Why Oscar Isaac was perfect as the musician in Inside Llewyn Davis

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The Cohen brothers were looking for a very specific kind of talent.

Inside Llewyn Davis, a film by directors Joel and Ethan Coen, is all about the music.

If you haven’t seen it, it follows the hard-scrabble life Llewyn Davis as he tries to build a career as a folk singer from the downtown cafes and clubs of 1960s New York City.

The directors, whose other films include O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Fargo, wanted the music in the film to be a central part of the audience’s experience. 

“The whole movie is about one character,” Ethan Coen said in a BBC documentary about the filmmakers’ use of music.

“We needed the right actor to play that character, but the character is a musician who we wanted to see performing at length and performing compellingly.

“We wanted to dwell on and enjoy the performances.”

 

It’s a beautiful idea, and it worked out in the final product.

The hard part was making it happen.

“Tricky understates it,” Coen says of the difficulty of finding someone who could command attention as both an actor and a musician.

“The further we got into the casting process, the more terrifying it became because we wondered, legitimately, whether the part was castable.”

Enter Oscar Isaac.

 

“Oscar made the distinction with us when we first met him about people who say they can play the guitar,” Joel Coen says.

“They’ve played the guitar for 20 years, but what that means is they’ve been a guitar owner for 20 years.”

Isaac, on the other, had been playing in bands all his life.

“You had to have both of those things, and that’s kind of what’s extraordinary about what he did in the movie,” Joel Coen says.

Listen back to the full radio documentary about the Coen brothers’ use of music and tune in on Saturday June 9 and Sunday June 10 as Double J counts down the 50 most memorable movie soundtracks.

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