Though they’re best known for their quirky takes on everything from murder (Fargo) to stoner life (The Big Lebowski), Joel and Ethan Coen scored one of the biggest box office hits of their careers 10 years ago with No Country for Old Men.
An adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel (which, coincidentally, the author originally wrote as a screenplay), the film—which takes place in West Texas in the 1980s—follows the intersecting paths of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a Vietnam vet who stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad in the West Texas desert and $2 million in cash that’s seemingly for the taking; Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a dead-eyed, cattle stun gun-wielding sociopath who's intent on finding that missing money; and Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), the soon-to-be-retired sheriff who is trying to track the both of them down. Here are some things you might not have known about the Oscar-winning western crime thriller.
1. SCOTT RUDIN TURNED THE COEN BROTHERS ON TO THE BOOK.
While it turned out to be one of their most successful films, both commercially and critically, neither Joel nor Ethan Coen can take the credit for coming up with the idea of adapting Cormac McCarthy’s novel. “It was sent to us by [producer] Scott Rudin who had acquired the rights to it,” Joel Coen said in an interview. “He sent it to us in galleys about a year before it came out. He asked us if we were interested in doing it and we read it and both, we’d read other Cormac McCarthy books just for pleasure and liked him a lot, but this one we thought was, could make a really interesting movie.”
2. HEATH LEDGER WAS CONSIDERED FOR THE ROLE OF LLEWELYN MOSS.
Heath Ledger was reportedly the Coens’ first choice for the role of Llewelyn Moss, and seemed equally interested in working with Joel and Ethan. But after some initial conversations, he reportedly withdrew himself for consideration in order to take some “time off” from working.
3. GARRET DILLAHUNT AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF LLEWELYN. FIVE TIMES.
Deadwood star Garret Dillahunt plays the lovably naïve Deputy Wendell in the film, but he originally auditioned for the role of Llewelyn—on more than one occasion.
“I auditioned for Moss about five times, every time a star fell out,” Dillahunt told The A.V. Club. “That happens to me a lot when stars fall out—they go to me, or I have a shot. So I auditioned with the Coens for Moss in New York and L.A., and it just wasn’t gonna happen. They really needed someone more recognizable, but they said ‘Would you play this other part?’ and they read me for Wendell. It was nice. I got to be a little bright spot, a little breath for the audience before they plunge into the next atrocity.”
4. QUENTIN TARANTINO AND ROBERT RODRIGUEZ DIRECTED JOSH BROLIN’S AUDITION.
Though Josh Brolin wasn’t quite the marquee name at the time he eventually landed the role of Moss, he had some powerful friends on his side. Brolin learned of the role while he was filming Grindhouse with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, so he asked if he could borrow a camera to shoot a quick audition for No Country for Old Men. The directing duo did him one better: They ended up directing his audition.
“Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino filmed my first audition on a $1 million Genesis camera during lunch during Grindhouse, and so that was a really cool looking audition,” Brolin said. Unfortunately, “It was turned down. They watched it and their response was, ‘Who lit it?’ I was much bigger and I had a goatee, but it had nothing to do with the physicality. They just didn’t see it. It’s not what they were looking for at that moment. It wasn’t resonating and I have a brilliant agent who just became a persistent pest and just said, ‘Meet him, meet him, meet him, meet him.’ Not, ‘He’s perfect for the part.’ Not, ‘You’re making a mistake.’ Just, ‘Meet him.’”
Eventually, they did. And it all worked out. With one tiny hiccup …
5. BROLIN BROKE HIS SHOULDER RIGHT AFTER LANDING THE ROLE.
Just a couple of days after signing on to play Moss, Brolin broke his shoulder when his motorcycle collided with a car. As he was launched into the air, Brolin told NOW Magazine, he had just one thought: “I'm flying over the car—and I'm really getting some air—and I remember thinking, 'F***ing sh*t! I really wanted to work with the Coens.'"
Rather than drop out of the film he fought so hard to get into, Brolin opted to tough it out and not say a word about his injury. “I got lucky," Brolin admitted after screening the film at the Toronto Film Festival. “My character gets shot in the shoulder early on, so I didn't have to act the hurt.”
Since Brolin was keeping his busted arm quiet, Joel said that he and his brother had no qualms about pretending they didn’t notice. “He wasn’t making it apparent,” Joel said. “He had a motorcycle accident about a week or two before we started shooting, and then lied to us brazenly about the implications of the accident. So we felt completely at liberty to ignore the fact that he was in pain.”
6. JAVIER BARDEM WASN’T INITIALLY COMFORTABLE WITH THE VIOLENCE.
Though Javier Bardem was excited at the prospect of working with the Coens, he wasn’t super comfortable with playing such a violence-prone character as Anton Chigurh—and he wasn’t even sure why the Coens had thought of him for the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem told Entertainment Weekly. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’
7. MARK STRONG THOUGHT HE LANDED THE ROLE OF ANTON CHIGURH.
Though the Coens were sold on Bardem for the part, there came a point in the film’s production where it looked like the actor’s schedule might not allow for him to say yes to the role. So they checked to see if Mark Strong might be available. “I was phoned one weekend and told, ‘Listen Javier’s dates don’t work,’ so for a few days I was thinking, ‘Wow, I ‘m actually going to work with the Coen brothers,’” Strong explained. But when Bardem was able to clear his schedule, Strong was out of luck.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story: Some confusion over what had transpired led several outlets to report that Strong had actually passed on the role of Chigurh—which was a rumor the actor wanted to clear up. “I’m appalled that rumor is out there because it makes me out to be a complete idiot,” Strong said. “Like, why the hell would you turn that part down? I would kneel on broken glass to work with them."
8. CHIGURH’S HAIRDO WAS INSPIRED BY A WEST TEXAS BARFLY.
It’s impossible to make mention of Chigurh without mentioning his iconic—and very, very bad—haircut. When asked about the inspiration for his bowl, Ethan explained that, “The art department does a lot of research, mainly photo research, because it’s a period thing, although a recent period, it’s 1980 Texas border area … They look at archive pictures of the time and place. And the wardrobe department had found this picture of a guy at a bar in West Texas in 1979 and it was that alarming haircut and actually that kind of wardrobe as well. And we looked at it and thought, well, he looks like a sociopath. And Javier really enjoyed it as well.”
Bardem saw the haircut as almost its very own character. When asked about the ‘do, Bardem told the Los Angeles Times that, “You don't have to act the haircut; the haircut is acting by itself ... so you don't have to act weird if you have that weird haircut.”
9. CHIGURH’S BOOTS WERE EQUALLY DEADLY.
Chigurh's alligator boots were no off-the-rack pair of shoes. Costume designer Mary Zophres had them made specifically for Bardem’s character for the film, as she wanted them to reflect the character by looking “bumpy and pointy and gross and to look like they could kill someone."
10. THE COENS DIDN’T THINK THAT KELLY MACDONALD COULD PULL OFF THE ROLE.
In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald was asked how great it felt to get a call saying the Coen brothers wanted to work with her, which is when she had to explain that being cast as Carla Jean Moss wasn’t quite that kind of fairy tale.
“If that had happened then that would be really exciting but that’s not what happened,” she said. “They didn’t know why I was being brought into a room to meet them. I just happened to be in New York, basically, and my agent got me in to meet the casting director to go on tape; they hadn’t started casting the film yet. And then from that she said, ‘I think you should meet Joel and Ethan, we’ve not started casting yet but while you’re in town…’ So when I went to see them it was just in their office and it was very laid-back and I was obviously not from West Texas or anything they were looking for. So they were just very, like, ‘You seem very nice … But what’s going on here?’ They thought the casting director had gone a bit mad! But then I read a couple of scenes and it all made sense!”
11. THE MOVIE USED A LOT OF FAKE BLOOD, AND IT DIDN’T COME CHEAP.
Though the Coens are known to be meticulous in planning their films, there was one additional expense they hadn’t counted on: all that blood! While a production can normally get away with mixing together a sugar-based fake blood on the cheap, shooting in the desert meant that the extras would have been covered in bugs while trying to play dead. So they had to special order a unique kind of fake blood that wouldn’t seem like a snack to all those creepy crawly things. The prop ended up being ordered from England, and costing “something like $800 a gallon,” according to Joel.
12. THEY WANTED TO FILM THE VIOLENCE IN A VERY “MATTER OF FACT” WAY.
While the film features plenty of bloodshed and other random acts of violence, including one death by cattle stun gun, the Coens didn’t want to glorify the violence. “In terms of lighting and filming they wanted it to be very matter of fact,” the brothers’ longtime cinematographer Roger Deakins told IGN. “We didn't want to sensationalize 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.”
13. MOTHER NATURE WAS NOT ON THEIR SIDE.
No Country for Old Men shot in the summer of 2006 in Las Vegas; New Mexico; and Marfa, Texas. Though the Coens assumed that shooting in the summer would allow them plenty of great shots of barren landscapes, Mother Nature wasn’t always so cooperative. Throughout the film, there are thunder and lightning storms. “That thunder is real,” Bardem told W Magazine.
“We’d have 50-mile-per-hour wind come up out of f***ing nowhere,” Brolin added. “We’d have the dust devils come in, or it would rain like a monsoon for 10 minutes and then be gone … The reports were for blue sky. Obviously, it didn’t work out. And it ended up being amazing.”
14. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON WAS A PROBLEM FOR THEM, TOO.
While they shot mainly in New Mexico, the production spent a few weeks in Marfa, Texas, to shoot some of the scenes that took place on the Mexican border. It just so happened that director Paul Thomas Anderson was in the tiny town of Marfa, too, shooting There Will Be Blood. The two productions happily coexisted—until the one day that a pyrotechnic test on Anderson’s set created a billow of smoke so large that it could be seen by the Coens’ cameras. They ended up having to cancel shooting for the day.
15. THE FINAL SCENE WAS FILMED IN ONE TAKE.
The Coens have described No Country for Old Men as the closest they’d probably ever get to making an action movie, yet it ends on a much quieter note—with Jones’s sheriff delivering an extended monologue about a dream he had about his late father. His delivery, as usual, is pitch-perfect—and he apparently nailed it in one take. When asked by W Magazine how many takes it took, Jones simply answered: “One.” When asked whether it was a tough scene to film, his answer was just as succinct: “Naw. I’d been practicin’.”