The Coen Brother’s Burn After Reading is the duo at their height of trolling the audience, a mood they seem to make some of the most devilishly funny films of their career. This one reminds me of long days full of running around, confusion and missed appointments, days where I get home and reach the end only to realize that for all the frenzy, nothing I did all day was really of any consequence. This film is sort of like that; a whole lot of clandestine nonsense and tomfoolery that adds up to.. well, not much of anything in the end. If that sounds like I’m being negative, I’m not. That’s part of the Coen’s charm and a core aspect of what makes this one so hilarious. It’s also full of complete dimwitted morons, which only adds to the chorus of lunacy. John Malkovich teeters on the borders of mania, scary and funny as ex CIA half wit Osborne Cox, in a performance so utterly Malkovich that he almost seems like some other actor parodying him. He’s got a cold hearted bitch of a wife (Tilda Swinton) who is fooling around with even bigger idiot Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney is a riot) who is also fooling around with anything that has a pulse, being the squirrelly sex addict that he is. Cox has started a memoir (or, ‘mem-wah’, as Malkovich ludicrously intones it), the contents of which are on a disc that end up in the hands of yet even bigger idiots. Linda Litzke (Frances Mcdormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) run a gym called Hardbodies (only the Coens, folks) and see the disc as ‘secret spy shit’ they could use to make a buck. That’s where the plot hollers off the rails into pure madness, as each and every character makes the dumbest possible decision along the way. J.K. Simmons are gold as two CIA honchos who are more puzzled than the audience, Richard Jenkins trolls perhaps the subtlest of all, and the cast also includes Jeffrey Demunn, Olek Krupa and a meta cameo from Dermot Mulroney. Among the cloak and dagger chaos, the Coen take every chance they get to spoof and lovingly ridiculue society’s cringe inducing stereotypes, until you start to realize they’re levels of exaggeration aren’t all that over the top. Pitt is gold as the air headed gym rat, Clooney pure screwball, and Malkovich is a force of demented nature, his exentuated word pronunciations reaching a boiling point of absurdity here. This is up there with the Coen’s best, and certainly one of their funniest hours.
Excited to bring you my latest interview, with actor Wayne Duvall. Wayne has made awesome appearances in many films including O Brother Where Art Thou?, Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, Pride And Glory, Lincoln, Apollo 13, Edge Of Darkness, Duplicity, In The Valley Of Elah, Evolution, Hard Rain, Tony Scott’s The Fan, Baja, Disclosure, Falling Down and more. He’s also done stellar work in many TV shows including Fargo, Macguyver, Gotham, HBO’s The Leftovers, Elementary, He’ll On Wheels, Boardwalk Empire, Hawaii Five-0, The Good Wife, Law & Order: SVU, CSI, The West Wing and done voice work for video games including Max Payne 3 and Hitman: Blood Money. Enjoy!
Nate:What led you to acting? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do, or did it take you by surprise?
Wayne: When I was 5 years old I found out that I had a cousin who was a professional actor. I couldn’t believe that was a job. It just didn’t compute for me. My cousin’s mom used to call us when he was going to be on. We would gather around the TV and watch him. The shows were Combat!, The FBI, The Defenders. It was so cool. I knew that was what I wanted to do. Oh, my cousin, he did pretty well……Robert Duvall.
Nate: Some favourite actors/filmmakers/films who have inspired your work?
Wayne: The big influence was cousin Bobby. Others who inspire me for there truth are Sean Penn, Oscar Isaac, Gary Oldman, Kate Blanchett, Robin Wright. Directors Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Paul Haggis, George Clooney and most definitely The Coen Brothers. There are many others but these are the ones off the top of my head.
Nate: O Brother Where Art Thou: How Wayne experience for you working on that film, alongside the Coen Brothers, and creating that memorable Homer Stokes?
Wayne: That was a magical experience. My first day was the big scene where I get carried out on a rail. Every star was there that day and the main part was me! This was my biggest film part to date and I just remember thinking, “you can’t play it safe”. So I just jumped. I was so supported by everyone. The Coens were fantastic. I was very fortunate to have that as my first big gig.
Nate: Prisoners: Your experience on that film? Working with director Denis Villeneuve? Are you a fan of the film?
Wayne: I’m a huge fan of Prisoners! Denis was amazing as was Jake Gyllenhaal, who I definitely add to the list of influential actors. Denis let’s you improvise and it was so freeing. Jake is a master and will go down as one of the best we have. He’s so grounded in truth. He’s a master craftsman. Working with both Denis and Jake was such a wonderful experience
Nate: Some of your favourite characters you have played in your career so far?
Wayne: Homer Stokes was obviously a fav. I loved playing the Coach in Leatherheads. Lovably dim. That movie was a blast! Clooney is an amazing director. I just played a fun character in the movie Wolves coming out next year. It stars Michael Shannon and Carla Gugino. I played a basketball coach which was a dream role for me. The first 20 years of my life was more focused on playing basketball than anything else. It was so much fun taking that knowledge and using it in my current work. I been fortunate to have played some wonderful characters.
Nate: Do you enjoy doing voice work? How does it compare to live action film?
Wayne: The voice work I do is mostly for commercials. It’s fairly easy and is done mostly for the money. I’ve not done any animated films which I would love to get into. I’ve heard they are a blast.
Nate: Pride And Glory: A very underrated little cop thriller and one of my favourite films you have been in. How was that experience for you?
Wayne: Pride and Glory was great fun, but sadly a lot of my favorite stuff got cut. Gavin O’Connor is one of those uber talented artists who believes in collaboration. One of my favorite moments was when he felt a scene he wrote for Jon Voight and I wasn’t good enough and asked Jon and I to go off and see if we could come up with something. So there I am at about 2am on a Queens Street with the legendary Jon Voight, improv-ing a scene. It didn’t make it in. Jon and I had a whole story line of being good friends that was cut from the film. It was a good decision on Gavin’s part. It wasn’t needed. Loved that film.
Nate: I noticed your credits are all acting. Have you ever considered writing or directing your own material at all? Branching out?
Wayne: I’ve tried writing and it’s just too frustrating. I’m pretty good with characters and dialogue, but that whole plot thing keeps getting in the way. Directing is something I think I’d like to try. Thankfully, acting has been keeping me busy. Maybe one day. i wouldn’t want to direct and star in something that would be too much for me.
Nate: Thank you so much for chatting and for your time Wayne! Keep up the incredible work!
The Coen Brother’s O Brother Where Art Thou is just a rush of pure originality, musical genius and inspired storytelling, situated outside the box of used conventions, and rooted deeply in a whimsical realm of absurd, charming characters on an epic odyssey across the American south during arguably the most eccentric time period, the 1930s Great Depression. It’s the Coen’s second best for me (it’s hard to top the Lebowski, dude), and a film that I watched so many time growing up that it’s almost now a piece of my soul. It’s loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey. Three bumbling convicts escape from a dusty chain gang in a delightful opening romp set to Harry McClintock’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) is their silver tongued, troublemaking leader, on his way to reunite with his estranged wife (Holly Hunter, reliably stubborn and sassy) and little daughters. Along with him is short tempered Pete (Coen regular John Turturro in top form) and sweet, dimwitted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson). Together they get in just about every kind of trouble that you can imagine three hapless convicts on the run in depression era south getting into. They briefly share paths with musician Tommy (Chris Thomas King), cross the radar of a boisterous bible salesman (John Goodman, stealing scenes as usual with his effortless, booming charm), become involved with duelling governor candidates Homer Stokes and Pappy O Daniels (Wayne Duvall and Charles Durning), and have run ins with sexy sirens led by Musetta Vander, the KKK, notorious mobster George Babyface Nelson (Michael Badalucco has to be seen to be believed as the lively, likely bi polar suffering wise guy) and more, all the while pursued by mysterious Sheriff Cooley (Daniel Von Bargen, RIP). It’s quite al lot of goings on for one film, but the Coens are masters of telling zany, eclectic stories that deviate into all sorts of unexpected subplots without ever derailing and losing us. This one flows along wondrously, a wild, funny and haunting fable that almost feels like a dust bowl Dante’s Inferno at times, albeit of much lighter subject matter. Roger Deakins spins poetry with his lens, capturing every chaff of wheat, every ray of southern sun and brown hued set design with painstaking expertise. What really holds it together though, is the absolute knockout soundtrack. There’s so many moments of now iconic musical storytelling that we feel we’re watching a strange bluegrass lullaby that just happens to take place in cinematic vision. The Coens have always known their music, but they transcend to another level of intuition here, gathering an incredibly evocative group of songs and artists together that stir the collective ancestral memory of historical Americana. Off the top of my head there’s You Are My Sunshine, Keep On The Sunny Side, I’ll Fly Away beautifully warbled by the Kossoy Sisters, Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Babe sung by the slinky sirens, In The Highways by the adorable Peasall sisters, Jimmie Rodgers’s In The Jailhouse Now, Lonesome Valley, Ralph Stanley’s two eerie pieces O Death, and Angel Band, also by the Peasall Gals, and the classic Down To The River To Pray, which sneaks up on you and leaves you in rapture from its inescapable grip. My favourite by far though is I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow, an endlessly catchy hobo tune of jangling melancholy and highway humour, sung by John Hartford but cheekily lip synced by Clooney and team, an original piece made up on the fly by the three characters that goes on to make them ridiculously famous under the pseudonym the ‘Soggy Bottom Boys’. It’s all an intoxicating wonder to take in, the period authentic screenplay and production a feast for the senses. The Coens seem to be adept at whatever they try; sly satire, period piece, stinging violence, dark humour, and even touching drama when they put their minds to it. This is a career high for them, a totally unique piece of art that demands multiple viewings and a spot in any avid movie collectors pantheon.
Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is a good story that’s well told, thoroughly absorbing, and spectacular in terms of production values. Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance are wonderful, with the latter putting on a subtle acting clinic for the ages, and the former reminding us how consistently excellent he is as our American everyman. The screenplay often times tells when showing would have been enough, but that’s The Beard for you from time to time, and it’s interesting to note the screenplay involvement of the Coen brothers on this project. There’s nothing surprising in terms of the plot – the film is based on a true story so there’s not much that could or should have been changed, and while the film never becomes as suspenseful as it might have liked, there’s a reliable, old-fashioned quality that comforts the viewer with a sense of solid familiarity. Janusz Kaminksi, as usual, shows off his stuff as cinematographer, bathing the film in blues, greys, blacks, shadows, snow, and his customary shafts of blinding, white light streaming through windows; this film feels cold and shivery, with the extraordinary production design by Adam Stockhausen totally evoking the bombed out ruins of post WW-II Germany, just as the Berlin wall was being constructed. There’s a magnificent shot in this film of a character riding his bike along the edge of the wall, showing the hectic maneuverings of everyone involved on a political, military, and social level, as the camera catches small bits and pieces of visual information that helps to paint a portrait of impending sadness. The narrative focuses on a POW/spy swap between the Americans and the Russians during the peak of the cold war, and Spielberg, as usual, knows exactly how to get the proper mileage out of his studied locations, fantastic mise-en-scene, and performances that are never less than splendid. Bridge of Spies the sort of film that The Beard could have directed with one armed tied behind his back, and that’s not a knock, but rather, a statement that suggests supreme confidence with this sort of historically rooted material; this is his genre and he knows how to deliver the expected goods.