The jazz musician John Goodman plays in Inside Llewyn Davis doesn't interact with most of the film's other characters. But he tells us each of them is worthy of their own narrative.
"All the other characters—I saw it again last night—I started wondering about them, " Goodman told the Wire when we talked with him last month. "They all make great short stories. The Gorfeins, Bud Grossman, I’m wondering about all these people because they are so rich. [Llewyn's] agent—I wanted to hang out in that office for a while. This is a guy that wants to give him his winter coat and then is going to kill him over a coupla bucks, and he winds up slipping him forty."
To play the almost prophetic Roland Turner, a cocky, heroin-addicted relic of an earlier era whom Llewyn meets on the road to Chicago, Goodman didn't do much historical research, even though Turner was apparently based loosely on blues singer Doc Pomus. Most of what Goodman needed, he said, was on the page for him, and what wasn't he made up. "I just think, for me, he was probably a very talented, prodigy-level musician, and he had polio, and he also felt like an outsider his whole life and gravitated towards bop and started adapting (what he thought was) African-American style clothing and just filtered toward—oh what do you call it now—alternate lifestyle and towards heroin use," Goodman explained. He saw his character as a possible "alternate future" for Llewyn. Turner scoffs at Llewyn's career as a folk musician, confident that jazz is superior, just as Llewyn scoffs at his peers' poppier interpretations of folk songs: "I can see Llewyn easily hardening into something like that."
Goodman said he would have "jumped" at the chance to work with the Coen brothers for a sixth time, even without having read the script. But the script—a detailed, unvarnished look at the 1960s through the eyes of a misanthropic hero—was "moving" to Goodman in its creation of another world. "They created living characters," he said. It's those supporting players in a Coen world—many of whom Goodman has played, from bowling enthusiast Walter Sobchak to cyclops Big Dan Teague—that entice Goodman. That theme came up when we asked him to name his favorite Coens movie that he doesn't appear in. "Oh, Miller’s Crossing," he said. "Boy, I love that thing. You just see these characters and you wonder about the supporting characters."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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