By Darlene Donloe
Four-time Oscar®-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, True Grit, Fargo) have a reputation in Hollywood of making creative, genre-busting, innovative and memorable movies and characters.
The streak continues with their latest offering, Hail, Caesar!, in theaters nationwide Friday, Feb. 5.
This time the Coens have written and directed an all-star comedy set during the latter years of Hollywood's Golden Age. It follows a single day in the life of Capitol Pictures’ studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who is presented with plenty of problems to fix, including a singing cowboy who can’t act (Alden Ehrenreich), a disgruntled director (Ralph Feinnes), a beautiful swimmer (Scarlett Johannson) and the abduction of the studio’s biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Whitlock gets snatched while donned in swords and sandals. The communists who kidnapped him want $100,000 for his safe return.
(l-r) George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich,
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum
I recently caught up with George Clooney (GC), Josh Brolin (JB), Alden Ehrenreich (AE), Jonah Hill (JH) and Channing Tatum (CT) at The Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills to talk about the film and working with the Coens.
Q: Talk about how you came to be in this picture.
GC: Been talking with the Coens for a long time about doing the movie. Basically one of the characters was an idiot actor – and I wonder why they thought of me? And, the character gets kidnapped by communists. The only line they pitched was Alden’s (Ehrenreich) line, ‘This is bad for movie stars everywhere.’ It killed me. And, they never wrote the script. When I would do press I’d always say, “Well, I’m doing a Coen movie next called, Hail, Caesar.” And Joel and Ethan would call me up and say, “Stop saying that, we haven’t written it.” And, then they called a couple of years ago and said they had written it – so lets do it.
Q: Josh, you play a studio executive. That must have been fun to play.
JB: It was, it was fun to slap people around. I’ve always spent a lot of time since No Country (For Old Men) – injecting myself into their lives. I like watching them go through their process. It’s an educational and economic process. I remember asking them when they were doing Inside Llewyn Davis what movie they were thinking about doing next – just out of curiosity. Obviously wanting to say, “Is there a part in there for me? I’d really enjoy working with you again. Maybe you can pay me more this time.” And then I got a call saying, “Do you want to do this thing?” I thought it was for a fairly small part – until I read it.
Q: Jonah, how did you learn you got the role?
JH: They had written me an email together, it was one email from both of them actually and it was so beautifully and hilariously written. It was written in their dialogue as the Coen brothers. They said it’s a very, very small part and I just said, ‘yes,’ right away without reading it. I can’t speak for other actors, but I can’t imagine an actor who wouldn’t die to get to work with the Coen brothers.
Q: What about you Channing? Talk about how you got the news you were in the film.
CT: I said, “no” a bunch. (laughter) I got an email from them. You don’t even read the script before you say ‘yes.’ You can’t say, “I’m in” fast enough. They asked me if I knew how to tap. I said, ‘no.’ They said, ‘do you think you could learn’? I said, ‘yeah.’ Can you sing? Uh, ‘No’! Can you try? ‘Yeah, I can try.’ I was so scared that I was going to screw up this movie because I didn’t know how to do any of the things they asked me to do. I was terrified. Auto Tune is amazing (laughter).
Q: What do you think the Coens were trying to convey in this movie? Is it that actors should be more grateful?
JB: I think they’ve been wanting to do something for a long time, but it’s illegal. They’ve wanted to slap George Clooney for a long time.
GC: First, I want it out there that Josh has very, very soft hands.
Q: George, did this satisfy a fantasy of yours to do a sword and sandals epic?
GC: The fantasy was to wear the leather skirt. When you go back and look at those films, it’s hard not to crack a smile when you watch them. They took it very seriously. I really fell in love with Victor Mature’s version of all of those films. His hair was always died black. He’s wonderful in those films. I’m a fan of Victor Mature. I think Jonah nailed it. I don’t know an actor the Coen brothers could go to an say I have a movie I want you to be in if you want to do it and they would say “no,” and that’s the truth.
DD: Are you encouraged or discouraged about the atmosphere in Hollywood right now?
GC: Are you talking about the idea of what the Academy is doing and diversity?
GC: It’s a very good idea. It’s smart to open up the Academy and make it more diverse. I think it’s, uh, long overdue. I also think that that’s just the very end of a long process that needs to sort of be looked at in terms of which studios, uh, what the list of names that the studios will green-light pictures for – starting with agents, going through writers and directors and everything else. I think that needs to be reexamined for a multitude of reasons and ethnicities. I do believe that it’s going to get a very good look at now. That’s always good. I think anytime you open up any part of the industry to diversity, I’ve never seen it not be good.
DD: When you’re doing a Coen film, can you adlib or are you kept on a tight leash?
CT: You can’t have a better idea than pretty much what they’ve already written. It’s amazing.
JH: Greater minds have thought it through.
AE: The writing makes it so easy to do. For the most part you stay within the script.
GC: (to Josh Brolin) You didn’t change anything, did you?
JB: I was just thinking about it, you can change things. You just don’t want to. Why would you want to?
Hail, Caesar! stars Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum.
The comedy is produced by the Coen brothers under their Mike Zoss Productions banner, alongside Working Title Films’ Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.