From Academy Award winners Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis follows folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), who is struggling to make it in the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Relying on friends for a couch to sleep on and scrounging for whatever work he can find, Llewyn attempts to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, many of which are of his own making, while never really catching a break. The film also stars Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Adam Driver, Stark Sands and Max Casella.
At the film’s press day, actor John Goodman (who plays the rather eccentric Roland Turner) spoke at this roundtable interview about how this role was presented to him, finding the cadence and personification of his character, how important the costume was, what his ongoing relationship with the Coen brothers has meant to him, what the experience of working with the Coens is like, having been on the same page with them since his audition for Raising Arizona, and what his own pre-success years looked like. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JOHN GOODMAN: With this one, I got an email from Ethan that said, “Madman, we’ve got something you might be interested in.” Then, they sent me the script. I didn’t have to read the script, but I did. I would have done it anyway. I could show up and have them say, “Here’s your costume. We’re gonna write your words out. Just say that and go.” That would have been good enough for me.
Roland is a very interesting character, to say the least. Where did you find the cadence and personification?
GOODMAN: I was very fortunate, in that I let the guy come to me. I read it, read it and read it. I had a lot of long speeches, and I’m getting older, so I had to keep going over it and over it. And then, the voice came to me and I had to trust that. It was all in there. And when that happened, it worked for Joel and Ethan, so I said, “Well, this is good enough.” But, it presented itself. I think I’m getting to an age where that’s happening more often than not. Things will present themselves like that. I can hear the guy, among the other voices in my head. I trust myself to listen to it and go with it, whereas before, I didn’t trust myself as much.
How important was the costume, in finding this character?
GOODMAN: Roland really self-romanticizes, and I think he pictures himself as an outcast of society. He was drawn to African American culture. This is just my stuff. This is part of what I did to find the character. At one point, Roland was really free and the music spoke to him. At this point in his life, I think he’s calcified, in that he’s stuck in that image of himself and he doesn’t want to accept any other forms of music. Plus, he’s a gasbag and a blowhard. But, he’s just living a life of fear.
GOODMAN: Yeah, we’re on the Midwestern wiseguy network. Early on, we discovered that we had a lot of the same reference points. If there’s a shortcut, that’s it.
I don’t know if the Coens ever articulated to you that you were going to be a part of their returning ensemble for several of their movies, but what has your ongoing relationship with them meant to you?
GOODMAN: It’s meant everything. Being able to work with them has really done a lot for me. When you work with people that are that good, I’d like to think that I can rise to the occasion and maybe learn something from them. Just looking at the way they put together scripts, with their references and their writing, it’s made me a better script reader.
It’s been awhile since you last worked with the Coens. Why is that?
GOODMAN: They just didn’t have anything for me. At one point, they had written a character for me, but it was just too much like the other characters that they had written for me, so they had to let me go. I got my pink slip.
Which film was that for?
GOODMAN: I’d rather not say. There just didn’t happen to be anything. So, I flipped when this one came through. Boy, was I happy! I was watching True Grit and going, “I could have done something in there. I could have played the train guy, or something.”
How does working with the Coen brothers compare to other directors you’ve worked with?
GOODMAN: My relationship with Joel and Ethan is that they have a vision that’s really great, and they know how to achieve it. They’re focused on that. They surround themselves with people who are competent and excel at their jobs, and it makes for a great set and happy performances. That’s almost everything, when you’re doing a film. That atmosphere comes down and permeates everything. But, they’ve always known what they want. They’re very meticulous in their writing, and it doesn’t need any improvement from me. You can’t improve on it. So, when you get something that’s like that, it’s really liberating. You’re free to act and be the character.
GOODMAN: Yeah, it has everything to do with trust. I really trust those guys because they know what they want.
Were you on the same page with the Coens, from the first time you worked with them?
GOODMAN: The first time I went in to an audition for Raising Arizona, I said, “Yeah, I wanna hang with these guys.” I felt real good about the audition, to the point where I almost didn’t care if I got it. I mean, I wanted it very badly, but I had such a great time hanging out with them, that that was okay, too. And then, I left and found out that everybody wanted in on that movie. I didn’t know that. I just knew they were great guys to hang around with for the hour that I was in there. I think I exceeded my time in there, just because we were having so much fun.
How did you find the relationship between your character and Garrett Hedlund’s character?
GOODMAN: I don’t know! That’s what’s remarkable about this. My third viewing of the film, I was so interested in the other characters. The Gorfeins could make a great short story, or a novel, even. What the hell was going on with those people?! And there’s the poor woman that he heckles off stage, Elizabeth, or Al Cody (Adam Driver), or Johnny Five. Why is his name Johnny Five? What does he do for Roland? What’s going on with Roland? You’ve got this beatnik Dean Moriarty cat driving the car. It’s just interesting. I want to know more about that, and I’m never going to see him again. What the hell?! And I don’t think Joel and Ethan know, either.
Did you and Garrett talk about your characters?
What were your pre-success years like?
GOODMAN: I did have a fold-out couch, in one place. I called it the Tilt-a-Whirl, but that had more to do with the state I was in, when I put myself down into it. There was a constant hunger, measuring yourself against other actors, and there was sometimes fear. But, there was always a need for self-improvement, to help with the struggle to make myself a better actor. That’s true, but it just sounds like gas.
Have you ever felt calcified, yourself, when it comes to performances?
Is that something you have a fear of?
GOODMAN: No, but I have a fear that it has happened, in some aspects, where you settle for a choice because it’s safe or you don’t have time to do anything else. If I don’t trust it, then it’s worthless. It’s not worth looking into you. You can drive yourself nuts, looking into choices, just because you don’t think you made a proper study. That’s bogus. I don’t have time for that. It doesn’t serve anybody well. It doesn’t serve your script, your writer or your director.
Inside Llewyn Davis is now playing in limited release, and opens nationwide on December 20th.