Forget winning an Oscar. According to Tilda Swinton, the cast of Burn After Reading wanted to outdo each other in a most literal way.
"We had a competition going on about who had the most ridiculous hair," she said in a press conference on Saturday. In the film, Brad Pitt's character channelled James Dean with bad highlights while Swinton's was inspired by The Simpsons teacher Edna Krabappel. "We were all going for the Javier Bardem prize."
She was referring to Bardem's memorable Dorothy Hamill-style bowl cut from his Academy Award winning role in No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers' critical hit from last year.
Burn After Reading is their comedic thriller follow-up, although it's fair to say the film goes heavier on the screwball than the suspense.
The group, which consisted of Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt, Joel and Ethan Coen and John Malkovich, offered a good dose of comedic repartee the morning after the film's North American debut (it premiered in Venice last month).
When asked about continuing to work with George Clooney now that they have teamed up twice (previously for Michael Clayton), Swinton answered, "I'm working on having George Clooney in every single contract. It's tough but I'm trying. The consolation prize is having Brad Pitt written into every single contract."
Both Pitt and Swinton will star in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which recently finished shooting.
Burn After Reading marks the first time that Pitt, Swinton and Malkovich have worked with the Coen brothers (who said they write roles with specific actors in mind).
The fact that all the characters fall short on intelligence (note that the film takes place in Washington and at the Central Intelligence Agency in Arlington Va.) did not seem to be taken personally by these thespians.
"I had been knocking on the brothers' door for a few years so I was really happy when they called. Until I read the script," joked Pitt, who plays a dimwitted gym trainer.
Malkovich, meanwhile, assumed the role of washed up CIA analyst Osborne Cox who decides to pen a memoir, which he pronounces as mem-wa. "It was a collaborative effort," he said of the affectation. "There are several ways to go and we went with the most irritating."
True to form, the Coen brothers proved to be masters at hemming and hawing. Questions that overanalyzed the film's narrative were met with better facial expression than dialogue.
"You make the movie because you fall in love with the story and you think it should speak for itself," explained Ethan of their shared tendency. "Then here you are sitting in front of a bunch of journalists and they legitimately ask you to say something that isn't just self-evident from the movie and you're stumped... People think you're being coy or elusive but the fact is you just don't have anything else to say."
Joel seemed happy to answer a question concerning the inspiration for a rather perverted "machine" built by Clooney's character, Harry Pfarrer. "One of them was a machine that a key grip made and the other was a museum of sex in New York City. And we actually told George to go and he said, 'That's all I need, is to be seen coming out of the museum of sex."
Swinton and Pitt said non-stop guffaws were one of the highlights of working with the brothers (short days was another) who have apparently contributed their own laugh track to Fargo.
"There's a scene where Steve Buscemi is flying through the snow trying to bury his money in the ground and he kept sinking up to his waist and I think even in the finished movie, you can hear me laughing," says Joel. "We kept it in. We thought it kind of sounded like Steve breathing."
The Coen brothers turned to Carter Burwell who has composed all their scores. This one went heavy on Japanese taiko drums. "We wanted something big and bombastic and important sounding but absolutely meaningless," said Joel.
He couldn't have described the movie any better.