“It opened doors immediately,” Oscar Isaac muses on working with the Coen brothers. “I got The Two Faces of January a couple of days after I had been cast in Inside Llewyn Davis. The trajectory completely changed once that happened.”
It’s no surprise that the actor’s soulful performance as down-at-heel folk singer Llewyn has proved to be such a turning point. In the two years that have passed since shooting, he’s gone from respected supporting player to compelling leading man, and was recently cast in a major role for JJ Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII.
Digital Spy sat down with Isaac this week to talk about his Star Wars fandom, the meaning of Inside Llewyn Davis’s much-discussed cat, and his role opposite Viggo Mortensen in this week’s Patricia Highsmith adaptation The Two Faces of January.
Hossein Amini has said that The Two Faces of January appealed to him as a novel because the characters’ motivations are so unclear, but don’t actors always want to know what their motivation is? Yeah, the motivation is important for me to act it, but I don’t necessarily want the audience to know my motivation. When you watch something, you don’t want to be told what to think, and when movies or performers try to prescribe that it usually doesn’t work, because the camera sees everything. You let the characters’ behavior happen and people will make their own decisions about what it is.
I had worked with Hoss before on Drive, and that was a really great experience because we had to completely remake the character together, and he was so open to it all, and such a gentleman. And when he showed me this script, the characters were so dark and complicated and you never knew what their motivations were, and that’s what I thrive on.
Your character Rydal has a very ambiguous dynamic with Viggo Mortensen’s Chester, it’s paternal but also homoerotic. How did you view their relationship? Well, Viggo is a very, very beautiful man, so there’s always gonna be erotic tension whenever he’s in the room. That work was done for me! But it was fascinating, yeah, Highsmith sets this up straight away and Hoss does the same. Rydal’s father has passed away, and it was clearly not a good relationship, he didn’t go home for the funeral. So suddenly he sees this man, Chester, and he represents everything he wants to be and also everything he hates, everything he wants to kill in himself. So that creates a whole well of emotions that are tapped at different moments.
The ending is much more cathartic and less cynical than the rest of the film leads you to expect – were you surprised by the finale? Yeah, I remember that being a strangely emotional moment. The irony is that it’s much more emotional than his earlier scene with Colette, who he is supposedly in love with. It’s a process of projection, or displacement, where he’s watching his father just disintegrate through Chester. And what Patricia Highsmith and Hoss both picked up on is showing people at their weakest, and ugliest. Viggo was never afraid to be ugly, or stupid, or foolish, and in fact he looked for those places.