Oscar Isaac plays the title character in the Coen brothers' latest film, "Inside Llewyn Davis." Set in New York City during the early '60s folk scene, singer/songwriter Llewyn Davis struggles to find success in a world that trades on authenticity, but, unfortunately, as Llewyn discovers time and time again, authenticity doesn't always pay well. (To this point, the look on Davis' face while he performs on a novelty protest song titled "Please Mr. Kennedy" sums up the attitude of the character quite well.)
Although Isaac has appeared in a few major films--playing Prince John in Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood" and Carey Mulligan's ex-con husband in "Drive"--"Inside Llewyn Davis" is certainly his star turn. Interviewing him, it's clear that "Inside Llewyn Davis" means the world to Isaac -- even if it meant working with five different cats.
The cat in this movie seemed well behaved.
Yeah, some of them were. There were a lot of them.
How many were there?
There were like four or five of them. Because it's very hard to train them, so they had to have one that was more calm for those scenes where I had to carry him. And sometimes they needed it to be alive and peppy and that's when they had the squirrely one that they would tie to me.
I almost don't like knowing that.
Yeah, it's like watching a sausage get made -- you don't really want to. You'd rather just eat it, you know?
I had kind of assumed Llewyn would be this "folksy" guy but he's a lot more cynical than I expected.
Yeah, yeah. It totally makes sense. That's the thing, there is this idea of what the folk scene was like, but I think it's very similar to the punk scene. It's people trying to find who really means it -- who's the most authentic? And, yeah, Llewyn is in a situation where he's just having the shittiest week of his life and he just feels alienated from people -- a stranger in a strange land -- and just trying to make it through.
How did you find out about this role?
I just saw online that Joel and Ethan were going to be making a movie about the folk scene in the '60s -- and I knew that I had to get in through the audition.
Was your first thought, I need to play the lead role?
No, I just said, "I need to be in this."
How did it get to the point that you were auditioning for the title character?
Well, once I got the call that, "OK, they're willing to see me for that role."
That's a huge jump in your career. Were you at all hesitant or was this more, "It's about time"?
No way, yeah, I've been ready. Yeah, I graduated in 2005 [from Juilliard] so it's been eight years of doing it. And I had auditioned at that point for a few other things for the lead role, so I was in a god place where at least I could get into the room to be seen for it. So, yeah, it's super intimidating and wild and I assumed that I was a long shot -- but still absolutely ready to go in there. And especially because it's the Coens, my favorite filmmakers. I've seen all their movies many more times than just two. And I understand their tone and so I felt like just if they give me the shot, I know I can do it.
And they don't seem to cast their movies based on how many movies an actor has starred in in the past...
Yeah, yeah. They're not in a situation where they necessarily -- at least for this movie -- in a situation where they needed a big name.
And when you got the news...
It was life changing, man. It's the thing that I had hoped that I'd get a chance to do, which is play the lead in a film. And the fact that it could involve my other passion throughout my life, which has been playing music. I could not have imagined a better scenario for myself as far as my aspirations as an actor and as a musician.
And now you've been front and center on this press tour since Cannes. Was that weird at first?
You know, yeah, it's not something I've experienced, but it makes sense, leading a Coen brothers movie. It wasn't a shock, but, yeah, it's definitely different -- it's not something that I'm used to. It's easy to go on these press things and talk about it because I love it so much and I'm so proud of it.
Has there been a moment where you had to pause and think, "Well, that's a new one"?
All of it is. All of it is new, you know? The fact that this has been going on, you know, we shot it almost two years ago now. And we've been playing some shows as well in conjunction with it with some amazing people -- and all of that is new. Being on stage with Elvis Costello, that's pretty new ... so, every day there's a whole new thing that takes you by surprise and I'm just thinking, Wow, man, I can't believe I'm here.
You mentioned that it was filmed almost two years ago. Was that frustrating? Knowing you filmed something special that no one had seen?
Yeah! Yeah, I think it was frustrating for everybody -- the Coens, too. It was unusual for them. But we had missed all of the windows for festivals and all of that, so we had to wait for the following year.
And now it's actually going to be in theaters where people can pay to see it.
No, it's true ... so, yeah, I'm so excited for people to see it.
The Coen brothers have a history of using actors in multiple movies. Has that been on your mind?
Heck yeah, man! They better call me back! No, seriously, I would be happy just to do their movies every year.
And nothing else?
Yeah, man. I really would. I love them so much and I just really think they're the greatest.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.
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