No Country for Old Men, The Coen Brothers’ adaptation of the eponymous Cormac McCarthy novel, is their first good movie in six years. It certainly goes a long way toward helping us forgive them for
Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. Tommy Lee Jones gets top billing as a West Texas sheriff on the trail of a soulless killer played by Javier Bardem. Bardem’s killer, in turn, is hunting the movie’s real hero, a Vietnam vet played by Josh Brolin who has absconded with $2 million in found Mexican drug money.
The Current sat down recently with the eccentric Coens and later with Brolin and Kelly Macdonald, who co-stars as the fugitive’s wife, to discuss the making of the movie.
Joel, Ethan, this is one of your least mannered movies. Did you make a conscious attempt to —
Ethan Coen: Knock it off? `Laughs` Hmm, no. No. And we never make those kind of overall abstract decisions or calculating. It was an adaptation of a book and we liked it, so we tried to serve the story. Even with stories that derive from our own thing, our attitude toward them is the same; we just want to treat them how it feels to us they want to be treated.
Joel Coen: No Country for Old Men comes from another person’s imagination, and it was our job to bring that to the screen.
There are some interesting parallels to Fargo. How aware were you of that?
JC: We didn’t think about it like that, but retrospectively, at one point, I realized there are certain superficial resemblances to Fargo. There’s a very specific regionalism to the stories, and they’re both about sheriffs from small towns confronting crime.
The movie also features an incredibly unconventional, off-screen climax for one of the major characters — a move that many will find jarring. Do you give much thought to how your work will be received?
JC: Look, whenever you’re doing these things … `you have to accept`, as I’m sure Cormac McCarthy `does` when he writes a novel, that you might not be writing it for everybody. When we make a movie like this, we might not be making a movie for everybody — but we’re convinced that we’re making it for enough people who will see it as an interesting thing that we don’t worry about it anymore.
Kelly, as an incredibly private person, you’ve never been a big fan of press junkets like these. Are there any upsides to something like this for you?
Kelly Macdonald: When a film is coming out, you have to suddenly think about what you did. A lot of actors have all these different methods, and I kind of just turn up. I do the homework and everything, but it just kind of happens. It’s only afterwards, when you’re doing press, that you go back and look at what you’ve done.
You work with a lot of major talents. Does your method, or lack thereof, ever come back to haunt you?
KM: I’m always convinced I’m doing terribly, at least for the first couple weeks — which isn’t really good if you’re `only` on something for two weeks, which has happened a lot lately. It was fun to watch, on this job, Javier, who has a real process. He questions a lot to get what he’s going to do. It made me feel like a terrible student, cramming the night before.
Josh, what is it with the Coens? Are they as odd as they come across?
JB: They’re pretty laconic and all that, but — listen, we want to make them a lot weirder than they are. Call it Planet Coen. They’re just socially awkward guys who love telling stories and this is the best way they do it since they can’t voice them at the campfire.
You broke your collarbone right before shooting started. Did you think they were going to replace you?
JB: Oh, yeah. Flying through the air, I even thought, “Damn, I wanted to work with the Coens. That would’ve been fun.” I didn’t tell anyone for a week, and my lawyer said I’d be liable if I didn’t. But see, I came from a mentality — my mom, especially — you just grit your teeth and do it anyway. My whole right side was purple and yellow and green. And honestly, I just lied to the Coens. People who did one-day parts would ask me what happened because I’d be in a sling when I wasn’t working and I’d go, “Oh, I broke my collarbone,” and Ethan would say, “What? You said it was a hairline fracture.”
Talk about shooting in West Texas. People still think of it like it’s the Wild West.
JB: But it is. West Texas is the part of the country you want to get through as fast as you can when you’re driving east to west, west to east — it really is. I don’t mean it as a total insult. But if you stop there, you get to discover it for what it is: West Texas is a character. We’re afraid of characters like we are character actors; they’re not the leading man you’re going to trust all the time. Characters are characters for a reason, because they’re unpredictable, they change — like the freak weather of West Texas. •