Q: Hi Jeff, how are you?
A: Great thanks, I couldn’t be better.
Q: What made you want to do this film, True Grit?
A: It was the Coen brothers really (Joel and Ethan). They’re great writers, for one thing. The dialogue they write feels very real and appropriate for the story they are telling. I worked with them on The Big Lebowski (in 1998) and people often think there was a lot of improvisation on that movie, but all of those lines were scripted. They’re incredible.
Q: You play Marshal Reuben J ‘Rooster’ Cogburn who seems quite tough and hard. How easy or difficult was it to empathise with him?
A: Well, I’m not hard (laughs). I think being hard means being gruff, mean and that you don’t like too many people. That’s not me. I like people and I’m more light and airy. I’m not hard in any way. He’s a wonderful character and he’s fascinating. He’s kind of full of himself and standoffish when you first meet him. But it turns out, he loves talking about himself, he’s probably starved for company and he likes a drink.
Q: John Wayne won an Oscar for this part in the 1969 film. How much of a challenge was it to make this role your own?
A: The first bit of direction the Coen brothers gave me, because I was curious as to why they wanted to do a remake of this classic western, was ‘We’re not making a remake of the western. We’re referring to the book that Charles Portis wrote.’ I read the book and then I knew what they were talking about. It’s a wonderful book and it’s not something unlike the Coen brothers might make. I could instantly see them doing it. I didn’t refer to the John Wayne movie.
Q: Is that because you didn’t want him influencing your own version of Rooster?
A: Well, John Wayne is such an important figure in cinema, but I really took the Coen brothers’ direction to heart. I never thought ‘How did John Wayne do this?’ I didn’t mess with that at all. I just did it as if there had never been any other movie basically.
Q: What was the best thing for you personally about making True Grit?
A: One of the best things about doing this movie was that I invited my daughter Jessie to be my assistant on this movie so she was with me every step of the way. She plays guitar, sings and writes and we even put on a few concerts while I was doing this film. We did one concert in Sante Fe which was terrific.
Q: You also shot Crazy Heart in Sante Fe, right?
A: I did. Actually, I stayed in the very same house again while making True Grit. It was like coming home again for me.
Q: This film is based more on the book than the original film. How would you best describe the differences?
A: Well, the story is roughly the same. The approach to it, just the look of it, is trying to be as authentic as possible. This one feels like it’s representing that time a little more accurately though.
Q: Is a lot of the script directly from the book?
A: Yes, it is. I think in the original film, they used dialogue from the book too and no wonder because the dialogue from the book is just wonderful.
Q: You’ve worked with some incredible directors in your career. What makes the Coen brothers so special for you?
A: Each director is so unique, but I love working with the Coen brothers. They create an atmosphere on set which is very relaxed and pleasant. They surround themselves with people they have worked with many times before so there was a real family atmosphere on this set.
Q: Since working with the Coen brothers on The Big Lebowski, have you noticed a change in their style of directing?
A: Not really, no. Joel cut his ponytail, that’s about it (laughs).
Watch the trailer here. True Grit opens on Friday, February 11th.
Article courtesy Paramount.