It was hard to hide the disappointment when I found out Joel and Ethan were running late. The Coen Brothers, legends of modern cinema and quite possibly geniuses, would not be answering questions before the premiere. But Micheal Stuhlbarg, star of A Serious Man, would be. A long-time theatre man, the Coen's latest sees him (as Larry Gupnik) have a nervous breakdown when he life falls to pieces. Who has the answers? Religion? God? Mathematics? Dentistry? Looking surprisingly calm and collected for a man who finds no meaning in the universe, Michael walked along quite cheerfully, ready to deal with our taxing questions.
Smiling and friendly, he seemed happy to be there. But had he ever had a nervous breakdown? If so, he was doing a wonderful job of hiding it. "No! Not yet. I hope not to have one! I'm not in Larry's shoes, but it was interesting to be in them for a short while."
There aren't many more stressful shoes around. How did he end up slipping them on? "Well, I was lucky really. I originally auditioned for a small part at the start of the movie. There's a Yiddish parable and I had to learn this whole scene in Yiddish. It went well, but I ended up with this part instead!"
So is he now fluent in Yiddish? "No, I wouldn't say fluent! I'm a little for more familiar with the tongue than I was before!"
It's a daunting task to take on, examining the meaning of life, the Yiddish, and everything. How did he find working with two such idiosyncratic directors? "Well, I have a great admiration for what it is that they do. They guided me along, I asked a lot of questions about what they wanted, but then they pretty much left me on my own to do my job."
His job has involved a lot of theatre work before now. How did he deal with the transition to film, given the hefty topics he was dealing with? "Well, we all bring our experiences with us, it makes us who we are. In this case, I asked needed help with the definitions of a lot of words! But I was mostly interested in the background of Larry's relations with the other characters. Then I used that as a jumping off point."
And with that, Michael walked off into the world. A little wiser, perhaps, than before. Or maybe I was. As the Coens left the room without saying a word, I was sure of one thing: I still had no clue what was going on at all. Thankfully, though, everyone was speaking English.