When actress Carey Mulligan had the chance to work with Joel and Ethan Coen in their new film "Inside Llewyn Davis," she jumped at the chance.
"They are brilliant storytellers, and they know exactly what they want," Mulligan said of the St. Louis Park natives. "They just create an atmosphere on-set that is completely relaxed, and they love it. They are just having fun. And so when you are acting for them, they have created the perfect environment for people to sort of play around and try things and have fun, and that is what brings life to their great writing."
The new Coen Brothers movie, which opens in Minnesota this weekend, focuses on a few days in the life of a young singer trying to make his mark in the New York folk music scene in the early 1960s.
It is loosely based on material from the autobiography of Dave Van Ronk, a leading light of the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 1960s. He mentored a young Bob Dylan, who eclipsed him on his way to becoming a big star.
Audiences will learn a lot about the character from the film's opening song.
In a smoke-filled coffee house, he croons almost to himself, ignoring the audience hanging on his every word.
"Hang me, oh hang me! I'll be dead and gone," he sings in a soulful voice as he picks out the tune on his guitar.
Played by actor Oscar Isaac, an accomplished musician in his own right, Llewyn Davis is moodily handsome with piercing eyes. He's very talented, but never gets that big break.
"I wouldn't mind the hanging, it's just laying in the grave so long. Poor boy, I've been all around this world."
For Mulligan, the singer is a person who stands in his own way because he is so unwilling to compromise.
Mulligan, who typically is cast as a sunny personality, plays Jean, an ex-girlfriend of Davis who also is a singer, and more than a little unpleasant.
A worldlier person than Llewyn, Jean is more willing to bend her principles to make it in the music business.
Mulligan says her character also is exasperated by Llewyn's increasingly desperate struggle.
"Regardless of talent, and he does have enormous talent, he's stuck in the cycle of never quite getting there," Mulligan said. "You know, the right things don't happen for him, the luck doesn't come along, the chance doesn't come along, all the millions of things that have to fall exactly into place for you to be successful just don't happen for him."
Mulligan, who has long loved the music and the musicians of the era), said working on "Inside Llewyn Davis" was an education.
"It all kind of connected it for me," she said.
Mulligan can't praise enough Oscar Isaac's performance.
She also says it didn't hurt to have T Bone Burnett as music director on the film. The songwriter and record producer worked with her and singer Justin Timberlake, who shed his pop star persona to become an earnest bearded folkie for the film.
Mulligan says they rehearsed for a couple of weeks with another actor, Stark Sands, to prepare.
"By the time we were filming, we had created this little trio and we kind of loved doing our tribute to Peter Paul and Mary," she says. "And we had a really good time doing it."
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is already drawing award nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes, which is often a gateway to Oscar nominations which come in mid-January.