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How did you balance both giving a musical performance and then performing in the role that you needed to be doing at the same time? Was it an easy thing to do or did it require a certain...
That was really challenging, because again, what I decided to do just for the audition, we all had to sing "Hang Me," whoever auditioned had to sing "Hang Me," was just to sing it in, I would do Dave Van Ronk’s arrangement, but just sing it like me, and from there I would assume there would be a panel of experts with T-Bone heading it, getting me to sound just exactly as they needed me to sound, but that never happened. In fact, it was a much slower organic process and as I investigated the character more and let his circumstances inform who he is, there was a mixing of what my voice is and Llewyn’s voice, and the pressure and compression that he’s feeling, and it was kind of that brackish water where I decided to live in and it was tricky, because it’s not like a musical, where the song is an expression of the character and what’s happening. It’s not that at all. The songs had zero to do with the plot, really, but it’s more of a revelation, more of a window in and the cameras never shoot with long lenses. The cameras are always this close, so it has to be internal. It has to all be inside here, but still wanting my voice as a musician to come through, as well.
As we discussed, Llewyn is an asshole and he pretty much alienates every single person around him, but as a performer, you can’t judge him. So I’m kind of curious about the inside-out look at the world from Llewyn’s perspective. How does he see the way that people act around him? Does he understand why?
I think he thinks they’re assholes. I mean, you know, he’s just trying to survive and he’s trying to do his thing and he’s trying to be authentic and trying to do the right thing too. You know, she doesn’t take any responsibility at all. He didn’t force himself onto her. It does take two to tango, and he still decides to give away, sign away his royalties to pay for an abortion of a child that may not be his, because it’s the right thing to do. He decides to walk around with this cat forever, because the people that let him crash on his couch, even though they kind of exploit him every now and again. When he comes up, they can be condescending, but he still decides it’s the right thing to do. So, yeah I think it’s just a non-win situation. He’s never going to try to ingratiate himself just so people like him more, you know.
The film was a mixture of comedy and drama. How did you adapt your performance to strike the right balance between the two?
Well, rhythm is obviously very important and a lot of that is written in these if you can just find the right rhythm, but truthfully whenever I felt in the absolute most pain, the most horrible, the darkest, is when Joel and Ethan would laugh the loudest, so that was my barometer.
What was it like working with Carey again, because she was really sweet to you on Drive, but here, she’s very sassy, yelling curse words at you.
Yeah, she got to let loose everything that was pent up from the other movie. She’s great, you know, she has such a vulnerability innately to her, so to see her play so against that was so fun, but it’s still there. I think you can still see, I can see why she would have loved him, or there would have been something there. There is something else, and somebody who is that angry, is clearly hurt by something.
What did you learn from this job besides the musical technique?
Not to look for compliments from the Coens, because they don’t give many, so that was really refreshing because that first week I’m like, "They’re not saying if it’s good or not. I hope it’s going ok." but then after that first week you don’t look for it anymore, so actually it takes a big, it’s almost a relief because now it’s not about that. It’s not about a constant judgment. It’s just about the work and figuring this thing out, and it’s a really, really nice way to work actually.
You feel you’ve kind of grown as an actor?
Yeah, yeah. There’s a reason why actors are always dying to work with the Coens. It’s because they just set the stage for you to do your best work and apart from the movie, their friendship more than anything. They brought me into their world view and how they feel about art and life and that just made me grow as a person and obviously as an actor as well.
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