Ethan Coen And Tricia Cooke On ‘Drive-Away Dolls’ And Not Wanting Movies To Suck

It’s actually endearing to hear Ethan Coen worried about what critics might think of his new film, Drive-Away Dolls – a romp of a film about two women, Jamie and Marian (Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan), on a cross-country road trip being chased by mobsters for (unknowingly at first) being in possession of a suitcase of dildos that could ruin the life of a conservative senator, played by Matt Damon. It’s endearing considering the overwhelming success he’s had in that department, until recently alongside his brother Joel. (You may have heard of the two referred to as “The Coen Brothers.”) Co-writer of Drive-Away Dolls, Tricia Cooke (also longtime Coen Brothers’ editor and Ethan Coen’s wife), is less concerned about that aspect of things. But does admit people showing up for something a little more serious might be surprised by the more fun nature of this film compared to what’s come in the past.

It wasn’t too long ago it was unclear if Ethan Coen would ever make a movie again, stating the process made him “bored.” Luckily, working on Drive-Away Dolls with Tricia seems to have reinvigorated him, admitting that he actually had fun making this movie – a movie that was first announced by the couple way back in 2007. Ahead, Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke explain why they had such a great time making this movie. But, conversely, why they worry (at least why Ethan worries) about the reaction, since it’s a departure.

Also, it’s always fun when filmmakers start listing influences for current movies, which happens here. Especially if I happen to know the movie. (Even though I briefly mixed up Marty and Harvey, two movies that are nothing alike outside of the title.) Also, who knew Ethan Coen would be such a fan of the Kris Kristofferson vehicle, Convoy?

A couple of years ago Ethan said he wasn’t having fun making movies anymore. Then this comes out, one of the most fun movies I’ve seen in a theater recently. I’m going to assume you had fun making this one.

Ethan Coen: Yeah, you may assume. Yes, it was really fun to make. No, it was great. We both had a great time. I’m glad you can feel that.

Your quotes before sounded pretty dire.

Ethan Coen: They did?

It sounded like you just didn’t like the job anymore.

Ethan Coen: Oh, man. I was all mopey! No, I’m much better now. I’m totally recovered. As somebody says in John Carpenter’s The Thing, “I’m all better now.” I think it’s Wilford Brimley, right before he turns into a raving space monster. I’m all better now, yes.

Tricia Cooke: Yeah, I think a lot of that had to do with just also the energy and enthusiasm of the cast. I think they helped restore Ethan’s faith in…

Ethan Coen: Humanity. Movies.

Tricia Cooke: Yeah, movie making.

It’s always a positive sign when you compare yourself to a character from The Thing in regards to how well you’re doing.

Ethan Coen: [Laughs] Yeah. Just to finish my thought, I think Wilford Brimley says, “I’m all better now,” and then immediately sprouts like eight legs and starts vomiting slime.

Obviously, you two have collaborated on many movies, but this is the first as credited co-writers. Did you learn anything about each other that you didn’t know? Is that even possible at this point?

Ethan Coen: No, it’s not possible at this point. Yeah, we’ve worked together before, but this was different. We were making a movie together, from soup to nuts, as me and Joel did – writing, directing, cutting, just making the movie together. Would you say we learned anything? We’re past learning.

Tricia Cooke: We learned I’m nicer.

Ethan Coen: No, no. We always knew that.

Tricia Cooke: I don’t think that there was anything. I mean, it was fun to work with Ethan. I worked with him in the cutting room before, and we’d actually written other things before. But just the amount of trust and, I don’t know, respect he has? That wasn’t something that I learned, but it was nice to experience on a different scale – that kind of trust that you have in someone. That was good.

I’m curious, on past movies, when you’re credited in editing, there had have been moments where you were going over ideas together during the writing process even then, right? I mean, this can’t be completely a new situation. Or maybe it is? I don’t know.

Tricia Cooke: Well, I’ll often read the scripts that Ethan and Joel are going to make and give notes and stuff. But collaborating, like I said, Ethan and I have written stuff before, made little things, but that’s the extent of it. I’ll look at the work that he’s doing. I mean, even when I stopped cutting with them, I would watch cuts and give notes. Or I would read the script and give notes, that kind of thing, sure.

I’ve seen in some recent interviews you seem a little worried audiences might not get this movie or critics might not get it? This movie’s really fun. Why are you at all worried about this?

Ethan Coen: Well, not worried about them getting it in terms of… Yes, it’s fun. I’ll tell you what I’m worried about. Okay. Thank you for helping crystallize my thought because it’s a good question. I am worried about people being suspicious of a movie that’s fun.

I see.

Ethan Coen: It’s a weird thing, but people can be, you know what I mean? People will like… You know what I’m saying, right? I don’t get it. I mean, I’m just supposed to enjoy myself.

Okay, so let me try to unpack that. Do you think people are going into this looking for a grand message that you think might not be there because they’re just supposed to have a good time and you think they might be disappointed?

Ethan Coen: Yeah.

Tricia Cooke: I don’t know if I think they’re going to be disappointed. I think they might be like, “Huh, okay.” Because it’s meant to be kind of light and not heavy. It’s a departure from, I think, what Ethan usually does. And so I think they might just be like, “Huh, okay.” I’m not afraid that they’re not going to get the tone. I mean, it’s kind of slapped all over the movie, but it might be a head-scratcher like, “Oh, this is what Ethan does? This is what Ethan and Tricia made? Okay.” I mean, not that they’ll be disdainful of it, but it’s just kind of a head-scratcher.

But let me ask you this way. Over the years, I feel like you guys are batting, what? 98 percent as far as critics enjoying the stuff you guys have made. I actually find it kind of endearing that you would even worry about that. That’s the way I’ll word it.

Ethan Coen: Well, to be honest, what is it? I don’t know. To be honest, I’m always worried and Tricia never is. I don’t know. You stumped me. I don’t know what my worry is. I’m just a worrier. And I don’t know, maybe that’s what I’m saying: You want to immerse the audience in your movie and let them feel secure. Not that they know what’s going to happen next in terms of plot, but that they know where they are in terms of, okay, I’m in a movie, I’m in this world.

Tricia Cooke: And I guess though, I am much more blithely moved through the whole process. I think for me, representing the lesbian world, it makes me a little anxious because that world isn’t represented in this light way often. And so it feels, not like a burden, but like, oh, I hope I don’t fuck this up. And that’s a little daunting. I mean, not that you’re not going to push people’s buttons, and to some extent that’s what you’re doing. But this is like, I don’t want to let all the lesbians out there down.

That you feel the pressure of wanting to get this right?

Tricia Cooke: Right. Yes, yes. Exactly.

Ethan Coen: Well, that’s the pressure. The pressure you always have at work. Jess Gonchor, the production designer, we were spending too much money on some movie and Jess said, “Look, guys, I just want it to not suck.”

Tricia Cooke: And I think that ultimately you get it right, or right enough for yourself. You can’t make the movie for everyone else. You’re just trying to do the best job you can and make it authentic to yourself, and hopefully that reads to everyone else.

Ethan Coen: You want the movie to not suck.

I guess that’s what it all comes down to in the end. I found this article from 2007, when this movie was first announced, and Ethan is quoted as saying that the script is like the exploitation movies of the ’70s that he loved. But it didn’t have any examples. I was curious if there were direct examples.

Ethan Coen: Well, exploitation movies in the ’70… I mean, the ones I really liked were the blaxploitation movies. I love the blaxploitation movies. I don’t even know what I was thinking of specifically. I mean, Tricia probably has a different but related list. There are also older movies, like noirs from the ’40s that are just kind of cheap and energetic and a little crazy. You know what I’m saying?

Tricia Cooke: I mean, exploitation movies, to me, is like, I don’t like to refer – I mean, certainly not in terms of this movie because I don’t feel like we’re exploiting women or sexuality in a way. I think that those movies, the Russ Meyer movies or B movies like Doris Wishman, the thing about them that’s fun is that they are sexual and have an energy that we wanted to use in this movie. We certainly didn’t want to exploit anyone. We wanted them to feel sexy and fun and have that kind of freewheeling energy, I think. That kind of messy energy that those movies had.

Yes, the messy energy. I watched something recently from that era that has that, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.

Ethan Coen: You know what? The title is really familiar.

It stars Peter Fonda.

Ethan Coen: Peter Fonda. Yeah. Fucking hell!

They steal $150,000 from a grocery store one of them worked at I think? Then they go on the run.

Tricia Cooke: They stole $150,000? Wow. A grocery store had that much money. That’s impressive. It sounds like a great movie. I’m going to check it out. I’ve never seen it.

Ethan Coen: Yeah, but all those movies. Yeah, Charley Varrick, Tom Seidel movies. We just saw Kris Kristofferson’s first movie, Cisco Pike.

Oh, I’ve never seen that. Though I just watched Convoy again recently.

Ethan Coen: Oh my God. Convoy! Kris and Ali MacGraw!

Directed by Sam Peckinpah.

Ethan Coen: Yeah! Fucking hell, man. Fucking A. All I can say is: C.W. McCall.

That’s the thing. If you watch Convoy again, you’ll have that song stuck in your head for about a week.

Ethan Coen: Fucking A, man. Ernest Borgnine, one of the greats, truly, in my opinion.

I love him in The Poseidon Adventure.

Ethan Coen: Seriously. He’s really great. You should see The Catered Affair. If you haven’t seen it it’s Ernie and Bette Davis.

Tricia Cooke: Yeah, that was a great movie.

I will. [Update: I did and, yes, The Catered Affair is great.] I watched Harvey again recently. He’s so good in that.

Ethan Coen: You mean Marty?

What did I say? Yes, Marty. It won Best Picture. Harvey is Jimmy Stewart.

Ethan Coen: Yes, Jimmy Stewart.

So the scandal in this movie involves dildos. I realize this was written a few years ago. Would this scandal today actually bring down a conservative politician?

Tricia Cooke: Absolutely not.

Ethan Coen: Oh my God, because there’s been so many worse that have failed to. No, your question answers itself.

Tricia Cooke: Which is one of the reasons we made it a period movie. We knew that that would not bring down a president these days. Apparently, nothing does.

Ethan Coen: And that’s part of the movie. The simpler time when being naughty was being naughty.

Tricia Cooke: And you got in trouble for it.

And I hope you two watch Convoy again.

Tricia Cooke: And Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.

Ethan Coen: Yes. I’m actually going to watch that. You have to watch The Catered Affair because it is great. Bette is great. She’s really good.

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