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The Hail, Caesar! ensemble includes a crop of the Coen brothers’ oft-collaborators — George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Josh Brolin — plus other well-known names such as Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.
But in the comedy about the studio system’s golden age, it’s Alden Ehrenreich whom The Hollywood Reporter calls “a pleasant surprise” as the pure-hearted cowboy actor Hobie Doyle. A comical highlight — and also the scene Ehrenreich read in his audition — sees Doyle awkwardly dropped into the sophisticated drawing-room drama of visibly frustrated director Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes).
It’s a moment with which the 26-year-old Ehrenreich personally identifies. “It’s funny — and this is the first time I realized this, I didn’t even think of this when we were making it, actually — I did a movie called Beautiful Creatures, and I got the part at eight in the morning and at four o’clock, I was on a plane to New Orleans to go film it,” he recalls of the 2013 YA movie. “I think I felt a little bit like a fish out of water at first, but Richard LaGravenese, who was the director of that movie, was such a great friend to me that he got me pretty situated and comfortable pretty fast. He was better at it than Laurence Laurentz!”
For Hail, Caesar!, Ehrenreich — who was initially discovered by Steven Spielberg from a bat mitzvah video and has since nabbed roles in Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro and Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine — was ready to sing and strum onscreen, and didn’t do much to polish his accent, since the Coens‘ script included his character’s phonetic and rhythmic pronunciations. “The writing is just so thorough and they have such a great understanding of all their characters, and that makes the job so much easier,” he says.
Instead, Ehrenreich trained on a horse for six weeks to perform some of the Western stunts, and also learned the fundamentals of roping for his big lasso moments. “From the horseback riding to the gun twirling to the trick roping and everything, trying to lasso spaghetti was definitely the most complicated because there’s no precedent,” the actor laughs. “You don’t have, like, a spaghetti roper you can go ask how to do it!”
But of the many skills he’s picked up to play Hobie Doyle, Ehrenreich — who’ll next be seen in a Warren Beatty project opposite Lily Collins and The Yellow Birds with Jennifer Aniston and Jack Huston — mostly admires how Joel and Ethan Coen run a shoot.
“They work with a lot of the same people, and they have a set where people are extremely respectful to each other, where everything’s really organized, where people are enjoying their work and having a good time,” he explains. “How you can have such a great work experience and still have a wonderful product — sometimes there’s a false wisdom that you have to have really intense drama on the set and in the experience of making it in order to have a good product. Seeing how untrue that was in working with them was a wonderful insight into the rest of my career.”
And instead of getting fixed up with a Hollywood starlet as Hobie Doyle did, Ehrenreich already had his own dates ready for the Hail, Caesar! premiere: “My mom and my nana.”
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