Joel and Ethan Coen discuss 'Inside Llewyn Davis,' long-time collaborations and the allure of New York
Is there anything about his work in particular that stood out for you? A film of his that struck you?
Joel: I think it was just the whole body. Chivo has done lots of stuff and it's all beautiful, so you look at it and go, 'This is a guy who really knows what he's doing and is one of the top…'
Ethan: The funny thing about both Chivo and Bruno, a weird thing that is always there at the beginning of our working together, is both of them know that we usually work with Roger, and Roger is held in awe by other cinematographers.
Joel: Roger is kind of the God of all contemporary cinematographers.
Ethan: And both Chivo and Bruno were a little nervous, apprehensive…
Joel: …of working in Roger's shadow.
Ethan: Yes, 'What am I doing here?'
Joel: You've got to understand, also, it's hard to come into a thing for a DP, which both of them do brilliantly, but we've done 11 movies with Roger. That's a lot. So they know that we have this very long-standing relationship with a really brilliant cinematographer. And as brilliant as they are, it's funny. It would be the same as if Roger went into a situation, probably, with Alfonso, who had done 11 movies with Chivo. You know what I mean? It's hard.
Have you seen "Gravity?"
Joel: Yeah. It's fantastic.
Ethan: We actually had T-shirts made that we were wearing on the set the first time we were working with Chivo that said, 'What would Roger do?'
Joel: Which Chivo thought was funny…kind of. And also, DPs, that's a big job. And they also have big egos. They have to.
Ethan: They get over it pretty quickly, because then you're working and you actually have to figure out what you're doing.
Joel: Chivo is funny as hell. He's a riot. He's got his own sense of humor. He's very dry.
Ethan: Yeah, not cracking jokes. Just mischievous.
Coming back to "Inside Llewyn Davis," you've been on a long slog with this one since Cannes. Which you did before with "No Country for Old Men" as well, but how does the experience compare this time around?
Ethan: This is even longer because the movie has been done longer. It's been done for almost a year. It was financed by Studio Canal but we didn't have a domestic distributor. We didn't need one because they financed the movie, so we found ourselves with a finished movie about a year ago, started shopping it to distributors, and by the time that happens, and allowing them time to prepare the release of the movie — it wasn't going to come out fall of last year and no one wanted to release it in the spring or summer. So by default, it became a year. So it's been a slog.
Joel: There was a choice not to sell it until it was finished. And it sold right off the first screening. [CBS Films] has been fantastic, actually. Unbelievable. Really good experience, actually. These have been just extraordinary partners, probably the best we've ever had just in terms of distribution. They've got a lot of initiative and good ideas. It's a really unqualified thing, which is rare.
To wrap things up here, and not to get too heady with it, but the film seems to being saying something about the allure of stardom and whether an artist really wants that or not. I can't help but wonder if there's a correlation there with your career and if you put any of that experience into it.
Joel: We're also in a business where those are all issues. Our sort of path has been, fortunately, mercifully, so much luckier and different than the one the character has. There have been things that we've encountered and had to deal with and others that we haven't. That isn't to say that they aren't informing the story in some way or another.
Ethan: Actually, in that regard, we're more like the John Goodman character, a jazz guy who just, I don't know, presumably is successful enough to have a career and the whole stardom thing doesn't figure in that. [Like it] doesn't figure for Ornette Coleman or whatever.
Joel: That's true. It's just the guys that are able to work and not have to worry about a lot of those things, which we've fortunately been able to do that. We've been lucky that way.
"Inside Llewyn Davis" opens in limited release on Dec. 6.