Extra Virgin February 09 - Antilove
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burn after readingJoel, Ethan, Brad, Tilda and John

Burn After Reading, the Coen brothers’ latest film, is, as Ethan Coen puts it, “a film about knuckleheads”.That it follows their dark, Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men has confused, and even irritated some critics. But ever since they first started making movies, Joel and Ethan Coen have been nothing if not unpredictable and constantly inventive.

They are also Hollywood’s best partnership. They gathered at the Toronto Film Festival with the star cast of Burn After Reading to talk about casting Brad Pitt as an air-headed gym instructor, among other things.

John, you are also here in (JM Coetzee’s) Disgrace and I wonder about the character of David Lurie and getting into that skin. What did it tell you about South Africa and shooting there?

JOHN MALKOVICH: You might want to clarify that I'm here in Disgrace. I'm not really here in disgrace. [laughter] As far as Disgrace goes, I am mistrustful of going somewhere as complicated as present or past days South Africa and saying anything that would make someone believe that I understood it, or had something important to say. I liked it very much there. I found it unimaginably beautiful. Of course, it's also sad and difficult as well. My basic feeling about it was very hopeful.

Brad, can you talk about playing a supporting character versus leading man?

BRAD PITT: The leading man role is the guy who has the answers, can figure things out, and diffuse a bomb within seconds. It's all experienced. All of that is pretty good for the ego sometimes. It's much more fun to play the guys who make the wrong choices, have limited experience, and make the wrong presumptions, and then have to deal with it from there. That is all the fun we had with this one.

I wanted to ask the actors about working with the Coen brothers. A lot of actors say it’s something they look forward to and once they’ve done it that it was one of the best experiences of their careers. They have a hard time articulating what it is that they like about it. Can you put that into words a bit?

BRAD PITT: Short days.

TILDA SWINTON: So easy, really short days, lots of laughing, uniquely, my experience laughing throughout the takes, but that's all credits to Peter [Kurland], the sound guy who seems to wire the set in such a way that us honking like donkeys doesn’t feature on the sound track. That's fantastic.

BRAD PITT: He’s a bit of a mystery.

TILDA SWINTON: He’s a mystery. I think it's your confidence that the audience will be laughing.

ETHAN COEN: There is a scene in Fargo where Steve Buscemi was sliding through the snow trying to bury this money and he kept sinking up to his waist. I think even in the finished movie you can hear me laughing at him.

JOEL COEN: We left it in because we thought, ‘Well, it kind sounds like Steve breathing.’

How do you write? Do you write together in a room or separately?

JOEL COEN: We write together in the same room. We go in the office and sit there and talk each scene back and forth together.

Talking about expectations, for Tilda, Joel, Ethan, you had a great night at the Academy Awards and went home with Oscars. Did it change anything? Are things different professionally?

TILDA SWINTON: I must confess, I'm really sorry, but it doesn't seem to have changed anything for me. Pretty much everything I've done since I was going to do anyway. Occasionally people remind me that was a peculiar night that happened. It was sort of a nasty dream. I'm not so keen on standing up in front of three billion people. It's traumatic. It would be all right if they sent it to you in the post. No, it's been business as usual for me.

JOEL COEN: We had already shot this movie when that happened. The next movie we are doing had already been written and essentially financed. Our story is pretty much the same. We are doing what we would have been doing anyway.

TILDA SWINTON: We survived.






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