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Adam Driver on Singing for the Coen Brothers in 'Inside Llewyn Davis' and Why He Keeps Coming Back to 'Girls'

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire December 18, 2013 at 10:16AM

Adam Driver might be best known for playing Lena Dunham's on-again, off-again boyfriend on HBO's show "Girls" but it's on the big screen where he's really stretching.
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Adam Driver

Adam Driver might be best known for playing Lena Dunham's on-again, off-again boyfriend on HBO's show "Girls," but it's on the big screen where he's really stretching. Before "Girls" even came around, the Juilliard grad had already worked under Clint Eastwood on "J. Edgar" and Barry Levinson on the HBO TV movie "You Don't Know Jack." And since the show hit the air back in 2012, Driver has continued to make good on his early promise, collaborating with folks including Steven Spielberg ("Lincoln"), Noah Baumbach ("Frances Ha"), John Curran (the upcoming "Tracks") and Jeff Nichols (the upcoming "Midnight Special").

The busy Driver caught up with Indiewire to discuss his all-singing role in "Inside Llewyn Davis" (the film goes wide this Friday), his amazing run up to now, and the upcoming third season of "Girls."

"Frances Ha"
Photo Courtesy of Pine District, LLC. "Frances Ha"

You're only 29 and have already worked with Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Noah Baumbach and now the Coens. What's it like to hear those names in succession?

That's pretty crazy. I wish I could say it was all part of my master plan. But yeah that's incredible. I've been very lucky.

Working for Clint Eastwood early in your career must have put you in Hollywood's good graces.

That would be a nice thought to imagine, but I don't know if that's true.

How did working with the Coens compare to your other experiences thus far?

I think with all of them they just have a common theme, even though they work in completely different ways. Specificity of story, so clear with what it is they're after, and they have different opinions about how to get there but they're all kind of unanimous in that way. Just to see the Coens at the state they are in with their careers and how they still have this relentless pursuit to tell the best version possible and do all their homework -- it's incredible to be able to have witnessed.

How does one get cast by the Coens?

I got a call. This was two years ago, before the first of season of "Girls," before "Lincoln." I got a call from my agent who was like, "Do you want to audition for this?" And obviously I said yes. So I went in and auditioned, sang a song and that was it.

Inside Llewyn Davis

How intimidated were you, walking into that room?

Very intimidated, as you can probably imagine. Not just due to acting in a scene but to sing, and not just singing but singing for the Coen Brothers. Singing is very scary anyway. I don't know what else you could do that is more vulnerable -- maybe dancing -- than singing.

Having such great respect for all their movies and being so excited just to meet them... if was over after the audition, I would've been completely satisfied. But then it kept going and then getting a job and then at the costume sittings and slowly but surely realizing that this is actually a real thing, this is actually happening --

What did they have you sing?

I forget what the actual song was. I think it was a different version of "Please Mr. Kennedy."

My favorite scene of yours features you singing with Oscar Isaac and Justin Timberlake. How was shooting opposite them in a sound studio?

It was pretty awesome. The song was a great example of what I mean by doing the homework, but at the same time kind of being open to what was happening in the moment. First it's surreal to be recording in a studio and looking to your left and there's Justin Timberlake and T-Bone Burnett and Oscar and the Coen Brothers, and the revolving cast of characters that were coming in and out like the Punch Brothers and things like that. Watching those guys listen to music was something completely different from the way I listen to music. That was fascinating to watch.

We did a pre-record version of it, then it kept evolving. It wasn't quite where they wanted it, we kept on tweaking it. Even on the day, Ethan had a lot of great ideas of what he wanted to do or how he wanted it to sound. Then he was like, "Maybe you should be warming up here." I wish I could claim any responsibility but the only good thing I did was kind of sit back and defer to the people that were in charge.

This article is related to: Adam Driver, Interviews, Joel & Ethan Coen, CBS Films, Inside Llewyn Davis, Academy Awards, Television, Girls, HBO , TV Interviews