Category: Interviews

Oscar Isaac Q&A: The Two Faces of January, Star Wars, Ex Machina

“It opened doors immediately,” Oscar Isaac muses on working with the Coen brothers. “I got The Two Faces of January a couple of days after I had been cast in Inside Llewyn Davis. The trajectory completely changed once that happened.”

It’s no surprise that the actor’s soulful performance as down-at-heel folk singer Llewyn has proved to be such a turning point. In the two years that have passed since shooting, he’s gone from respected supporting player to compelling leading man, and was recently cast in a major role for JJ Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII.

Digital Spy sat down with Isaac this week to talk about his Star Wars fandom, the meaning of Inside Llewyn Davis’s much-discussed cat, and his role opposite Viggo Mortensen in this week’s Patricia Highsmith adaptation The Two Faces of January.

Hossein Amini has said that The Two Faces of January appealed to him as a novel because the characters’ motivations are so unclear, but don’t actors always want to know what their motivation is? Yeah, the motivation is important for me to act it, but I don’t necessarily want the audience to know my motivation. When you watch something, you don’t want to be told what to think, and when movies or performers try to prescribe that it usually doesn’t work, because the camera sees everything. You let the characters’ behavior happen and people will make their own decisions about what it is.

I had worked with Hoss before on Drive, and that was a really great experience because we had to completely remake the character together, and he was so open to it all, and such a gentleman. And when he showed me this script, the characters were so dark and complicated and you never knew what their motivations were, and that’s what I thrive on.

Your character Rydal has a very ambiguous dynamic with Viggo Mortensen’s Chester, it’s paternal but also homoerotic. How did you view their relationship? Well, Viggo is a very, very beautiful man, so there’s always gonna be erotic tension whenever he’s in the room. That work was done for me! But it was fascinating, yeah, Highsmith sets this up straight away and Hoss does the same. Rydal’s father has passed away, and it was clearly not a good relationship, he didn’t go home for the funeral. So suddenly he sees this man, Chester, and he represents everything he wants to be and also everything he hates, everything he wants to kill in himself. So that creates a whole well of emotions that are tapped at different moments.

The ending is much more cathartic and less cynical than the rest of the film leads you to expect – were you surprised by the finale? Yeah, I remember that being a strangely emotional moment. The irony is that it’s much more emotional than his earlier scene with Colette, who he is supposedly in love with. It’s a process of projection, or displacement, where he’s watching his father just disintegrate through Chester. And what Patricia Highsmith and Hoss both picked up on is showing people at their weakest, and ugliest. Viggo was never afraid to be ugly, or stupid, or foolish, and in fact he looked for those places.

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Oscar Isaac Steps Up with ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’

Oscar Isaac Steps Up with ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’

Before we know anything about Llewyn Davis, the rising folk singer at the center of Joel and Ethan Coen’s superb new film “Inside Llewyn Davis,” we see him singing on stage. That’s for the best; as a person, Davis is rudderless, but as a musician he’s immaculate. In a hushed Village club, Davis strums an acoustic guitar and sings a rendition of “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” a lament that’s piercing in its vulnerability. Filmed simply and intimately, the scene leaves no doubt about Davis’ artistry though his position in 1961’s Greenwich Village music scene is never less than precarious.

It’s an affecting introduction to the character, as well as to the actor who plays him. For several years, Oscar Isaac has worked consistently in supporting roles: the villainous King John in “Robin Hood”; the haunted ex-con Standard in “Drive.” But “Inside Llewyn Davis” is this Juilliard-trained actor’s first major lead role. That it just so happens to be in a movie directed by his favorite filmmakers is perfectly in keeping with the film’s exploration of how talent and chance mysteriously intertwine, elevating some to stardom while leaving others to be forgotten footnotes.

“This movie is a recognition that there’s very few shooting-star geniuses—and even for those people, I would say that luck plays a huge role,” says Isaac, sitting in a Los Angeles conference room as part of a busy day of promotion that will include photo shoots and Q&As. It’s a hectic schedule, but Isaac seems energized, understanding how good fortune has brought him to this moment. “You know, [the Coens] have been working on this movie for 10 years. Had they gotten it together five years ago, I’m not in it—or if it was five years [from now]. In my career, I’ve had a lot of that: The right thing at the right time got me the job, and then someone saw that, and that got me the next thing. It could just have easily gone the other way, and still could.”

Amiable and thoughtful, Isaac is not much like the stoic, sardonic Davis, a luckless talent at a personal crossroads who’s frustrated by his going-nowhere solo career amidst the blossoming folk revival. And because the Coens, masters of an ambivalent tone previously evident in “A Serious Man” and “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” only reveal hints of his backstory, Davis (like the film itself) is open to interpretation: His life is either a dark comedy or a moving meditation on the unseen forces that shape our destiny.

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Empire Podcast 95: Chris Pine And Oscar Isaac

EmpireOnline.com — Oscar Isaac dropped by the Empire Podcast booth a few weeks ago talking about “cat agitators”, “ass agitators” and having sex with robots. He also addresses working with the Coen brothers on Inside Llewyn Davis and much more! His interview starts on 50:32. You can listen to it below.

GQ&A: Oscar Isaac

GQ-Magazine.co.uk — Sad, strange, funny and folky, Inside Llewyn Davis sees the Coen Brothers reteam with producer T Bone Burnett for their most successful musical partnership since the Soggy Bottom Boys of O Brother, Where Art Thou? last left the stage. Loosely based on the career of singer songwriter Dave Van Ronk, the film focuses on the thwarted ambition of a musical misanthrope – played brilliantly by Drive‘s Oscar Isaac – in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1961.

Sitting in London’s Soho Hotel, Isaac possesses none of Davis’ prickliness but does share his character’s trademark intensity. He is, however, far better company; when reminded of his recent appearance inRolling Stone‘s “The Hot List” the 33-year-old recalls his girlfriend’s only response was, “You’re not thatcool”. We beg to differ: born in Guatemala, raised in Miami, Isaac is as comfortable acting on stage at the Juilliard School as performing in a dive bar with his old ska band The Blinking Underdogs. His CV also shows a resilience few can match: the praise he received for his supporting role in Soderbergh’s Che biopic must have been much needed after appearing in Madonna’s WE, Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch and the underwhelming The Bourne Legacy. To mark the debut of a film finally worthy of his talents arriving in British cinemas, we talk to Isaac about being intimidated by John Goodman, why not everything in the Coens’ universe makes sense and his worst ever audition.

GQ: On your first session together to help prepare you for the role, T Bone Burnett played you Tom Waits’ Bad As Me and left the room. What happened next?
Oscar Isaac: It never really changed – there was always that kind of vibe. He’d say, “play me a song”, I’d play a little something of it and then he’d say, “Do you want to smoke a bit of weed?” He kept saying, “Play it like you’re playing it to yourself.” I would have that stewing in my brain – “Play it like you’re playing it toyourself? What does that mean, man?” That’s how he works and its no wonder he and the Coens get along so well, because it’s the same thing. It’s kind of a crazy phenomenon: both T Bone and the Coens, their tone is so specific. You can easily tell what is a Coen Brothers or a T Bone Burnett piece of art. And yet it’s not an imposed, precise, calibrated, intellectualized, predetermined thing at all. It’s a weird thing when the vibe is set for that to just be drawn out of people. It percolates up! I was expecting a team of [musical] experts, fingerpickers, videos I had to watch, reproducing certain sounds. I think they did for [Johnny Cash biopic] Walk The Line because it had to be this qualitative thing. But with this one it was much more murky and ambiguous. So there was never a real conversation: “Do I sound like Dave Van Ronk?” “Idon’t sound like Dave Van Ronk?” “Do I just do what I’m doing?”

How helpful was Dave Van Ronk’s memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street?
I went back to it, because as an actor it’s just about what inspires curiosity and creativity. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I grabbed on to Dave Van Ronk for dear life. But it’s impossible for me to be Dave Van Ronk – John Goodman’s character has a lot more to do with Dave Van Ronk than I do. Van Ronk was a huge Swedish f***ing howler – that’s not me. But his story, his thoughts about life, his humour, his aggression and his surliness – there’s a great description of Dylan first meeting Van Ronk in Chronicle where he has the music shop. “One winter day a big burly guy stepping in off the street – he looked like he’d come from the Russian embassy”. He’s very surly with the guitar and doesn’t want to talk to anybody. I really liked that. The Coens didn’t really refer to it that much again because they didn’t do such a departure.

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The HeyUGuys Interview: “It was literally dreams coming true”, Oscar Isaac talks Inside Llewyn Davis

HeyUGuys — Having been something of a journeyman in Hollywood, often taking on more supporting roles up until this point in his career – Oscar Isaac has been biding his time, waiting for that perfect role to come his way. Well, for the actor and musician to land the title role in the latest Coen brothers’ production, Inside Llewyn Davis – this is the part he’s been waiting for his whole life, as he tells us that the entire experience was a ‘dream come true’.

Isaac – who plays talented, yet vastly unrecognised folk musician Llewyn Davis, discusses how thrilled he was to work on this project, how he managed to control the various cats he was lumbered with, while he also draws comparisons between the character on screen, and himself as an actor  – discussing how gaining self-promotion and the difficulties in making a name for yourself is something that resonates with him greatly.

Firstly, what was it like working with as unpredictable animal as a cat? I can’t get my cat to do anything I tell it, and you seemed to have it under quite good control. Yeah, we couldn’t get them to do what we wanted either. They’re untrainable, so we had like four or five different cats with different attitudes and personalities that did the one thing we needed it to do in a particular scene, then we had one that was a little bit more calm, and that’s the one that I liked the best. Then there were ones that were a little more agitated, and they had to tie those to me so they wouldn’t run off. And sometimes they would want to run off anyway, and they would scratch… I don’t advise it.

Llewyn would’ve fared a bit better if he tied the cat to himself. Probably, yeah (laughs). Although, the cat would probably find a way to escape – that’s what happened to me. Scratch me in my face, break the wire and then run off anyway.

So what was it about Llewyn that attracted you to the role? Everything. Everything, I mean – it’s like an actor’s dream. First of all, you’re in a Coen brothers movie already, so you’ve won. On top of that, there’s so much room, although it’s in a narrow bandwidth because he’s a very internalised character. But you get to just work on thoughts; it’s not about an expression of anything, it’s just about thinking and taking in what’s happening. And yeah, it’s a great challenge.

On stage when he’s performing, Llewyn is being quite charismatic, and is life he’s clearly quite a charismatic person who people are drawn to – but he does occasionally behave in not the nicest of ways. How do you navigate that sort of inherent contradiction in the character? Well, there’s actually a Charles Bukowski poem that actually helped a lot with that, called ‘Bluebird’, where he says ‘There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I’m too tough for him. And I say stay in there, I’m not going to let anybody see you’. And that was a bit of a mantra, where he has this thing, he has something that he wants to share that’s quite gentle and beautiful, but life is making him shut that down. Yet he still nurtures it quietly – you know, it’s his music. That’s what his bluebird is.

You come from quite a musical background – having been in punk bands yourself. Did that help you relate to the character of Llewyn a bit more, even though it’s quite a stark contrast? Yeah, music’s tough man. I remember I was in a hardcore band and I had written a song that I wanted to sing, though I was just the guitar player, and we had our singer – our screamer – and I was like, ‘I’ve got this song, it starts off real slow and then goes crazy’. And they’re like, ‘alright’ – so we started playing it and within thirty seconds they were throwing lighters at my face. Like, they didn’t want to wait for the hard part. So yeah, you have to, like, you get used to it. Luckily in that situation you can hide behind the bass player, but when it’s this kind of music and playing guitar in front of people, it’s pretty intense.

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Oscar Isaac fronted ska-punk band, performed at Warped Tour

Hollywood.com — Inside Llewyn Davis star Oscar Isaac once fronted a Florida punk-ska band, called The Worms. The young movie star has revealed he was a singer/songwriter just like the one he plays in the Coen Brothers movie long before he started acting – and he once performed on America’s Warped Tour festival.

I’ve been playing music since I was about 12 years old, playing guitar and I’ve had bands. I studied singing a little bit at school. I went to acting school Julliard but I took singing classes, so I’d always done it. My very first band was a soft rock band named Paper Face and then that turned into a hardcore band and that turned into a punk-ska band.  I grew up in south Florida, so we would play in a whole bunch of places down there. We even played in the Warped Tour festival for a couple of dates, which was really fun. We were called The Worms and we were a ska band; I was playing bass. I never recorded an album. It was more of a local scene. We never really went out that way. Similar to Llewyn, every time it looked like the next step was gonna happen I would do something to sabotage it a little bit. Maybe out of fear.

Meanwhile, Isaac will be able to reminisce about his days at drama school on the set of his next film – he reunites with Jessica Chastain on director J.C. Chandor’s The Most Violent Year. He explains, “We went to Julliard together.”

Exclusive: Oscar Isaac talks music & his goals for the future

Latina.com Oscar Isaac is a lot of things: a Juilliard School graduate, a ukulele player and a fan of the late, great Puerto Rican theater and film actor Raul Julia. He’s also potentially one of Tinseltown’s next great leading men.

Despite his reluctance to admit it, Isaac would be hard-pressed to deny the evidence: he burnished his bad-guy bona fides as a brainwashed assassin in The Bourne Legacy, showed off his comic timing as ballad-crooning rock singer in Channing Tatum and Rosario Dawson’s 10 Years and tackles drama as a teacher helping transform an inner city school with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis in Won’t Back Down, out now.

I have a feeling the anxiety of, ‘Oh my gosh! I’m never going to get a job again,’ maybe never goes away, no matter how much it seems the contrary.

Considering his past, that anxiety is understandable. As a child of divorced parents, the actor admits he clung to acting as a way of coping with family drama.

My shyness would go away and certain big emotions that I didn’t understand were given focus. Acting is a way of being able to explore specific parts of myself.

And he’s done plenty of exploring, following in the footsteps of his idol, Julia, as soon as he graduated from Juilliard in 2005, when he landed a leading role in Shakespeare in the Park’s revival of Two Gentlemen of Verona—a role that had earned Julia a Tony nomination in the ’70s.

As in Julia’s case, Isaac’s ethnically ambiguous looks make him a casting director’s dream. Since 2006, after dropping his surname, Hernandez, to avoid being typecast in Hollywood, he’s played Joseph, Jesus’ dad, in Catherine Hardwicke’sThe Nativity Story; an Iraqi in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies and an English king in Scott’s Robin Hood. He also snagged choice supporting roles in the Ryan Gosling thriller Drive and Madonna’s W.E.

But Isaac’s true breakthrough arrived late last year, with his first starring role—one of the most coveted in Hollywood—as the titular folk singer inInside Llewyn Davis. The drama is written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, who launched Javier Bardem onto Hollywood’s A-list with his Oscar-winning performance in No Country for Old Men.

Not that Isaac spends too much time dreaming of little golden statues. “I can’t anticipate [winning an Oscar], because often you set the bar so high and things don’t happen,” Isaac says. “My goal is to continue doing work that’s inspiring to me. The fact that Inside Llewyn Davis happened is an incredibly rewarding feeling…a feeling that I’m on the right path.”

And that path includes music: Isaac, who as a teen played guitar in a punk-ska band, performed one of his songs in 10 Years and plays the ukulele in Won’t Back Down. He also contributed five songs to Inside Llewyn Davis’s soundtrack. Isaac even uses his tunes as part of his dating repertoire. “I write love songs; those are the best ones to write,” he says. “You play songs for girls—that’s the thing to do. The song, sometimes, seals the deal.”

So does being one of the most talented actors in Hollywood, Oscar. Just a thought.

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