Jan 28, 2011

INTERVIEW: Joel and Ethan Coen

'In the gilded hospitality suite of New York’s Ritz-Cartlon, the Coen brothers are pondering their success. “We are part of the system more than you would suspect,” says Ethan, the younger, more combative and one suspects more emotional of the two brothers. “We are like Hollywood insiders now, it’s really weird.”

This draws a nod from Joel, the older, more laconic one you could imagine playing bass for Patti Smith. “One day you wake up and you realise that’s happened and it’s a shock,” he says. “You find yourself at the academy awards, or wherever the hell it is, going ‘hey…’ you know, and suddenly you know all these people. And you go: how the fuck did I get here?”

Ethan finishes the point. “And Matt Damon is your best buddy. Which is nice, he’s a nice guy but it’s also weird.”

Actually, Matt Damon — who is a nice guy, but who possibly does bring a little weirdness to the role of BFF— is next door right now, giving interviews to promote True Grit, the Coens new film, their 14th to date, and the latest installment in what appears to be a concerted effort to cover the length and breadth of America with Coen Brothers movies. Maybe because their preoccupations seem so resolutely anti-heroic, or because their ambitions fit so snugly within their love of genre, the scale of this project was hard to spot at first, but while everyone else was lost in hyper-space, the Coens have been quietly wallpapering their homeland. They’ve covered New York in the 1950s (The Hudsucker Proxy), Los Angeles in the 1940s (Barton Fink), Mississippi in the 1930s (Oh Brother Where Art Thou?) and 1990s (The Ladykillers), Texas in the 1980s (Blood Simple) make that twice (No Country For Old Men), Minnesota in the 1960s (A Serious Man) and 1990s (Fargo), not to mention Arizona, Washington, North Dakota, Santa Rosa and now, for good measure, Arkansas in the 1880s. A few more like this — Ohio in the 1970 was a happening place, I hear— and their patchwork quilt of America will be complete.

“It’s true,” says Ethan, but insists, “We’re not crossing off a list.”

“… but every now and again you come up with a story idea and you think well, the natural place for this story is a specific period and its something you haven’t done,” says Joel. “And you think that would be fun.”

“We haven’t done the seventies,” says Ethan.

“We have a script set in New York the sixties,” offers Joel. “It takes place in the folk revival of the early 1960s, that whole weird thing.”

There’s also a script of theirs about the cold war, called 62 Skidoo. “We wanted to get Henry Kissinger, but he’s getting too old,” says Joel.

“What else?”

from my interview
with the Coens in the Guardian


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