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Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2001

O, brothers how art thou?

Joel and Ethan Coen

It's been eight years since the Coen brothers were last in Japan -- a period in which their films "Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski" garnered devoted cult followings -- so media interest ran high for this rare chance to pick the minds of America's most consistent and obstinately offbeat filmmakers. As it turned out, a mere eight questions were allowed -- one for each year, I guess.

On casting "O Brother, Where Art Thou":

Ethan Coen: John Goodman and Holly Hunter, we were thinking of when we were writing the script. Even though we've worked with John Turturro many times, he was not someone we had in mind when we wrote the original screenplay. Turturro's an Italian from Brooklyn, and it's a bit of a stretch for him to be playing a hayseed from Mississippi. However, he's capable of playing just about anything.

On the film's milieu:

Joel Coen: Everyone in the States is familiar with the folklore of the Deep South, or even -- you could say -- the cliches of the Deep South. And that's part of what the movie trades in. It's not supposed to be "real"; it's more a mythic or folkloric vision of the South, and it plays on people's familiarity with those icons.

On whether they share any similarities with other sibling directors, like the Warshawski brothers:

E.C.: I don't know the Warshawskis really, and to tell you the truth, I haven't seen their movies. J.C.: You've seen "Bound." E.C.: Oh, yeah. J.C.: They're really Hollywood mainstream movies, but I guess they're entitled to it, and they're entitled to be siblings. E.C.: There's not much similarity between what they do and what we do . . . or maybe there is, since I haven't seen their movies! (Laughs) We'd love to have a big mainstream movie! It's certainly not by design that our movies have been outside the mainstream of Hollywood. "O Brother" is probably the most successful movie we've had in the U.S. so far. You just tell the stories you feel like telling and hope as many people as possible will see them.

On incorporating Homer into "O Brother":

E.C.: The idea sort of suggested itself after we started writing the script. It wasn't there from the beginning. Although we realized after we started writing it, that it was an episodic story about a character trying to get home, and that suggested "The Odyssey." And at that point we kind of threw in what we knew from the comic-book version of "The Odyssey."

On Clooney's character, McGill:

J.C.: There's something appealing -- especially with someone as good-looking as George -- about putting him in a hair net and giving him absurd obsessions, like this pomade. E.C.: We thought it was amusing that this character modeled his look and persona on the little "Dapper Dan" character he saw on the cap of the hair pomade, that was who he related to. He's very vain, and that was amusing to us, especially with George playing the part.

On why so many of their films feature criminals:

E.C.: In reality, most criminals are incredibly stupid and inept. But that's not the way they're usually portrayed in movies. "Fargo" is a case of trying to depict that criminal element in a more true-to-life way, which we find more amusing.

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