Michael Stuhlbarg

In the Coen Brothers newest film,
the actor is not “A Serious Man”

The Coen Brothers have always found witty and inventive ways of introducing audiences to their larger-than-life characters and stories. But the Cohens’ latest black comedy, A Serious Man, springs to life on a more personal note for the two cult filmmakers. In fact, the directors admit it was a moment captured in their very own upbringing. Ethan Coen says the film “takes place in 1967, among a Jewish community in an un-named Midwestern suburb. Joel and I are from the Midwest, and so it’s reminiscent of our childhoods in many ways.”

The duo’s newest venture tells the story of physics prof-essor Larry Gopnik, employed at a quiet Midwestern University whose life suddenly goes through a downward spiral of events when his wife admits to having an affair with one of his more successful colleagues who is seen as a “serious man” in the community. He also witnesses the ex-ploits of his son, who regularly indulges in pot and LP records, along with his daughter who steals money from his wallet to save up for a nose job. To top it all off, he is then forced to leave his home to live with his brother at a nearby motel. Larry turns to find solace in his Jewish faith, while seeking advice from a number of highly respected Rabbis and figureheads to pose questions of why his seemingly perfect life has turned into a series of misfortunes.

Michael Stuhlbarg, who was cast for the role of Larry Gopnik, has quite the impressive résumé, and a prolific train-ing background, given the fact that he began his career with no intention of pursuing acting. He says, “Actually, I wanted to be a cartoonist, and still paint till this day.” He adds that he can relate to the main character because he was raised in a reformed synagogue, attended Hebrew school, and Jewish camp, and understands “the Jewish experience.”

Stuhlbarg has had a successful run in theater, and holds a BFA from The Julliard School. An acclaimed Broadway actor, his notable credits include, Sam Mendes’ revival of Cabaret, Ronald Hardwood’s Taking Sides, and Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love.

Stuhlbarg mentions that it has been a long transition from classical training to acting in films, which took some time to get used to. “Being in front of the camera is a trial by fire basis, but lately it has been very fruitful,” he says. “Working with the Coen Brothers was fantastic. As directors they are very specific to what they create, yet they allowed me to explore the variations of the character as well.”

The directors also showcase several untrained actors living in Minneapolis. Stuhlbarg says, “That was a gift, and best of both worlds, since it was a constant surprise to what each character would bring.”

In true Coen fashion, the film will startle and amuse audiences of all faiths, along with a skeptical atheist or two.

– Michelle Peerali & Natalie Shirinian