for us.

Q: Are these friends other filmmakers?

JC: Sometimes.

Q: Does the studio make you do test screenings?

JC: They do test screenings at the studio frequently for their own marketing purposes, but not, on our movies anyway, for essentially cutting or content purposes.

Q: Do you offer to cut your own trailers?

EC: There was one or maybe a couple, Intolerable Cruelty they did do a recruited audience screening or two. And then did talk about changes. It wasn’t coercive. We’ve always had the right to final cut, but they are paying for the movie. And that kind of movie, a flat-out comedy, it was actually kind of interesting. We actually did a couple of things and actually did some minimal additional shooting. It was interesting. I don’t know that it helped any. It didn’t hurt any either. It was interesting.

Q: How did you shoot the air gun?

JC: That’s from the novel, the cattle gun, the air gun. There was a considerable amount of research done on those particular machines or whatever you call them. And then we built one that was sort of modified just to work for the cameras essentially.

Q: So were they real?

JC: It was made by the special effects department based on real cattle guns. Javier was using it, but you wouldn’t describe it as lethal.

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