Nobody could accuse Joel and Ethan Coen of being sellouts. After making the Oscar-winning film No Country for Old Men and last year’s star-laced Burn After Reading, the sibling filmmaking duo have tackled an unlikely comedy.
A Serious Man tells the story of feckless Larry Gopnik, a Jewish physics professor who suddenly finds his suburban life falling apart at the seams. Set in a Jewish community at the end of the ’60s, The Coens not only avoided hiring a big name to play their lead role — they got a virtual unknown.
Michael Stuhlbarg may have been nominated for a Tony Award for his work in theatre but the little-known actor auditioned for three roles before landing the part of Gopnik and taking the lead role in an acclaimed Hollywood hit.
“By the time I got the phone call that said I was actually going to play this part, it was almost like 10 months had gone by,” said Stuhlbarg during a recent interview.
Having originally auditioned for a small role, “maybe five weeks before they were going to start shooting, (the Coens) said, ‘We’re going to put you out of your misery — you’re playing Larry.’ It was a long journey but a very fortuitous one.”
That’s an understatement. After all, not only will the movie introduce Stuhlbarg to mass moviegoing audiences, but he got the fortune to watch the acclaimed filmmaking team working close-up.
“Because I was at the centre of the story, I got to be on set almost everyday,” said Stuhlbarg. “It was like being surprised every single day; I think that that’s the same journey that the character is going through as well.”
While Stuhlbarg and his beleaguered character may have been surprised, the professional demeanor of the Coen Brothers certainly left no room for disappointment. As Stuhlbarg points out, the most shocking thing about the Coen Brothers was their absolute preparedness.
“Their job is pretty much done for them when they show up…we do what we planned and we are done,” said Stuhlbarg, adding that they even wrapped filming a week early. “And we still had weekends off – it’s a miracle!”