George Clooney Recalls Shooting 'O Brother, Where Art Thou' KKK Scene With Black Actors
The bona fide actor reunited with fellow Soggy Bottom Boys Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro, who each told THR of directing lessons learned from Ethan and Joel Coen's 2000 comedy.
The three escaped convicts of O Brother, Where Art Thou? found themselves in a tight spot on Tuesday night: squeezed between a slew of reporters and publicists in a Lincoln Center lobby before the New York Film Festival's 15th anniversary screening of the Coen Brothers’ beloved comedy.
The bona fide George Clooney, donning a lax version of the perpetually slicked-back Dapper Dan 'do from the 2000 film, reunited on the red carpet with co-stars Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro. It’s been a while since the Soggy Bottom Boys have been together; aside from their acting careers, all three have directed their share of films since working with Ethan and Joel Coen on the very loose adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey.
What Coen directing lesson do they each treasure most? "Shoot quickly," Clooney told The Hollywood Reporter. "They shoot eight-hour days – they're that prepared. They only shoot what they need, and that's a great lesson that I try to do all the time."
Nelson, who has had the Coen Brothers "read the scripts" and "come in and out of the editing room" of every film he’s directed, noted, "The set of a Coen Brothers movie feels like a perpetual rehearsal — you never feel like you can fail, it all just seems like a process in which you're encouraged to take risks. If it doesn't work out, you get another take and they hang around until they like it. There's no pressure, and that environment is how the really great comic moments happen." Turturro added, “They do everything their way, and it’s the right way. And they get great participation from all the crew too."
However, Joel Coen takes no credit for the directing credits of Clooney, Nelson and Turturro: "They're all smart guys who understand how movies are made. All three of them. They're good, but they had it all by themselves, without anything from us."
The directors were somewhat uneasy about the anniversary screening, since they usually don’t revisit their work once it’s done (with the exception of Blood Simple ten years ago, after which they shortened it by ten minutes). "Generally when you look at old movies — I'm sure this will happen tonight — what you really see are the things you f—ed up," Joel Coen told THR beforehand.
Yet instead, the Coen Brothers, cast and director of photography Roger Deakins laughed after the screening about shooting memorable scenes. Of the swamp baptism, Deakins told the audience, "all the grips were up to [their waists] in mud and getting bit by crawfish," and Turturro recalled how production on the performance scene ran long, and "you were upset because we went into overtime, and you don’t usually go into overtime!"
Clooney particularly remembered "shooting the [Ku Klux] Klan rally at night in Los Angeles, right below Van Nuys airport — you're just trying to picture what plane is flying over!"
Even more so, "we had hired a formation troupe of military guys who march, and a lot of those guys were black and said, 'This is the freakiest thing!' " Joel Coen remembered. Clooney then laughed, "You’d be at the craft services table and there’d be a bunch of black guys with Klan hoods getting food!"