CLOSE
Original image
A&E/Joseph Lederer

Bates Motel, Episode 3: "What's Wrong with Norman?"

Original image
A&E/Joseph Lederer

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s official: The Norman Bates we all know and love (?) has arrived. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

First, we have Dylan mugging with a gun in a Bates manor mirror. He’s pointing it. Sticking it in his pants. Trying out a menacing stare. He may be more Quick Draw McGraw than Clint Eastwood, but I think Dylan just became my favorite character. Also, how many layers does he have on? I count a t-shirt, a flannel, a hoodie, and a leather jacket. After he’s done posing, Dylan walks into the kitchen, where Norma asks for his help with motel stuff.

“I’d love to, but I have a job,” he announces, and Norma(n) looks at him with such comic shock that I’m waiting for the spit take. Norma asks what he’ll be doing. “Nothing,” is Dylan’s response, and then he’s out the door, presumably to go do “nothing.”

“Norman? You OK?”

A&E/Joseph Lederer

Meanwhile, Norman heads to school, where a weepy Emma (wearing a plethora of questionable prints which are either awful or adorably quirky) finds him at his locker.

Long story short: She’s freaking out that the little black book was fact, not fiction, and she’s having a hard time dealing. “That dead girl is calling us from the grave,” she says, waving the journal around. Norman demands that Emma return the journal to him, which is not the response she was expecting.

“Why are you so obsessed with it?” he asks her, annoyed.

“Hey, I found it in your room,” she shoots back.

“What’s that supposed to mean? I’m obsessed with it? I’m not obsessed with it,” the lady doth protest too much.

Proving that he’s not at all preoccupied with the book’s contents, Norman goes to class and promptly has a vision of his teacher tied up like the sketched girls. He’s supposed to be taking a test, but hasn’t written a single letter. “Norman? You OK?” Mrs. Watson asks, and, looking kind of sweaty and lecherous, Norman passes out.

“Does Your Son Have a History of Blackouts?”

At St. Sebastian Hospital, a doctor asks Norma if Norman has had episodes like this in the past. Her eyes have been on her son, but Norma’s head whips around at the question. “Why would you ask me that?” she says, alarmed, and it seems like she’s a smidge defensive. “No, never. Not at all.”

Back to Dylan, who’s traipsing through the woods with his new pal Ethan—the same area, of course, where Norman and Emma looked for a grave, found a pot field and recently fled from gunmen. (High school shenanigans have really changed since my days.)

“This where they shot Deliverance?” Dylan asks. “Boy, you got a pretty mouth.” Yep, favorite character status cemented.

The new BFFs are enjoying nature’s beauty—which just happens to include $5 million worth of pot plants—when they’re suddenly looking down the barrel of a couple of guns. Dylan fumbles for his own gun when the guys start laughing. “We’re just messing with you, noob,” they grin, and then mock the gun placement that he worked so hard on getting right. “You’ll probably want to keep that up front, though. Quick draw.” They split, leaving Dylan and Ethan alone with a tent, a whole lot of ammo, and some snacks.

“What do we do now?” Dylan asks.

“We chill,” Ethan says, and it looks like Dylan’s “nothing” job description was closer than he thought.

“You’re Brave, Norman Bates.”

A&E/Joseph Lederer

Speaking of chilling, that’s what Norma(n) are doing at the hospital. While they’re waiting on test results, Norma gets a phone call: The new carpet has arrived and someone needs to sign for it. She leaves, not even noticing when she passes Norman’s only other visitor in the hallway. It’s Bradley, bearing a very familiar pot of flowers.

Norman asks how her father is (the correct answer: well done), and Bradley reports that he’s probably not going to make it. There’s an uncomfortable silence, which she breaks by saying, “I know. Death is awkward. So what about your dad? He doesn’t live with you, right?” Norman tells her that his dad passed away after having an accident in their garage. She realizes that this makes them kindred spirits, and tells him to scootch over so she can watch an old movie with him.

“You like old movies?” she asks.

“Everyone seems better in old movies. Even bad ones. Happier, maybe.” Norman

After a few beats, Bradley agrees. “You just want to be happy,” she says.

“What’s Wrong With Me?”

As Norma’s signing for the carpet—by the way, they’ve accidentally delivered carpeting for five units instead of four—when Sheriff Romero comes busting in.

“You can’t just walk into my home,” Norma sputters.

“Actually, we can,” he replies. Guess who got that search warrant!

Leaving the cops alone at her house, Norma goes to retrieve Norman from the hospital. Even though they can’t find anything wrong with him, they want to keep him overnight for observation. “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” Norma basically says, and starts yanking cords and tubes out. As she wheels him away, she tells Norman that police ransacked the house. “I have no idea if they found anything. It was one of the most horrible experiences of my life.”

“Did they find anything?” Norman asks, totally failing to pull off the nonchalant look he was going for.

The second he gets home, Norman drops to his belly and looks under his bed. The space is totally empty, save for a dust bunny or two (where are those Swiffers when you need them?). His face falls. “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me?” he half sobs.

”Why Would You Want to Keep That Thing?”

After changing back into his octogenarian-chic clothes, Norman walks into the kitchen where his mom is waxing poetic about her homemade turkey pot pie.

“Mother. I kept Keith’s belt,” he interrupts.

“Why?” Norma seems truly baffled.

Norman ignores the question, but haltingly explains that the belt isn’t where he left it.

“I mean, why? Why would you do that?” she repeats. Norman is at a loss for words.

“All right, well, if the police had found it, they would have said something, right? They would have told us. Okay. I will be right back,” she says, whipping her apron off.

Back to the Deliverance forest. Dylan, understandably, is asking some pretty logical questions about the pot field. Here are the answers: A) They can’t smoke it on the job. A) “A couple of families from town” own it. A) Bradley’s dad was set on fire to send a message. A) The people who did it were punished, and yes, it was the upside down guy hanging from the yardarm last week.

Then they freak out when they hear a noise, but it’s just a bird. Dylan is pretty stoked. Pheasant hunting!!

“It Will Be Like She Never Existed.”

A&E/Joseph Lederer

Ding-dong, Emma calling. “We need to talk,” she insists. Norman tries to slam the door in her face, basically, but she keeps going. “She was real. If we forget about her, then the world will forget about her. It will be like she never existed. Like her life didn’t matter,” she says, and there’s so much desperation, so much insistence in her voice, you know she’s mostly talking about her own 27 year shelf life.

They head down to room #4, where Norman found the journal, and Emma deduces that men came to the motel to test drive the sex slaves.

“Who do you think brought them?” Norman wonders.

“Have you met Keith? The guy who owned the motel before you?” Norman averts his eyes. “He’s disturbing, to say the least. Not someone you want to get stuck in an elevator with.”

Emma walks over to inspect the bathroom and finds a Chinese character scratched beneath the sink. She snaps a picture of it.

“Everything’s Gonna Be OK.”

A woman on a mission, Norma has been driving around White Pine Bay looking for the deputy. She finds Shelby sitting in his truck just off a main road (speed trap? He is a jerk) and hops into his truck to repeat her “widow with a sickly son” sob story. Then she baits (Bates?) her hook and goes fishing: “I can’t have cops coming in and out of my home over nothing. I mean, it’s not like they found anything.”

“I’m on duty, Norma,” Shelby says tersely, but adds that they should talk later, over dinner at his place that night. Say 8:00? She reluctantly agrees.

“Don’t worry,” he tells her. “Everything’s gonna be OK.”

At home, Norma tells Norman she’s having dinner with Deputy Shelby—“Because Norman, he knows”—then gets dolled up in her best asset-enhancing dress and heads over to Shelby’s trap. House. It doesn’t take long for them to get down to business.

“How about we start with you telling me about the belt?” he says, then gets annoyed when she tries to play coy. “Don’t do that. If we’re gonna help each other, we’ve gotta be honest with each other. That is the only thing that matters to me, Norma, is honesty.” Shelby insists, voice dripping with faux sincerity. She starts to go into her “poor widowed business owner being harassed by Sheriff Romero” schtick again when Shelby stops her.

“Romero never saw the belt. I found it. I took it. So no one else knows,” he says. “Where did you get this scar, Norma?” he asks, touching the marred spot on her thigh that we saw last week.

“I was a child. It was an accident.”

“Is that what happened to Keith? Was it an accident? Norma, did your son kill Keith?”

She denies it, of course, and Shelby decides to try another tactic. He appeals to her by saying that he knows that she has taken care of everyone and everything her whole life, and now he’s here to take care of her. “You are so beautiful it just makes my heart hurt,” he says, and it sounds exactly like a rehearsed line. Making out commences.

“Our Family is So Screwed Up.”


A&E/Joseph Lederer

Back to the woods. Dylan and Ethan are enjoying some friendly chit-chat over a meal of freshly-roasted pheasant. As they’re talking about where Dylan grew up, he realizes that he’s not sure exactly sure of his family’s roots—at least not all of them.

“You don’t know where your own mom’s from?” Ethan says, incredulously, and a look crosses over Dylan’s face like he just realized that yeah, that is weird.

“You got a brother, right? You guys close or what?” Ethan presses.

“Not really,” Dylan answers, probably visualizing a meat tenderizer.

At home, Norman is waiting up on the couch, watching an old movie (of course) in his old fashioned PJs. When he hears Dylan open the door, he immediately calls for his Mother. Dylan advises him—not entirely unkindly—to stop doing things like that. “It’s just weird,” he says.

“And calling your mom a whore is perfectly normal,” Norman counters. Then he confesses that Norma should have been home hours ago, and he’s kind of freaking out.

“You need to get out more, Norman. What she’s doing to you—it’s not healthy. She’s smothering you. There’s a whole world out there. You need some perspective.” Dylan nods at his brother, obviously feeling that he’s given some decent sibling advice. “Sorry you tried to kill me the other night,” he adds.

“I hardly think I tried to kill you,” Norman replies.

“You came at me with a meat tenderizer.”

“Oh I did?” Norman kind of chuckles. “You’re making this up, right?”

“You were pretty badass,” Dylan admits.

“Yeah, I’m sure I struck fear in your heart.”

They both laugh. Hahaha, attempted fratricide is hilarious.

“I Just Like to Keep Mementos.”

Norma arrives home from her close encounter with Shelby and goes upstairs to find Norman, sleeping in her bed. She assures him that everything is going to be fine, and he sees what’s going on. It’s probably not the first time it’s happened.

“This is a bad idea. Letting him use you. What if he wants more? What if he makes you do things, things you don’t want to do?” Norman asks.

Exasperated, Norma asks again why he felt the need to keep the belt.

“I just like to keep mementos, you know, all that stuff I have in my room.”

“Those were good experiences,” she explains, unnecessarily adding that sexual assault and murder are typically not. “Why would you want to keep a memento of that?”

“I’m so sorry, mother,” he says, avoiding the question.

“This Is All Your Fault.”


A&E/Joseph Lederer

Emma pulls Norman aside at school. She got the character from under the sink translated—thanks, Yahoo Answers!—and found out that it means “beautiful.”

“That’s really sad,” Norman kind of shrugs. Emma tells him that she has decided to go to the police and he explodes at her. “Finding out what happened to this girl isn’t going to make a difference to anyone,” he yells. “She’s still gonna be dead, you’re still gonna be sick, and I’m still gonna be who I am.” He immediately apologizes, then turns and leaves.

Norman lies on his bed, motionless, as the sun drops from afternoon to evening to night. Norma enters his room.

“You were right,” she says. “As long as Shelby has that belt, he can control us. He can make us do things. Things we don’t want to do. Just like your father did.”

“We can’t let that happen. Not again,” Norman agrees, and now we’re wondering about that “accident” in the garage again.

“This is all your fault,” Norma glares.

“I know, Mother. There’s something wrong with me.”

“You know what you have to do, don’t you?”

“I have to get that belt,” Norman nods, and that’s when we realize there’s only been one person in the room for the whole conversation.

He’s off, walking down the middle of the road in the middle of the night, looking every inch as crazy as Anthony Perkins. Classic Norman Bates has definitely arrived.

"Help Me."

Norman arrives at Shelby’s house and breaks in way too easily. Shouldn’t an officer of the law have a better alarm system? Or at least some Micro Machines and some heated doorknobs? Shelby’s either not home or he’s the worst cop ever, because Norman is making enough noise to wake the dead. He finds a locked door to the basement, then goes upstairs to Shelby’s bedroom and discovers a keyring in his nightstand. Bingo. After fighting off a dog with a baseball bat (don’t worry, he doesn’t hurt it, just pushes it away) Norman goes back downstairs and uses the keys on the locked door and I am suddenly reminded of Maniac Mansion.

Norman finds your standard-issue bed and disco ball setup in the basement - you know, like you do - and then finds a heavy steel door right next to it. Behind the door is another bed, a bean bag, and an Asian girl with needle marks up and down her arms.

“Help me,” she says, clutching Norman’s arm. Outside, Deputy Shelby arrives home from work.

Thoughts:
If Norman can imagine that his mom is standing talking to him, what else is he hallucinating? Bradley? Emma? Dylan? Women tied up in basements?

What else has he done during the blackouts that he’s obviously had before?

Theories? Thoughts? I'm on Twitter.

Original image
Warner Home Video
arrow
#TBT
Man-Eating Space Lizards: When V Was a TV Smash
Original image
Warner Home Video

American broadcast television in the 1980s didn’t leave a lot of room for subtlety. Shows like Hill Street Blues were outliers, crowded off the schedule by head-hammering episodic series featuring mercenaries (The A-Team), car chases (The Dukes of Hazzard), or soapy melodrama (Dynasty).

On its surface, V appeared to be no different. A two-part miniseries airing on consecutive evenings in May 1983, it told the story of the “Visitors,” gregarious aliens who arrive on Earth in three-mile-long spaceships and greet humans with a bargain: Let the Visitors harvest a chemical needed for their continued survival and receive advanced medical knowledge in return.

As the humanoid aliens reveal themselves to be malevolent lizard-like creatures who prefer to dine on humans rather than prolong their lives, V took on the look and feel of a pulpy sci-fi epic—the kind of thing that could be easily summarized in one Amazing Stories cover image from the 1940s. But writer Kenneth Johnson had something far more subversive in mind. The Visitors were stand-ins for fascists, and V was a cautionary tale about the perils of complacency.

Jason Bernard and Robert Englund star in the NBC miniseries 'V' (1983).
Warner Home Video

A Carnegie Mellon graduate, Johnson had broken into television with a writing stint on The Six Million Dollar Man, for which he conceived a female counterpart in the form of Jamie Sommers (Lindsay Wagner). Sommers got her own series, The Bionic Woman, which Johnson produced until he was tasked with adapting The Incredible Hulk as a live-action drama.

It was around this time that Johnson became fascinated with a 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here, about a fascist group that rises to power in the United States. Johnson reworked the concept into Storm Warnings, a feature-length screenplay; that work landed on the desk of NBC president Brandon Tartikoff, who encouraged Johnson to adapt it into a television miniseries by casting Soviets or the Chinese as the antagonists.

Tartikoff’s request made sense. The miniseries format, which took off in the 1970s with Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man, was drawing record numbers of viewers. The Thorn Birds, about a priest who is tempted to break his vow of celibacy by a younger woman, was a hit; so was Shogun, about a 17th century man who shipwrecks in Japan and becomes a pawn in a war between samurai. (Both starred Richard Chamberlain.) Storm Warnings had an appropriately sprawling narrative with multiple characters, a feat of creative engineering Johnson was encouraged to use after reading War and Peace.

But the writer was less enthused about casting a foreign superpower as a rival. Tartikoff then suggested aliens, the allegorical turf of Rod Serling that had fueled many a socially-conscious episode of The Twilight Zone. Johnson later told Starlog he “ran screaming from the room” at the suggestion, but eventually warmed to it. Storm Warnings became V: NBC committed $13 million to produce the four-hour drama.

A scene from the NBC miniseries 'V' (1983).
Warner Home Video

While a generous budget for television, the scope of Johnson’s idea taxed every available dollar. A 60-foot-long model of one of the Visitor ships was built; a giant hangar intended to depict the inside was made to scale, albeit cut in half; matte effects, with the ships laid over a background painting, depicted their unsettling arrival over Earth’s major cities. A feature with those same ambitions might take months of pre-production planning: Johnson got three weeks.

Whatever was lacking in the special effects and costumes—Johnson opted for a regal, military-inspired garb for his aliens that hasn’t aged well—never diluted the real attraction of V. Following a television cameraman (Marc Singer) and a botanist (Faye Grant) as they grow suspicious of the true intentions of the Visitors, the series quickly turns into an examination of what happens when a population is seduced by the promise of a helping hand. Celebrities and world leaders endorse the Visitors; scientists questioning their motives are corralled and delivered to ships for “re-education.” By the time their foot soldier Diana (Jane Badler) is seen devouring a guinea pig, Singer and his cohorts have decided to form a resistance to push back against being turned into alien kibble. For viewers who didn’t care for the subtext, there was still the birth of a lizard baby to talk about with coworkers and friends the next morning.

In a departure from conventional advertising, NBC decided to take a conservative approach with V. Posters in subway stations and bus stops depicted illustrations of the Visitors in propaganda-style posters; later, a “V” would be spray-painted over the ads. There was never any mention of the series.

The premiere of V drew a 40 share, which meant 40 percent of all households watching television at that hour were watching the lizard people establish their dominance on Earth. Tartikoff even granted Johnson the ability to run 15 minutes past the allotted two-hour time slot, cutting into local newscasts. On night two, V maintained much of that audience.

What might have turned out to be a lucrative franchise for NBC quickly lost its way. Tartikoff wanted Johnson to oversee a weekly drama continuing the story of the resistance while ramping up their licensing efforts; Johnson argued that the premise would be too expensive for the format and suggested a two-hour movie air every month or two instead.

A licensed action figure from the 'V' miniseries
Amazon

In the end, neither quite got their wish. Another miniseries, V: The Final Battle, aired in 1984, but Johnson disowned it after extensive rewrites. V: The Series followed, but lasted just one season. Johnson lamented that the network had taken his cautionary tale and turned it into a spectacle, with gunfights and lizard people eating small animals taking the place of the allegory.

V was revived by ABC in 2009, but low ratings led to a quick demise after two seasons. Other shows and movies like 1996’s Independence Day had borrowed heavily from Johnson, wearing out the premise. In 2007, Johnson published V: The Second Generation, a novel based on one of his follow-up scripts.

The miniseries format would continue throughout the 1980s and 1990s before serialized dramas with shortened seasons edged them off television schedules. Like The Thorn Birds, V remains one of the most well-remembered entries in the medium, due in no small part to Johnson’s nods to levity. When the aliens arrive, a high school band plays the Star Wars theme.

Original image
Gramercy Pictures
arrow
entertainment
20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers Movies
Original image
Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. John Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’s 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS' WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating, “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Ethan Coen, Frances McDormand and Joel Coen at the Oscars
Ethan Coen, Frances McDormand, and Joel Coen celebrate their Oscar wins in 1997.
KIM KULISH/AFP/Getty Images

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

Billy Bob Thornton in the Coen brothers' 'The Man Who Wasn't There' (2001)
© 2001 - USA Films

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that features a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

A still from the Coen Brothers' 'The Ladykillers.'
Melinda Sue Gordon, SMPSP - © 2004 - Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination).

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

A photo of Oscar Isaac in the Coen brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis' (2013).
© 2013 - CBS Films

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. “The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, ‘Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that.”

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen brothers are plenty fond of The Dude; after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios