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.