10 Actors to Watch: Oscar Isaac Finds Folk Hero’s Soul

In the Coen brothers’ ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ Isaac plays a musician in the early Greenwich Village folk scene.

Playing supporting roles in such films as “Drive” and “W.E.,” Oscar Isaac conveys a beleaguered intensity, if not an underdog quality, that accounts for the actor’s unique appeal.

And in the Coen brothers’ latest, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” both characteristics are magnified to such a degree that his Sisyphean struggle as a musician in the early Greenwich Village folk scene feels palpable. It’s as if you can experience the winter cold that chills this itinerant musician down to his weary bones.

The Coens cast Isaac, who’s in virtually every scene, after switching their focus from musicians who can act to the other way around.

The advantage was that Isaac has been singing and playing guitar since his early teens. “I would say without hyperbole that this is the first time in the history of cinema that somebody has learned to play and sing an entire repertoire of music and film it live without the benefit of a click track or any technology whatsoever,” says the film’s exec music producer, T Bone Burnett.

Isaac’s title character may appear rather self-centered and rakish, but it’s more protective armor than narcissism.

“I think the idea was that he is shut off,” Isaac tells Variety. “When you actually break down his actions, you see that he’s doing things not from a completely self-motivated place. But I think it was the music; that’s the only time that you see a cathartic moment, or a softening, or an opening of his heart. And so I think that juxtaposition was very interesting.”

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