The Coen Bros. Split Up for ‘Macbeth,’ and It Feels as Strange for Them as You Think

Composer Carter Burwell says "Macbeth" will still feel like a Coen Brothers movie, even without one brother on board.
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs' photocall, 75th Venice International Film Festival, Italy - 31 Aug 2018
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

What does it feel like for the Coen Brothers to split up after over three decades of making movies together? According to their longtime composer Carter Burwell, the directors are feeling strange about it. Joel Coen and Joel Coen alone is behind the upcoming A24 drama “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” based on William Shakespeare’s play. Burwell tells Collider in a new interview the production was two thirds of the way into filming when the pandemic shut down production. The composer admits its a bit weird to be working through the creative process with just one Coen brother.

“It’s a little different, even just the conversations I’ve had,” Burwell said. “Yeah, it’s a little different to have one of the brothers there. And I know Ethan, I saw him towards the end of last year and Joel was out prepping the shoot in LA, he said it felt strange that Joel is out there getting ready to make a movie. But Ethan didn’t want to do it. He wants to do other things. So it’s going to be a little bit different for all of us, I think it’s safe to say, but I think it’s still going to be a very recognizable voice that you’re familiar with, a look that you’re familiar with, I think. I think you’ll find that.”

As for what moviegoers can expect from “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Burwell teased, “We all know the story. So the surprises won’t be in the story, but it’s about the way it’s shot and the things we choose to accentuate, and the angle we take with it.”

Joel Coen said earlier this year his “Macbeth” is being envisioned as a “ticking-clock thriller.” Burwell’s collaborations with the Coen Brothers date back to their 1984 feature debut “Blood Simple.” “Macbeth” is the first feature film to come from just one of the Coen brothers. While Joel received solo directorial credit on the majority of their early films, that’s only because of a now-defunct DGA rule that prohibited the brothers from sharing credit. Joel would get directing credit and Ethan would take producer credit, but both would be involved with the filmmaking process. “Macbeth” marks the first time the Coen brothers have split, but Burwell stresses it’s all amicable.

“Macbeth” stars Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in the lead roles and also has the backing of producer Scott Rudin. A24 has not announced a release date for the project.

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