RT interview: Roger Deakins on No Country for Old Men

The man behind the lens

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No Country for Old Men

If you are a fan of that great film fraternity, Joel and Ethan Coen, you are a fan of Roger Deakins. Deakins is an English cinematographer and long-time collaborator of the dynamic duo. He has also been nominated for seven Academy Awards so chances are you have heard of him. He spoke to RT about No Country for Old Men and not talking to the Coen brothers.  

Did you read the Cormac McCarthy novel before you read the script?

Roger Deakins: Yes. I think my agent sent me a galley proof. I read the book and I heard that Scott Rudin wanted to start work on a script. I talked to Joel and Ethan about it then. They weren't necessarily going to direct it but thought they might if they liked the script. I said 'but you've got to' because I loved the piece so much. It is just so interesting and unusual. I love everything that Cormac McCarthy has written. It is a very visual book, McCarthy really visualises this world, it jumps straight off the page, so I already had some sort of feel for it. Obviously Joel and Ethan have very specific ideas and viewpoints about how they want their films to be so in the end how it looks very much comes from them.

Having had such an ongoing collaboration with the Coen Brothers do you find that every time you work with them it is a different experience or have you developed a routine?

RD: We are so much in sync now that we were actually joking the other day that the set gets quieter and quieter the more we work together. Professionally we don't have that much to talk to each other about. Personally it is different but in the day to day workings on set it can be really quiet. Of course, by the time we are actually shooting we have already gone through the locations and talked about what we want to do so they can concentrate on talking to the actors. We really don't have to talk that much.

At what point do you get involved in a production?

RD: It varies. It depends on what my commitments are. For example, I think it was the The Big Lebowski when I really didn't have much prep time because I had just come back from doing Kundun in Morocco. Usually they bring me in fairly early on to do some initial location scouts. Working with them is such a gradual process of scouting and discussion. The prep is very important.

Some of the No Country for Old Men locations were incredibly striking; were they shot in West Texas?

RD: Some of it was West Texas but we shot most of it in New Mexico because it has better tax breaks. We really wanted the feeling of the Texas borderland though so we shot main unit in Marfa in West Texas for seven or eight days. I was down there during the prep period with my assistant to do the opening sequence; the still frames of the landscape.

No Country for Old Men

There is a very different look between the unforgiving rural landscapes and the urban areas. How do you use your camera to capture those differences?   

RD: I don't know really. People ask me that question a lot but I don't know how I do it. I instinctively react to things. The films are always very worked out with Joel and Ethan. Everything is well storyboarded so we walked through the locations and worked out the angles we wanted well in advance. We have a very clear idea of where we want to go by the time we start shooting.  I don't know. It is just a very instinctual thing.

There is enormous brutality and physicality in the film, how did that impact on your approach to filming it.

RD: The direction came from Joel and Ethan; they wanted it to look a certain way. In terms of lighting and filming they wanted it to be very matter of fact. We didn't want to sensationalise the violence  but we didn't want to play it down either. It is just there and you have to accept it. Without the violence in the film and setting up this kind of world, you wouldn't have the strength of the latter part of the film. It was brutal and we wanted to show it for what it was.

On the set of No Country for Old Men

In regards to your ongoing collaborations with the Coen Brothers, do you have a favourite film?

RD: I have enjoyed working on some films more than others because of the situation or the crew but I think my favourite of all their films is The Man Who Wasn't There.

What is a Coen brother's set like? What is the mood?

RD: It is very open and friendly but very quiet and focused. It is matter of fact and there are not a lot of dramas. I have never heard any shouting ever. We all know what we want to do and we all get on with it. We have a good time but it is very workman-like. It is more ordered and much calmer than any other set I have ever been on.

No County for Old Men is now available on DVD.

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