Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn DavisFilm stills of Inside Llewyn Davis Words by Elizabeth Pollard

It is rare that you will ever hear a song in it’s entirety in a film, even one about music, but in Inside Llewyn Davis the Coen brothers indulge the audience in 109 minutes of dark cinematography and wonderfully rusty folk music. It is also rare that you have such a difficult relationship with the leading role; the audience is so close to the character that, villain or not, you find yourself growing to love them. This is not the case.

The film follows a week in the life of a struggling folk singer; Llewyn Davis. In 1961 the Greenwich Village folk scene is saturated with artists trying to break through, Davis is (seemingly) just another. Despite his efforts, Davis seems to be on a path of self destruction, isolating those closest to him and abusing the charitable efforts they go to keep him off the streets. Hate him or not, Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of Davis is captivating. His voice is earthy, his appearance is not pretentious and his emotionally defunct delivery immerses you in his story.

In casting the role of Llewyn, the Coen brothers were only sure of one thing; that they had to be able to play the music, that he “could really sing”. As an actor who holds music as highly as film, Isaac desperately wanted to be cast but still felt the journey to the role was destiny: “We were shooting in this bar and in-between scenes, one of the extras picked up a guitar and started playing with the most amazing fingerpicking style I had ever heard. I got talking to him and he told me he had been a musician in New York since the 1960s.” The extra was Erik Frandsen, a musician of the same scene as Dave Van Ronk (known as ‘The Mayor of MacDougal Street’) and Bob Dylan.

As Van Ronk was the inspiration for the Llewyn’s character, Isaac felt “the serendipity of the situation was wild” and persuaded Frandsen to teach him to play his iconic picking style. After the Coen brother cast him, Isaac began to immerse himself in the role, taking notes from the Joel and Ethan Coen themselves:

“Even though I find them really charming people, they are not people pleasers. Which really stands out compared to all the bullshit you get in this industry. So I tried it out by going along to parties and not smiling or cracking jokes but just trying to talk to people. It is a really scary feeling at first because you don’t have any false niceties to hide behind any more. People would either think you were an idiot or others would immediately open up to you. It got quite an extreme reaction.”

This intensity and dedication to the role seems innate in Isaac and one he shares with his directors. Let’s just hope we see this partnership on screen again.

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

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