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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.

Oscar Isaac on the “screwball tragedy” of Inside Llewyn Davis

Westworld.com — Three types of artists hinge on authenticity: punk bands, folk singers, and rappers. Actors, like Oscar Isaac, are by definition phonies. But the star of Joel and Ethan Coen’s new film,Inside Llewyn Davis, gets that pressure to keep it real. In high school, he was a straight-edge punk frontman in bands like The Worms and The Blinking Underdogs. And to playLlewyn Davis, the cheerful Guatemala-born, Miami-raised performer sank into the self-sanctified life of a homeless singer-songwriter in 1961 New York who’d rather starve to death — or, really, rather mooch off his friends — than sell out. (As for rapping, maybe he’ll make that movie later.)

“You’re always looking for who means it more,” says Isaac. “That’s why you have artists who end up killing themselves, so you knew they meant it — so it wasn’t some affectation.”

He couldn’t fake it, either. For chunks of the film, the Coens plant their camera to watch Isaac strum and sing old songs about fishing and lynching that neither he nor his character wrote, but that both have to channel through their soul.

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Oscar Isaac interview for Inside Llewyn Davis: ‘I had no interest in going off the rails’

Telegraph.co.ukAs a high-school punk growing up in an evangelical Christian family, Oscar Isaac had a Coen brothers poster on his bedroom wall. Starring in their new film, he says, was meant to be.

The Coen brothers’ inimitable, darkly comic films have produced career-defining performances from the likes of Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski (1998), George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) and Javier Bardem in 2007’s No Country for Old Men for which he won an Oscar. But when it came to casting their latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, the directors hit a wall in their search for a leading man. What the character required was not only someone who could act the part of a folk singer in Greenwich Village in 1961, but someone who could authentically perform the music too; someone who, as Joel Coen describes, ‘could really sing’.

Luckily for them their Cinderella turned out to be hiding in plain view. Oscar Isaac is an actor who has been steadily building up an impressive reputation in Hollywood for the past 10 years. He stole the film in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood (2010) with what Empire magazine described as his ‘intensely nuanced’ portrayal of the malevolent Prince John. He held his own playing Carey Mulligan’s charming ex-con boyfriend, Standard, who teams up for one last heist with Ryan Gosling in Drive. He even managed to come out unscathed from Madonna’s W.E, miraculously investing his part as a Russian Sotheby’s security guard with a hinterland, apparently causing his director to develop a schoolgirl crush on him.

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Jessica Chastain-Oscar Isaac’s ‘A Most Violent Year’ Gets U.S. Distribution

Variety.com — A24 has acquired U.S. rights to Participant Media’s thriller “A Most Violent Year,” written and directed by J.C. Chandor (“All is Lost”) and starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain.

“A Most Violent Year” is set in New York City during the winter of 1981 — one of the most violent years in the city’s history. The film follows the lives of an immigrant family trying to expand their business and capitalize on opportunities amid violence, decay and corruption.

Participant’s Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King, Joshua Blum, Kerry Orent, and Glen Basner of FilmNation Entertainment are exec producing.

Oscar Isaac Q&A: The ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ Star on Finding Folk Music, the Coen Brothers

BillBoard.com — Of all the films in contention for the Academy Awards, none is pushing its musical element stronger than CBS Films’ “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Commercials for the Coen brothers’ tale of a fictional folk singer knocking around Greenwich Village in 1961 have focused on executive music producer T Bone Burnett, the inspiration found in the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Freewheelin'” and the music performed by the film’s star Oscar Isaac, Marcus Mumford and others.

Isaac, in his first starring role, portrays Davis, whose musical style is based on folk legend Dave Van Ronk. It helped that he had been in bands prior to getting the role, but he tells Billboard he had never ventured into folk music prior to the film.

“I grew up listening to Dylan but I didn’t know this particular kind of music,” he tells Billboard. “So I had to find my way in.” He discussed the role, the Coen brothers and his entry points into the folk music that came before “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

If the music was unfamiliar to you where did you start to try to learn? In the initial audition, everyone had to play ‘Hang Me’ and they sent Dave Van Ronk’s version. Since that was the only thing I had to go on, I listened to everything he had ever recorded and tried to play those songs. I really fell in love with his style of playing and the songs he would sing. He would find old songs and rearrange them.

Like so many of his contemporaries they would dig into something like Harry Smith’s “Anthology of American Folk Music” and learn from those recordings from the ’20s and 30s. Did you reach back to Van Ronk’s influences?  Absolutely. I actually learned a lot of songs not used in the film. “Green Rocky Road” I learned on my own and we wound up putting it in the film. “Cocaine” by Rev. Gary Davis was another one. (Mississippi John Hurt’s) “Candy Man,” “St James Infirmary” –  Van Ronk’s version. I learned his arrangement of “Mack the Knife,” which is very aggressive and he actually uses a verse rarely used that was in the original Kurt Weill verses. “Kentucky Moonshiner” was another one.

You finished the film nearly a year ago but in nearly all of the promotion for it you’ve been brought back in as your character. Being around this music now and performing it live, do you look at it differently than when you shot the film? There’s a reason (folk music) is protest music. It’s so direct when it’s done honestly. It can be so simple yet so effective. And the idea that it carries history with it; it’s music that springs from a place of desperation. What I like about the movie is that it is a song. The movie is not a representation of 1961 Greenwich Village, it’s not a re-creation. The Coens did what folk musicians would do — they took an old thing that has been passed down and they add their imagination and fill it and make it something new.

When did you become aware that you would be playing this character onstage alongside other musicians? I don’t think anybody knew going in, but I thought it was cool. I love playing music [and] T Bone and the Coens don’t get squares — they get amazing people to perform. It’s funny. They’ve taken the idea of promotion and made something beautiful.

You’re obviously referring to music-driven events in New York and Los Angeles and the Telluride Film festival. What has been the highlight? Being backstage at the Town Hall in New York. To be next to Patti Smith, Joan Baez and Jack White and the Punch Brothers, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, everyone playing and communing together just for ourselves. The fact that I could be there and contribute, I think that was a real profound moment for me.

Oscar Isaac, the authentic voice at the center of Coen brothers’ new ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’

WashingtonPost.com — If it were Llewyn Davis doing interviews here at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, he’d be late, distracted or desperately looking for an exit.

But instead of the fictional ’60s folkie he plays in the acclaimed new Coen brothers movie, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Oscar Isaac couldn’t be more put together: calm, maybe serene, well groomed, handsome, welcoming and friendly in a way Llewyn would have been suspicious of and cagy about.

That may be because, whereas his character couldn’t catch a break on MacDougal Street, the 33-year-old actor finds himself a leading man for whom Oscar isn’t just his first name, but a real career possibility (he was nominated for a Golden Globe this week); who could pause among considerations for his next leading role to launch a successful music career.For the Guatemalan-born Isaac, whose father grew up in the District, music and acting were equal interests as he grew up in Miami.

There was a moment when his punk-ska band, Blinking Underdogs, threatened to break out. But, he says with a shrug, “every time there’d be a manager getting involved or it looked like we were going to sign with a manager, I’d always do something to [muck] it up, in a Llewyn type of way.”
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Oscar Isaac on ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ Working With the Coen Brothers, and Making Music

MovieFone.com — The latest film by the Coen Brothers, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” is a funny little flick. During their press tours for the film, the always-sardonic filmmakers have joked that the story is plotless, which is why they shoehorned a cat into the movie — to keep the audience happy.

Of course, this is another of their trademark defections from the depths of their own art; naturally, there’s a lot going on in this film, a deceptively simple tale of a hapless folksinger making his way during the early 1960s. The Greenwich Village setting, austere palate and wonderful and rich soundtrack hearken back to the kind of neighbourhood depicted on the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Freewheelin'” album. The character of Llewyn is based in part on a number of yeoman folkies, including the likes of Dave Van Ronk, the so-called Mayor of MacDougal Street.

Even more than any historical figure, it’s the film’s star Oscar Isaac that really brings the character to life, bringing both a sensitivity of performance and a deep musical understanding to the role. The casting is impeccable, and from the opening shots of the film where we hear him singing to a smoke-filled room, we’re absolutely transfixed in this man’s journey. Moviefone Canada spoke to Isaac soon after his Golden Globe nomination was announced, and delved into just what it’s like to be playing such a major part within the Coen’s world.

Moviefone Canada: For such a unique role I assume the casting process was reasonably taxing. Oscar Isaac: The casting process was pretty traditional. Ellen Chenoweth, the casting director, had a couple scenes and I did those. I had to record a song, and I did about 30 takes of the song. I sent in take 27.

Once cast, how much involvement you had in the way that the songs were performed on screen, the selection of songs? There were about two or three songs that were already specified in the script, but there were many that weren’t. I quickly fell in love with Dave Van Ronk’s music in particular, so I started learning a lot of his music. [Famed music supervisor] T-Bone [Burnett] and I got together and started playing music together. Sometimes I would go and just make an arrangement myself and bring it to T-Bone and he would change a few things, so it was a very collaborative process. The way the Coens work with T-Bone … they create a community. To be honest, people can’t really remember who came up with what. If you ask the Coens “who wrote this line?” they won’t remember. As soon as you give your idea you don’t own it anymore. It’s all the raw materials to build this thing, and I had an equal share in it.

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