Joel and Ethan Coen don’t remember the exact moment they became obsessed with Eddie Mannix. He’s not a household name, but he’s one of the most important figures in the Golden Age of Hollywood: a “fixer” for MGM who would help cover up scandals, including ones about sex, rape, even murder. The latest from the filmmakers, 61 and 58, respectively, is “Hail, Caesar!”, set in 1950s Hollywood. Josh Brolin plays a softer, fictionalized version of Mannix: He still solves untold problems, including the kidnapping of a movie star (George Clooney), but he goes to confession, is nice to his wife and is even trying to quit smoking — all unlike the real deal.
What was the motivation for including a character named Eddie Mannix who isn’t exactly Eddie Mannix?
Ethan Coen: Our idea for this, which is maybe 15 years old, was here’s this guy who’s a fixer for the studio. We give him the name “Eddie Mannix” because it’s just a great name. But the real person wasn’t much like our character. He’s the squarest hero ever. We thought we’d do a day in the life of his problems, and then we left it at that for many years. We just sat on the premise. We actually mentioned it to George Clooney way back when, and he kept announcing it to the press that this was his next movie, for some reason.
The film seems to be set in the early ’50s, but there’s a bit about Communist screenwriters that seems it might have been lifted in from the late ’40s, when the blacklist started. I could be wrong.
EC: You’re kind of wrong. Communism was still an issue then.
Joel Coen: It is a little bit of a mixture. However, in 1950, 1951 the House Un-American Activities Committee was still in full-swing. McCarthy hadn’t even happened yet. The blacklisting was still happening.
What made you want to include them as the people who’ve kidnapped Clooney’s character?
JC: It amused us that they were writers, for one thing. It amused us they were Communists, for another. And it further amused us that the Clooney character would so readily embrace that ideology.
It’s funny that he’s so far removed from real life that when he’s exposed to what they preach he has to admit what they’re saying is right on.
EC: That’s the dangerous thing about Commies: They have a few good points.