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Oscar Isaac Talks Going From Punk To Folk With 'Inside Llewyn Davis,' Upcoming Films 'A Most Violent Year & 'Ex Machina'

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist December 5, 2013 at 12:45PM

While he doesn't create his own obstacles to success that Llewyn Davis might, Oscar Isaac likely related to being perpetually on the cusp of stardom before landing the lead role in the latest from the Coen brothers. With films like "Robin Hood," "Drive," "Che" and "The Bourne Legacy" filling his CV, and experience working with filmmakers like Ridley Scott (twice), Steven Soderbergh, Nicolas Winding Refn and more, it's clear to anyone who caught those performances that it was just a matter of time until Isaac got the opportunity to show what he could do with a leading part. And luckily for him and us, the Coens did just that by putting him front and center of "Inside Llewyn Davis."
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Inside Llewyn Davis Oscar Isaac

It was announced this week that you've been cast in "A Most Violent Year," alongside your Julliard classmate Jessica Chastain. This will be your first time working with her since those early days.
Well, funny enough we never got to work with each other in school, she was two years ahead of me. But it's a very tight group. So you've got four years basically, like high school, so I was a freshman when she was a junior. But I got to watch her work and even then you just knew this person's really special.

Director J.C. Chandor told the trades that you are literally the character in that film and I'm wondering if you feel that same sort of connection to the role.
Well, I'm glad he feels that way. [Laughs] That's good that the director sees it that way. That's how it is, you start off with this gulf between you and the person you're going to portray. So it's being born again, so I'm completely in the dark right now. The veil is completely covered and there's things I connect to, there's things that resonate but it's so amorphous at the moment. The part that I think is the most fun is the gulf between now and day one of filming, because this is when you just start putting everything into the pot figuring out what tastes good and what doesn't, what you want to spit out right away. And this is when the creative energy sparks.

"I love that I get asked about Llewyn's future because it's an indication that you see him as a person. He's not just a character, he's not just a device there for sympathy."

So you like having that element of the unknown. 
Oh totally. It's past the solar system and it's a complete unknown, I have no direction yet and that's the exciting time. It's also the overwhelming time, when it could be anything. There's nothing scarier than unlimited choices.

For "Inside Llewyn Davis" then, did you ask questions before you started? 
I asked question after question. I would go to their offices and I would sit down with Joel and Ethan and just go though every scene, and quite explicitly say, "Where is he now? Okay, well where is he now?"

Do they provide any background to the story or characters?
It's more specific and pragmatic to the moment. It's funny, it's the opposite of what you think. The screenwriter would say, "I have no idea why that's the case, I have no idea what the backstory is, this is just what works for the story." But the director is the one that helps me figure out how to act these things, and often to figure out how to act, you need to understand where you're coming from and where you were, what you've been through, and that's where they would help with some of that stuff. So it's like, "Okay my idea is that he's from Queens and this is the situation with the Dad," and for them generally they're like, "Yeah sure. We'll let you know if it sucks."[Laughs] Oftentimes you can bend over backwards, beating your head over these little details but they don't necessarily affect what you do. It's a process of showing them, "Well, if I think about it this way, this is probably the type of choices it would lead me to and if I think about it this way, it tends to take us more in this direction." That's where they would help guide me.

It seems like as writer/directors, once the script is done they're sort of already in their director mode.
They're always still listening, and there might be a cut here or there, or a little shift here or there, or if I have a thought that maybe we change this thing here. But it's minimal, because the script is so thoughtful and they have such a way with rhythm that you don't want to screw up the rhythm too much with improvising and all those kinds of things. Sometimes it could be helpful to loosen up the scene, but you don’t want to in this situation because they write thoughts and the thoughts come out of the rhythm.

Was there anything left out that was shot or was the script as you got it pretty much what ended up being made?
It was exactly as it was made.

Inside Llewyn Davis

That's pretty rare.
It's pretty amazing.

Before I go, I just wanted to ask about "Ex Machina" and how "sci-fi" the movie is.
Oh man, I'm so excited to see that movie. It's [set] in the not-too-distant future—it actually could very well be the present, it's a little bit undefined—and it all takes place in a house, or at least in a facility. I play a billionaire programmer who's developing algorithms for the most popular search engine in the world and no one's seen him or heard from him in quite a long time and one of his employees wins a raffle to come to his place in Alaska and test his newest invention, which happens to be a robot in the female form that may or may not have consciousness. 

So it's very allegorical to the human experience and how you will never know if the way you see the world or the way that I do. We can try to describe it to each other but we will never truly know and it's pretty amazing. I think Alex [Garland] is an incredible talent and I remember "Sunshine" was the first script I read when I got out of school and I got so obsessed with that script and the chance to work with him was pretty amazing.

"Inside Llewyn Davis" opens in limited release on Friday, December 6th.

 

This article is related to: Inside Llewyn Davis, Interviews, Interviews, Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year, Oscar Isaac


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