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Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke on marriage and the making of the movie 'Drive-Away Dolls'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Jamie and Marian go on a road trip suddenly - Philly to Tallahassee. But they get the wrong car. They blow a tire. They find a couple of cases in the trunk that they shouldn't. Highly motivated criminal professionals try to track them down on a road trip that detours between cheap motels, love nests, diners, lesbian bars, a high-end resort, a dog track and a night in jail. "Drive-Away Dolls" is the first narrative film solo directed by Ethan Coen. He wrote it with his wife, Tricia Cooke. Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke joins us now from Albuquerque, N.M. Thank you both very much for being with us.

ETHAN COEN: Oh, thank you for having us.

TRICIA COOKE: Yeah. Thanks for having us.

COEN: I should say, solo directed by me in name but kind of, in fact, directed by me and Trish. We wrote the movie together and made it together.

SIMON: Well, that's wonderful to know. And I gather it grows out of an idea that you both have had since the early 2000s. Is that correct?

COOKE: Yes. I came up with the title, which was "Drive-Away Dykes." And he was like, oh, that's a great title. We should write that movie. So we started writing it around 2002 and then tried to get it made. And unfortunately, we weren't able to do it then.

COEN: Yeah, the title "Drive-Away Dykes" really got us going - got us, you know, writing a script and making the movie. And sadly, it's the proverbial ladder we had to kick away. We don't have the title anymore. It's "Drive-Away Dolls."

SIMON: Why do you say you couldn't keep it? Can't - I mean, you can - you're famous filmmakers. Can't you do, more or less, anything?

COEN: (Laughter) I am a famous...

COOKE: (Laughter).

COEN: ...Filmmaker.

SIMON: Is that the funniest question...

COEN: Damn.

SIMON: ...Anyone's ever asked you?

(LAUGHTER)

COEN: It probably is. You know what? I will accept the premise. They're just kind of commercial realities. Basically, you can't do it.

SIMON: And where's the idea from the story come from?

COOKE: A driveaway company is, you know, you go, and you pick up a car. Someone needs a car taken. And you can go in and drive a car across the country or down to Florida or whatever, which I had done when I was in college. And we thought, oh, well, that's a good premise for a story, you know? It's like someone gets a car and something in a trunk that they're not aware of. And it was very important for us, for me in particular, to make a queer movie, to make a lesbian movie that was more about just kind of the plot and less about the two characters' sexual identity.

SIMON: Matt Damon is one of the many famous actors who pop up in the film. And there's also a kid in there - can I call him a kid - who looks like a young Matt Damon. I won't set up everything. But I mean, how - did you send out a casting call all over the world - we're looking for someone who looks like they could have been Matt Damon when he was 11?

COEN: No, we didn't because when would that ever work? So we talked about de-aging and all the hateful digital solutions to the problem of, you know, making a young Matt Damon. But then a couple of weeks before we started shooting, Bob Graf, a producer of the movie, was golfing. And his caddie asked him if there was anything he could do on the movie. He said, everybody tells me I look like Matt Damon.

SIMON: And you had your Matt Damon.

COEN: He was Matt Damon.

COOKE: (Laughter) Yeah.

COEN: He - you know, you should see - well, you have seen the movie. He withstands all scrutiny. You look at him and you go, OK, that's young Matt Damon.

SIMON: Ethan Coen, you notably said in 2018 you were getting bored by the film business.

COEN: I said that privately. Who was listening? Yeah, I actually kind of was. Uh-huh.

SIMON: So what brought back your interest?

COEN: Well, I got bored, basically. It's actually kind of that simple. But, you know, we were sitting at home in New York during the lockdown, and a friend of ours brought us a movie that - a documentary proposed that Trish and I make - a documentary about Jerry Lee Lewis, the musician. So we did that. And that was really stimulating. I really enjoyed it. Since we so much enjoyed making the movie, we thought, well, OK, maybe we'll make another one.

SIMON: Let me ask you about a sequence in the film. Jamie and Marian unexpectedly open the trunk, and let's just say I was expecting there to be a lot of money in the silver attache case. Let's just say, it's something else, OK? Now, does this come about - I just imagine the two of you looking at one another and saying, what's the most outrageous thing we can put in there?

COEN: You set a bar for yourself if you got a mysterious case in the trunk, and it's got to be important stuff that's motivating a lot of activity and pursuit by criminals and that sort of thing. So, yeah, you got to think of something interesting. Money isn't that interesting.

COOKE: Money's always in the case.

COEN: So we settled the problem to our satisfaction, and you didn't mention how. And we can't, either.

SIMON: Oh, I - yeah...

COEN: That would be a spoiler.

SIMON: Actually, I'm not even sure I can mention how you settled on (laughter) it. This is NPR, after all.

COOKE: A case that inspired us was the case in "Kiss Me Deadly." And you know, I'm not even sure, ultimately, what was in that case. But we wanted it to be something big and...

COEN: I think it was a nuclear something.

COOKE: ...We wanted it to be something dramatic and big and, like, whoa, OK. That's what's in the case.

SIMON: May I ask you how you work together?

COEN: We work - well, much as I did with Joel, my brother - we just sit in a room and talk the script back-and-forth as we're writing it and then proceed to sit on the set together and talk the scenes back-and-forth with the actors and with everyone else. And it's just a long - months-long conversation.

COOKE: And we're pretty good communicators. We - because we've been in a relationship and have known each other for over 30 years, we have an easy way of communicating with each other, which makes it easy. Certainly easy when we're writing but easy on set, as well, and in the cutting room. You know, it's - we're very, you know, just comfortable and understand the way each other thinks most of the time.

SIMON: You're onto another film already, I gather?

COEN: Yeah, we're prepping, and we start shooting in about a month. Another movie with Margaret Qualley, actually - kind of a crime thing - private detective story.

COOKE: Yeah. Not a comedy, really. It's kind of more of a noir.

COEN: Not a comedy, but you're always allowed to laugh if you're inclined to.

SIMON: Sounds like making films is fun for you again.

COEN: Oh, yeah. It's great. I mean, you know - well, always on good days it's great and frustrating days not so great. But yeah, it's stimulating. It's great. It's good fun.

COOKE: Yeah. It was certainly a lot of laughs making "Drive-Away Dykes." That was a lot of fun for us. And this new movie has been fun for us as well. And it's a pretty new process for me. So I'm having a blast. And it's really fun to be able to work with Ethan and so many of the crew members that have worked with Ethan and Joel over the years, you know? I mean, it's just like being surrounded by so many talented people is it's really inspiring to come to work every day.

SIMON: Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke, their new film - well, it's called "Drive-Away Dolls," but you have another title, don't you?

COOKE: (Laughter).

COEN: We sure do.

COOKE: In our hearts.

SIMON: Well, thank you so much, both of you, for being with us.

COOKE: Thank you.

COEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUTHER JOHNSON'S "JAMMIN' WITH WILLIE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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