I’ve been a fan of Oscar Isaac since I saw him in the incredible supporting role in 2011’s Drive, which I think is the best film of the last five years. After that, I started watching several of his movies including Sucker Punch, For Greater Glory and 10 Years, where Oscar easily stands out as one of the best actors in all of these films.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Oscar at the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown with a few other Washington Area Film Critics Association members. Isaac talks about his passion for music, working with the Coen Brothers and what would happen if his character from Drive were to sit down with Llewyn Davis.
Inside Llewyn Davis opens in DC on Friday December 20.
Lauren: I thought the film was lovely and I thought your performance was so moving and so incredible and very memorable from what we’ve all seen so far this year. You and Carey [Mulligan] have been onscreen before and have always had great chemistry. You’ve been in these love-hate relationships like this film and Drive. If Standard and Irene were to sit down and have a conversation with your character and Gene in Inside Llewyn Davis, what do you think would happen?
Oscar: I don’t think Standard would like Llewyn too much.
Lauren: Probably not.
Oscar: I don’t know. That’ s a really funny question. I don’t know. I’m not sure. I don’t even know how to answer that.
Lauren: Standard would probably be like “get out of my face.” I think that just is a testament to how good you are as an actor that you can separate all of these characters and that we can see all of these characters and not Oscar Isaac.
Oscar: Well that’s important to me for sure.
Lauren: One of the characters in the film says to you, “Singing is a joyous expression of the soul.” As an actor, do you feel that way about performing and when you’re singing?
Oscar: Not necessarily because it’s not always that. It’s not just the joyous expression; sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes it’s an expression of rage or deep hurt. She’s such a sweet lady. She’s reaching with that line but clearly a lot of that music, particularly folk music, comes from desperation. Life squeezes them and these are the noises they make. T-Bone [Burnett] calls that the single most democratizing act in the history of mankind, which is when those guys came down from DC, down into the South and recorded all of these field recordings of the poorest of the poor and then broadcast that to the entire planet. That’s where modern music comes from. That’s really a fulfillment of the prophesy “the meek shall inherit the Earth.” That’s what that is. There’s a reason that this music, folk music in particular, is protest music… because there is something so direct about it, so simple about it. That’s why it’s also very easy to mock.
Lauren Bradshaw (ClotureClub.com): I was reading an article with Jessica Chastain earlier and she was saying you guys went to Juilliard together. She called you a “young Al Pacino” and said she always loved watching you. I was wondering how your experience at Juilliard maybe prepared you for this role. Were you able to act and do the singing thing or did you just focus on acting?
Oscar: Well, I thought I was going there to focus on acting, but it was there that I learned to sing. I sung badly for many years but that was the first time that I actually learned to use what I have, which is my diaphragm and my voice and my face and how to make the most sound I can in this head of mine. I had a teacher named Deb Lapidus and that’s what she taught me to do. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I started to find what my actual voice is and not trying just to sound like Robert Smith or somebody… so that totally prepared me. Everything [prepared me]. In fact, my dialect coach [for this movie] was my voice teacher at Juilliard.
Before I started I met with Moni Yakim, who has been there since the beginning. He is the movement teacher. He’s this tough Israeli guy and we got together and worked on how Llewyn moves, how Llewyn walks. He had this, and he talked about this when we were in school, he always tells the story about when he was down in New Orleans and this amazing jazz band (they were waiting for them to come in)… and when they finally came in they were ancient, really old. When they walked in, you could immediately tell what each of them played because of the way they stood… so the piano player came in like this [acts like he’s hunched over a piano], and the sax player came in like this [acts like an old man playing the sax], and the bass player came in like this [acts like he’s holding a bass] and they just had to drop them onto the instrument to play. So that incorporated some of that and some of what was happening emotionally. Walking up hill… literally. [Llewyn] always walks uphill even when he’s walking downhill. I thought of all different kinds of ways to express him physically and the shoes were a big, big part of it. They’re the saddest little shoes you could ever see. They’re basically just a piece of leather with some rubber glued to the bottom.
ClotureClub.com: When they got wet I was like “Oh no!”
Oscar: [Laughs] Yeah, terrible, right? So I just got those a good month before shooting and wore them everywhere.