Interviews with the cast of the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, one of Netflix’s latest productions and the newest Coen Brothers film, is a western anthology film comprised of six distinct stories, each with its own plot and cast. The first story, the titular ‘Ballad of Buster Scruggs’, stars a happy and singing cowboy played by Tim Blake Nelson.

Starring as the film’s most memorable performance, Tim Blake Nelson laughed when he said “Only Joel and Ethan [Coen] would let somebody like me do this. I mean, look at the genuine article in front of you, how did that guy get to play a titular role in anything?

Image courtesy of Netflix

“I mean, I loved it. When I read the script, which I was given fifteen years ago, I thought ‘Wow, if this ever does get made’ – and they needed to write the other stories for that to happen – ‘I’m going to be one lucky man’. And so, I took it very seriously, because it’s a lot of work to make everything look effortless!

“But Joel and Ethan bring hard work out in people, because you don’t want to disappoint them. Six months, three hours a day, I learned to play guitar, learned to work with the pistol… and then about a month out, really getting into the words. It all just needed to tumble out, because if he’s not making it look easy then it’s not going to be easy and fun to watch. The ludicrousness of the singing cowboy is that he makes everything look easy and rosy.”

Harry Melling, of Harry Potter fame, acts alongside Liam Neeson in ‘Meal Ticket’, the third chapter. Playing a quadruple amputee was certainly challenging, he explained, but “I think you’ve got to do your research, you’ve got to get it right.

“You have to think about what happened to this guy and I did all of that, really. I watched people move that are suffering from this particular condition that I thought my character would have. And so, you collect these building blocks, really until you get to a point where you’ve looked at so many videos and done so much research, that you get bored with yourself and you stop. And then you start doing the speech work. So, it’s generally filling it up by numbers, really.”

And finally, in the last story titled ‘The Mortal Remains’ stars Jonjo O’Neill, an actor mostly trained in theatre whose performance is certainly set to be his breakout film role. Asked what it was like to have one of his first big screen roles be part of the Coen brothers’ iconic filmography, O’Neill stated: “I find in their [the Coens’] work, and in watching other actors, they really get to enjoy themselves. And there’s a sense of enjoyment in the work that on stage is much more common… a sense of play if you like. That’s my favourite thing about working with them, to be able to have that sense of naughtiness and fun, whilst being in a movie.”

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is available to stream on Netflix now.

First published on The National Student

Laura Potier

Co-founder and editor of Outtake, feel free to drop me a line with any questions or article pitches at laura@outtakemag.co.uk