Roger Deakins Told the Coen Brothers He’d Stop Speaking to Them if They Didn’t Direct ‘No Country for Old Men’

Deakins said that his longtime collaborators thought about letting someone else direct their script, but he knew they were the right filmmakers for the material.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Javier Bardem, 2007. ©Miramax/courtesy Everett Collection
"No Country for Old Men"
©Miramax/Courtesy Everett Collection

If Roger Deakins wins his third Oscar at the 95th Academy Awards tomorrow night, where he’s nominated for his work on “Empire of Light,” it will simply be the latest achievement in one of the most incredible careers in film history. Over the past 40 years he has racked up 16 Oscar nominations while working with many of Hollywood’s biggest directors, including frequent collaborations with the Coen Brothers, Sam Mendes, and Denis Villeneuve.

In a new interview with GQ, Deakins looked back on his sprawling filmography while sharing behind-the-scenes stories from some of his best known works. When the Coen Brother’s Oscar-winning Cormac McCarthy adaptation “No Country for Old Men” came up, Deakins revealed that he played an even bigger role on the film than he gets credit for. In addition to serving as the Coens’ director of photography, he was also one of the reasons they decided to direct the film.

Deakins explained that the Coens were only attached to the project as screenwriters at first, and were considering handing the film off to someone else. But after reading McCarthy’s novel, Deakins launched a full court press to ensure that his longtime friends and collaborators directed it.

“Joel said we’re doing this script, ’No Country for Old Men.’ I had just read the book, so I said ‘aren’t you gonna direct?’ And he said, ‘well, we might.’ I said ‘I’ll never talk to you again if you don’t direct it.”

Deakins went on to reminisce about Joel and Ethan Coen’s obsessive preparation for the film, and recalled being impressed by how clearly they were able to articulate their vision for the finished film at the beginning of the process.

“The thing about Joel and Ethan is they love getting into different kind of worlds. They kind of just move around in different genres in a very interesting way. But they’re very prepared, they spend a lot of time talking about it, doing drawings, storyboarding, studying locations,” he said. “One of the things early on that Joel and Ethan said when we were shooting was ‘just be aware, we’re not going to have any music on it.’ They knew right at the start, well before we started shooting, that the only sound would be natural sound.”

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