Joel and Ethan Coen discuss 'Inside Llewyn Davis,' long-time collaborations and the allure of New York
It's obviously very realistic but there's a touch of fantasy to it as well. Almost like it's infused with a sort of longing. Is that something you were going for?
Ethan: No, but…OK. I'll acknowledge that.
Is that a unique thing to hear?
Ethan: Yeah, but I wouldn't disavow that. I wouldn't say that's wrong. We were kind of trying to get it right, but it is kind of the New York of our minds in 1961. It's the cover of "Freewheelin'."
Joel: I think for this character it was a little bit different than it was for us, or for me, anyway. Because we were sort of thinking, well, there were all these kids that came out of the boroughs, working class kids, some of them, and some of them middle class kids who were part of that folk revival. That was interesting. In a weird sort of way, our experience is a little bit more like Bob Dylan. Dylan came from Minnesota, we came from Minnesota, and Dylan was definitely not the urban or ex-urban, suburban. He was from Hibbing. But the first time I came to New York sort of on my own I remember being around 16 years old and literally thinking, 'OK, this is what they were telling me about in the Midwest. This all looks pretty exciting and interesting and cool.' But that's not the impression a kid from Queens would have, exactly.
And how about the look of the film. It's very much in tune with the aesthetic you've grown into and developed with longtime cinematographer Roger Deakins over the years, but it's also it's own thing. Were you and your DP, Bruno Delbonnel, trying to emulate anything?
Joel: Well, Ethan was saying that we were looking at the cover of "Freewheelin'," that shot of Jones Street, that little depressing, gray, slushy, cold New York winter. And that kind of slightly washed-out Ektachrome look of the photography. That seemed more sort of evocative. We didn't want anything leafy and green and warm and fuzzy. We wanted it to be hard. You could say sort of anti-romantic, but in a way that's not really true. You've got all kinds of weird romance to it in a way, like you just said.
I was at the Telluride Film Festival for your tandem tribute with T Bone. That was a great idea, doing it together rather than just the filmmakers, particularly with a film like this.
Joel: It's nice to celebrate long-standing collaborations that you have with people, especially ones that are as close as ours with T Bone. It was fun and that's a very important one to us, because it's one of the really, really long-standing ones. It was fun to celebrate that. There are all the things that go into a long — making the movies what they are. They're important.
How about this opera project you guys are working on. Any chance T Bone contributes to that?
Ethan: The music in that is a lot more, funnily enough, peripheral. There isn't as much of it. It's the story of a guy who starts off as an opera singer and turns into something else. But I'm not sure. We're kind of in the middle of writing a couple of things, one of which is that, and we're not sure what we'll do next.
Would Scott Rudin produce that?
Joel: I don't know. Maybe. We have that discussion, really, with Scott once we have something concrete that we're going to do. Possibly.
I wanted to talk about another DP you've worked with who is having a great year, what with "Gravity," and that's Emmanuel Lubezki. Can you share your experience working with him on "Burn After Reading?"
Joel: We love Chivo. Chivo is one of the funniest guys on the planet. He's really a riot and we had a great time with him.
Ethan: He's just really good.
Joel: He's fantastic. He's one of the great DPs and he's got great energy. We did have really a lot of fun working with him. Mostly we work with Roger, so when Roger's busy, which happens — for instance, on this last movie he was doing James Bond for like a year — we basically look around for who's available that you know and like and have worked with, hopefully. Bruno we had actually worked with before [on "Paris, je t'aime"]. It was a similar thing when we worked with Chivo. Though we didn't actually know Chivo. We just knew his work. And I knew Alfonso Cuarón, so I had heard a lot about him from Alfonso. I think that's how it started.