Four-time Oscar winner Ethan Coen has spoken out about the reasons behind his recent hiatus from filmmaking, as well as his return with the documentary Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind, which makes its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday.
Coen had been making films with his brother Joel for decades by the time news broke that he wouldn’t be involved with his recent Apple feature The Tragedy of Macbeth—spurring curiosity as to whether he might be done with filmmaking for good. The split of the iconic Coen Brothers, behind such enduring titles as No Country for Old Men and Fargo, stunned the world, given the pair’s long and successful creative history together. But in an interview with The Associated Press published Sunday, which has him in conversation with his wife and creative partner Tricia Cooke, Ethan Coen explains that there was “nothing dramatic” that spurred the move.
“You start out when you’re a kid and you want to make a movie. Everything’s enthusiasm and gung-ho, let’s go make a movie. And the first movie is just loads of fun,” said the filmmaker. “And then the second movie is loads of fun, almost as much fun as the first. And after 30 years, not that it’s no fun, but it’s more of a job than it had been.”
Coen notes that his brother Joel has experienced similar feelings—albeit “not to the extent” that he has—going on to call them “an inevitable by-product” of growing older. “The last two movies we made, me and Joel together, were really difficult in terms of production. I mean, really difficult. So if you don’t have to do it, you go at a certain point: Why am I doing this?” he said. “It was just getting a little old and difficult…the production experience…More of a grind and less fun.”
Coen said that his return to filmmaking with the Jerry Lewis doc, first unveiled as part of the 2022 Cannes lineup, came about given the fact that he “started getting bored” and “claustrophobic” during the Covid lockdown. It was during this period that his longtime friend T-Bone Burnett approached Coen and Cooke about making their first feature doc, noting that it would be a project heavy in archival footage, which they could complete at home. Coen suggested that this notion was too compelling to turn down, calling Burnett “a lifesaver.”
During his time with AP, Coen was also asked whether he might one day return to directing alongside his brother, explaining that he’s not yet sure. “Going our own separate ways sounds like it suggests it might be final. But none of this stuff happened definitively. None of the decisions are definitive,” he remarked. “We might make another movie. I don’t know what my next movie is going to be after this. The pandemic happened. I turned into a big baby and got bored and quit, and then the pandemic happened. Then other stuff happens and who knows?”
The Coens won their first Oscar for their Fargo screenplay back in 1997, going on to claim three statuettes—in the categories of Best Picture, Directing and Adapted Screenplay—for their 2007 film No Country for Old Men. Ethan Coen’s first doc Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind promises to offer an electrifying glimpse into the complex life and thrilling, unparalleled performances of rock and roll’s first and wildest practitioner: Jerry Lee Lewis. A24 will release the pic later this year.