“Rejection is the norm,” are words you don’t expect to hear from an actor like Oscar Isaac, someone whose name is on the wish list of directors including Nicholas Winding Refn ('Drive'), Madonna ('W.E.') and, most recently, the Coen Brothers, with his title role in their latest film, 'Inside Llewyn Davis', in UK cinemas this Friday.
“You’re being rejected constantly. I don’t think there’s another profession I can think of where rejection is actually the thing that you have to get used to. On a regular basis.”
Oscar Isaac stars in the title role of 'Inside Llewyn Davis'
It’s an experience Oscar Isaac brings to bear in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, full of the brothers’ typical black humour, colourful antics and striking performances, as the protagonist tries his luck on the folk circuit of New York’s Greenwich Village, circa 1961.
It’s also full of music, with Oscar Isaac singing his own songs in the film, alongside artists including Justin Timberlake. Was that intimidating, even for a seasoned performer like Oscar, who performs in his own band, in addition to his screen career? He shakes his head…
“The Coens create a community on set, so there’s a generosity, Justin stuck around for all the recording of the music, just to be part of the whole thing.
“There’s no ownership over ideas, we’re all just building this thing together, so you soon relax. Conversely, they don’t thank you for your idea, there’s no compliments, because as soon as it’s out there, it’s not your idea any more, and that can be a little scary, especially in this business where everyone’s used to being praised all the time.
Oscar Isaac at work in the studio with Justin Timberlake - 'the Coens create a community'
“What it does, after that first week, you’re done being terrified that you’re single-handedly ruining the movie, it creates a level playing field and everyone just relaxes, just doing the work, so second-guessing, no paranoia, no neuroses, everyone’s free.”
This sounds the opposite to what his character Llewyn experiences, as he chases one audition after another, only to see the chances go instead to other artists, some better, some worse. Does Llewyn sum up all those wannabes who simply caught a slower wind than someone like Bob Dylan?
“That happens a lot, although in Dylan’s case it’s hard to argue,” Oscar reflects. “Llewyn looked backward, Dylan looked backward and forward.”
His character has some rotten luck along the way – even the weather is not on his side – but finds the ability to keep smiling, keep going, a condition which Oscar describes as being akin to the artist’s compensation…
“I can draw on lots of personal experiences where I have to find the absurdity in it to give me some release.
“I think that’s why often people in creative fields can feel so alone is because there’s a constant third eye, that constant watcher.
Oscar Isaac performed himself for the film, which also stars John Goodman, Adam Driver and Carey Mulligan
“That thing came first, that could always detach and see what was happening, and comment on what was happening. And in a way be scavenging of your own life. And I’ve felt shame about that in the past. Where I’ve been in an emotional situation, and there’s a little part, going, ‘I can use that for later, remember this.’ And it feels like you’re being disingenuous.
“But at a certain point I realised I had to come to terms with that’s who I am, that there’s always going to be something that’s observing it all, and my job then, the way that I can feel absolved, is if I can do a good enough job that other people can know what that feels like, and then you can feel that at least it was for a purpose, hopefully a generous one.”
'Inside Llewyn Davis' is in UK cinemas from Friday 24 January. Watch the trailer below...