Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

In Coens' Cannes Hit, Isaac Gets His Break

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

In Coens' Cannes Hit, Isaac Gets His Break

Article excerpt

CANNES, France --

Joel and Ethan Coen had almost given up on casting the lead for their film "Inside Llewyn Davis." The part, a folk musician in early 1960s Greenwich Village, demanded the elusive combination of someone who could both carry a movie and perform the songs central to the film.

Then they met Oscar Isaac.

"It just didn't happen until he walked in the room," Joel Coen said. "There was a point at which we wondered if we'd written something that was essentially impossible to cast."

The Coens have long been known for their casting acumen, but they may have outdone even themselves with Mr. Isaac, a 33-year-old, Juilliard-trained actor with a few notable credits to his name but nothing on par with a major Coen brothers release. The film was greeted ecstatically at the Cannes Film Festival at its Sunday premiere, with Mr. Isaac hailed as the festival's breakout star and a possible Oscar nominee.

"I finally got the shot," Mr. Isaac said in an interview. "And I got it in this context, which is more than I honestly could have ever imagined for myself."

In the film, Mr. Isaac plays Llewyn Davis, a character very loosely modeled on folk musician Dave Van Ronk. Despite his evident talent for personal songs with traditional folk influences, he's an artist just barely out of step with history. Bitter and increasingly frustrated, he's a raging failure, missing his moment, one instead grabbed by Bob Dylan.

For many, Mr. Isaac's story is kind of an inverse of Llewyn. He is a young actor who gets his chance -- "his minute," says music supervisor T Bone Burnett -- and takes advantage of it.

"The whole story is about a guy who never gets there," said Mr. Burnett, the frequent Coen collaborator. "And yet the actual person who's playing that guy, does it. He seizes that minute like a motherf-----."

Though Mr. Isaac says he identifies with the role fortune and opportunity plays in catching a break, he more associates with the workmanlike attitude of both Llewyn and the Coens. For him, it was as much about gradually working toward "Llewyn Davis" as it was landing a single break. …

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