The Coen Brothers‘ long-gestating Hail, Caesar! is finally arriving into theaters this Friday. The film explores old Hollywood, an age where fixers are hired by major studios to keep actors out of trouble or clean up the trouble by handling the press. Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a fixer for Capitol Studios, not only has to deal with impending scandals, but also has to find out where a kidnapped Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is being held by a mysterious group called The Future.
We were recently invited to sit down at the film’s press conference where Brolin, Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill were on hand to talk about the film’s comedy, not improving a perfect Coen Brothers’ script, not making any suggestions to Roger Deakins, and more.
After finishing O’ Brother Where Out Thou, Clooney was pitched Hail, Caesar! by the Coen Brothers starring him as an idiot actor, and a fixer who has to bail him out of trouble. Though he doesn’t know why they thought of him, Clooney said that the only line that they pitched him was “This is bad for movie stars everywhere.” Unfortunately, they didn’t write the script at the time. But every time Clooney did press for a movie he would say his next project would be a Coen Brothers’ movie called Hail, Caesar! To which the sibling directors would say: “Stop saying that. We haven’t written it.”
Brolin explained that one of the reasons he joined was that he got to slap Clooney around. But ever since No Country For Old Men, Brolin injected himself into the Coen Brothers’ lives. He says there is an “economical and educational process” to their editing. “I remember asking them when they were doing Inside Llewyn Davis, what movie they were thinking about doing next. And they mentioned this movie.”
Ehrenreich, who simply auditioned for the role, told the press that the casting director told him to keep his phone on in the event that he was cast. He figured the call he was going to get was that he wasn’t cast. But he kept it on anyway. But as time passed, he thought that he wasn’t even going to get a courtesy call. But then the Coen Brothers called and told him that he got the part.
An offer for a role in the film was made out to Hill via e-mail. “It was so beautifully and hilariously written, it was written in their dialogue, as the Coen Brothers. They said it was a very, very small part. And I said yes right away, without reading it. I can’t speak for other actors, but I can’t imagine any actor who would not want to be in a Coen Brothers’ film.”
Tatum joked that he said no a bunch of times to the Coens. During a press tour, he and Hill tried to humble brag to each other about the fact that they were going to be in a Coen Brothers movie, but little did they know that they were going to be in the same one. “Of course, Channing’s part was quadruple the size of mine,” said Hill. Tatum replied, “I didn’t know that actually. We both thought we had kind of small parts. In the script, it only says: Mannix walks into a big song and dance. Then they dance. Then he [Burt] does a knee slide to a bucket. So I thought it was going to be the end count or something, and then a knee slide to a bucket.” Hill then joked, “And then I got an e-mail saying ‘are you interested in playing a bucket?’” Tatum then said that the Coens’ asked him if he knew how to tap or sing, to which he said no, but that he could learn how to. “I was so scared I was going to screw up this movie because I don’t know how to do either of the things they asked me to do.” He then added, “Autotune is amazing.” Hill then chimed, “Autoact.”
When asked about the subject matter of the film, Brolin said that the brothers “were trying to manifest something that they’ve been wanting to do but it’s illegal for a very long time. They’ve wanted to slap George Clooney for a very long time.” To which Clooney responded: “First of all, I want it out there that Josh [Brolin] has very, very soft hands.” “Poets hands,” said Brolin. Clooney then said, “I have no idea why they do that, but I find that they do that with all of our characters.” Brolin’s character seems to be the smart one of the entire group. The director’s too. But in regards to the question, Brolin said, “He [Barid Whitlock] started to think individually. He didn’t know it comes across as communist, it’s actually writers going, ‘Wait, if it is our idea, shouldn’t we get a residual, if they make money.’ Forget the communism part. The studio was saying ‘We use you for as long as we need to as laborers, and then we go off and make the profit.’ So he gets together with them, and he starts to think individually, and Eddie, speaking for Nick Skanks says ‘Don’t you dare think individually, because we control you.” Clooney then joked, ‘Then Betty Davis comes around and screws the whole thing up.”
Hail, Caesar! sort of satisfies Clooney’s fantasy of being in a sword and sandals epic, because, as he would jokingly explain, he would get to wear a leathered skirt. But then he got a little bit more serious. “When you go back and look at those films, it’s hard to not crack a smile through them. I really fell in love with, having watched all them for a long time, I really feel in love with those Victor Mature’s version of all of those kinds of films. His hair is dyed black. He’s been wonderful in all of those kinds of films. I actually am a fan. It did feel like he got cinched up into those outfits. He’s got that sort of thick Bronx accent – like Harvey Keitel in Last Temptation of Christ or Tony Curtis in Spartacus. I just loved the idea of this guy who says ‘Let’s go do another one of these.’ I thought it’d be a fun thing to do. But the truth is it’s not as much about this particular role as it is – I don’t know an actor the Coen Brothers can come to and say ‘Hey I got a movie for you to be in,’ and people say no.
There is really no room for any improv with a Coen Brother’s script. “You pretty much say it as they wrote it,” said Tatum. “Not because you can have a better idea than what they have already written, but it is amazing,” Hill said, “Greater minds have thought it through.” Brolin said that the option is there, “but why would you want to?” He then joked that they have a tough enough time socially. “You don’t want to make them more depressed than they already are.”
Clooney said, “They have it so mapped out that by the time you get there you’re really trying to fit into what they see, I think.” But Brolin never has had the same experience as Clooney had. “I never had the same feeling, having done three and a half movies with them. Never got to the set and they said ‘You’ll be sitting there and you’ll be standing there. But it’s true because it is mapped out. It’s a subliminal thing. A full blown, like Orwellian manipulation. But you feel totally collaborative. Whereas Woody Allen says, I’ve worked with him twice, he was like “Whenever you want to change, it’s up to you. If you want to change the words, make them your own, this and that,’ and you maybe actually ad-lib something he says ‘That’s not what it says.’ ‘But you said.’ ‘I know that’s great, and you should do that. But that’s not what it says.’ Whereas Joel and Ethan are like, if you have an idea that fits better than what they’ve come up with, and you collaboratively know that because it is so specific, the foundation they’ve come up with what they want, so if you can actually come up with something better, then they are all for it. That’s why they ask you if they get into fights, and they just don’t. It is so weird.” “We’d try to get them in fights. Joel would come over for direction and I’d say, ‘That is so much better than what Ethan said,’” added Clooney. Brolin then said, “That’s not what Ethan said. He told me not to tell you. You might want to talk to him.”
Now the DP on the film was the great Roger Deakins, whose best work can be seen on Sicario, but when asked what it was to collaborate with the cinematography, the cast said: “collaborate?” Brolin joked about if Deakins was sure if he wanted to put the camera there. Brolin then praised Deakins for his work: “Here’s the great thing about Roger. When we were doing Sicario in Albuquerque, I saw him jogging, and I was out walking early in the morning and I don’t know why, and I looked over and I saw him and he was there and he was jogging and he just went like this [Josh raises his hand gesturing don’t talk to me]. He didn’t look at me. I don’t know if it was don’t look at me; don’t speak; don’t acknowledge me, I’m jogging. That about sums up all you need to know about Roger Deakins.
There are a lot of references to films that some of the cast didn’t even know about. “Every film they do has some homage. O’ Brother Where Art Thou was a line in Sullivan’s Travels,” said Clooney. “They’d take things from Wizard Of Oz, but with the Klu Klux Klan members. They are always referencing films. I think that’s what’s really fun about this film, in particular, where they said, ‘Okay, let’s just put them all in!’” Tatum’s tap choreographer didn’t even know about Applied Mathematics, a Donald O’Connor tap dancing film that the Coens sent to Tatum to use as a reference. “They know everything about everything. I think it’s frustrating for people who think they know everything about everything, and they just somehow know.”
Hail, Caesar! opens in theaters on February 6.