T-Bone Burnett and Oscar Isaac Talk from Inside Llewyn Davis Agree: "He's not really trying to make it."

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Inside Llewyn Davis marks musician/producer/composer T-Bone Burnett’s fourth collaboration with the Coen Brothers. His first (Oh Brother, Where Art Thou) earned him an Oscar—and somehow cemented a spiritual relationship he and the brothers have with Homer’s Odyssey, the classic story of leaving home and messily finding your way back.

According to Burnett, he knew he’d like the filmmaking duo when he saw Raising Arizona. "In the mirror of the service station bathroom you could see POE." Few others could have recognized that as a reference to Dr. Strangelove (Purity of Essence, Peace on Earth is written on the world ending missile). “They just didn’t want to leave any space unmeaningful. I’ve never seen anyone make films with this kind of detail, which is what this film [Inside Llewyn Davis] was all about.”

Movies with Butter spoke to Burnett and the film’s breakout star Oscar Isaac at a press even in San Francisco, where the composer expressed a great deal of respect for the film's star. “They [The Coen Bros] wanted to make a film about a musician and wanted as much detail as they could about him so they filmed him this close,” Burnett puts his hand in front of Oscar Isaac’s nose, “while he was singing and performing live.”

Inside Llewyn Davis takes place in and around Manhattan’s Washington Square Park in the early 60s, when the park was a scene of struggling folk singers vying for a square foot on which to strum a guitar. This is where Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) suffers his infernal trials, goes on a journey to find the man who might “discover” him and comes back to find new hurdles ahead. All this and the film still boasts the Coen’s wry wit; actor Isaac says Llewyn Davis is a “screwball tragedy.”

Though Burnett often calls himself a “luddite” he works in advanced recording technologies so he’s not bluffing when he says, “It’s easy in this day and age to create a virtual performance later. You can holographically sample somebody and completely manipulate them to say and sounds like you want, but a virtual rendition captures so little of the detail of a performance, and to get super high quality recording equipment on a real performance gives you all the detail and depth you lose in the virtual world. They [the Coens] wanted to do that--hardest thing you could do.” For Burnett, who began his career as a touring guitarist backing Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, “performance” isn’t a word to take lightly. “It’s difficult for Elvis Presley to sit there for three minutes and capture you completely by himself with a guitar. It’s hard for anyone; very few people can do it. They wanted this guy to do it five or six times!”

Isaac, who previously played Carey Mulligan's ex-con husband in Drive and front lined a band called The Blinking Underdogs, presented a real discovery. Burnett says, “They needed either a musician who’s never acted or an actor who can sing. There wasn’t someone obvious.” Which meant the producers had to search, and moreover, find someone who could do it all and still feel like the Coens impassive icon of existential strain.

For all the struggling he does to be a musician, Isaac’s Llewyn Davis is not the sort to hum a joyful tune. Burnett jokes, “When he has his big chance in Chicago, the song he chooses is about a cesarean section.” And, by the way, it’s among the best on the soundtrack, available via Nonesuch records. Burnett says any struggling artist can identify with Llewyn, despite the fact he’s working his damndest and still somehow, “He’s not really trying to make it.”

The film comes out December 6 from CBS Films.

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