Ethan Coen discusses step back from directing

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The celebrated filmmaker Ethan Coen is returning to directing with the upcoming documentary, Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind – but that wasn’t always the plan.

Ethan Coen may well have been done with directing if it wasn’t for the pandemic, the filmmaker has admitted. Coen, one half of the Coen Brothers, has been making acclaimed films for 30 years, before stepping back and deciding that perhaps making movies wasn’t for him anymore.

Whilst Joel would go on to direct solo, beginning with last year’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth, Ethan was resolved to leaving filmmaking behind. “Nothing happened, certainly nothing dramatic,” he told the Associated Press at Cannes, “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. 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 went on to say that “it’s an inevitable by-product of ageing  And 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?”

So what happened? Well that would be the pandemic. According to Coen: “What changed is I started getting bored. I was with Trish [his wife and editor] in New York at the beginning of the lockdown. So, you know, it was all a little scary and claustrophobic.” Coen would be approached by friend and musical legend, T-Bone Burnett, to direct Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind, a feature-length documentary about the rock’n’roll star being distributed by A24.

Now he has another film to add to his resume, does Coen have the filmmaking bug once more, and could we see a return to the partnership with his brother that has spawned so many wonderful films? “Going our own separate ways sounds like it suggests it might be final,” says Coen. “But none of this stuff happened definitively. None of the decisions are definitive. 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?”

So there you go. Whether Coen returns to filmmaking and working with his brother once more very much remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to get his thoughts on just why he felt a break was needed at this point in his career.

The Hollywood Reporter

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