The men of No Country for Old Men are having a smoke.
Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin each light up while, all dressed in dark suits, they gather in a back room at Manhattan restaurant Cipriani's for the National Board of Review Awards. While Jones fiddles with the matches, Brolin rolls his eyes and alludes to Jones' Ivy League education: "Harvard," he says in disbelief.
The awards, which named the film the year's best picture, are just one of many to honor the Coen brothers' movie, adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel. No Country also has been nominated for eight Oscars, including best picture and best supporting actor for Bardem. Jones was nominated for best actor for his performance in In the Valley of Elah.
Those awards will be given out Sunday.
No Country has grossed more than any previous Coen film, an unlikely financial success for a violent, somber allegory. Each character is symbolic. Bardem's Anton Chigurh is a prophet of destruction with the hair of Prince Valiant. Brolin's Llewlyn Moss is greed; he attempts to take a found suitcase of money for himself. And Jones' Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is justice, a wise, old man trying to make sense of a new violence.
Though Joel Coen has said this is a film about three men, you're never seen together on screen. Did you have that sense that you were an ensemble when making it?
JONES: Albuquerque (N.M.) is a really hard place to work. It's very noisy. There are crows there, planes, trucks, people working on their cars. It's just a noisy place to shoot. It's a little quieter in West Texas. That's about all we dealt with, is trying to do the best we could and work around the noise of Albuquerque and the topographical features of West Texas. I suppose that made us an ensemble, but it's not as if we walked around a drawing room exchanging witticisms.
It's been interesting to see how ongoing the discussion is about this film. Critics and moviegoers seem to still be turning over the ending, the hair, the meaning of Chigurh.
JONES: It's a good thing if it causes conversations.
BROLIN: It's not your typical structure of film. You rape the audience of a protagonist, and suddenly they go, "We don't like that." But of course you don't like that because you're not supposed to like that.
Javier, your character is the instigator of these questions. How do you prepare for a character like this, who's more an embodiment of violence?
BARDEM: The only difference that I had in approaching the character is not really worrying about the backstory of the character: where he's coming from, if his mommy fed him well when he was 10. It was about how to bring this iconic and symbolic idea of what violence represents into human fear, which was a difficult task because it's very easy to get lost in the machine, in the Terminator side of it.
Many have also been unsure of how to react to the ending (a scene in which Jones' character gives a long soliloquy). How did you approach that scene?
JONES: I worked at it every day, several times a day, because it was poetic and you wanted to get the rhythms right and try to embody in the performance all that it might imply as a work of literature and hopefully cinema. And worked at it real hard. Are you asking me what it meant?
JONES: Good. (all laugh) Because it means what it means. It says what it says. It's pretty straightforward.
Is it something that you believe? Once we're no longer saying "sir'' and "ma'am,'' is all lost?
JONES: No, not all is lost. What I think is, the book, and the movie, in general is a contemplation of morality. And the character of Ed Tom feels somewhat overwhelmed by a new character of evil and says so to his wiser and older uncle, and his uncle tells him that that's vanity, that evil doesn't change and that you, Ed Tom, do not live in the center of the universe. You can't be overwhelmed. It's the same old deal. ... And like all considerations of Cormac, the questions are far more important than the answers. ... These get to be pretty sophisticated questions, and I really appreciate the Coen brothers' careful reading of Cormac's moral thinking. Finally we're left with the really good questions, which are better than any simple answers.