The Knockturnal was on the scene for the 59th New York Film Festival Opening Night screening of “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”
Director/Producer/Writer Joel Coen; Actor/Producer Frances McDormand; & Actors Denzel Washington, Corey Hawkins, Moses Ingram, and Harry Melling were all in attendance.
Dan Stern (FLC Board Chair), Lesli Klainberg (FLC Executive Director), Eugene Hernandez (Director of NYFF), Dennis Lim (FLC & NYFF Director of Programming), and Henry Timms (President and CEO of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts) were also on the scene.
Being released by Apple and A24, Joel Cohen’s interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is fantastic. Denzel Washington is the man who would be king, and an effortlessly Machiavellian Frances McDormand is his Lady, a couple driven to political assassination—and deranged by guilt—after the cunning prognostications of a trio of “weird sisters” (play by Kathryn Hunter).
The Knockturnal: So, tell me about your vision for the music.
Carter Burwell: Well, obviously it had to be dark and the question was would there even be a melody involved because, for one thing, there’s so much dialogue. Joel and I, early on, felt like largely the dialogue is the melody like it’s Shakespeare, but I also did want something up above, not just low strings and percussion and stuff. So, I developed this idea of a fiddle, but then Joel was very insistent “It isn’t really Scotland. Can it be a Scottish fiddle?” It really couldn’t be any other kind of fiddle. It can’t be an Irish fiddle. It can’t be a Balkan fiddle. So, I had to write a fiddle part that doesn’t sound like it comes from anywhere that you could recognize, but it’s, at the same time, fiddle. So, you’ll hear that right at the beginning.
The Knockturnal: The music is little more subtle.
Carter Burwell: Exactly. That was one of the challenges, trying to make it sound like its folk music, but not from any particular place or any folk that you know. It’s a little creepier and weirder and then it’s…
The Knockturnal: A little doom, a little insidious.
Carter Burwell: That’s right. Insidious is good, yes.
The Knockturnal: And you also did the music for The Morning Show. So, tell me about how that came about.
Carter Burwell: I did the first season a couple of years ago and I’d never done episodic television before. And I wasn’t really that eager to do it, but they reached out to me and I really liked the scripts and it’s a great, very smart group of people. So, I jumped in and it has been really interesting to see. I think, honestly, only now we just finished the second season just a few weeks ago, that I finally now, I’m starting to get how episodic television sort of works. Because I’m used to a film where there’s a beginning and a middle and an end. And I know where I’m going. But when we start the season, I don’t actually necessarily know where it’s going to end. The scripts don’t even exist for the end.
The Knockturnal: Is there anything else upcoming that you’re doing?
Carter Burwell: Right now I’m writing for a movie that Lena Dunham wrote and directed. Catherine, Called Birdy is the title. I’m doing the music. Lena wrote adapted from a young adult novel and she directed it. And so I’m working on the music right now.
The Knockturnal: Tell us about your role in the film.
Miles Anderson: Well, my role is Lennox who’s a follower of Macbeth’s to fame and who believes he is the best thing since sliced bread and slowly the scales fall off his eyes. And at the end of the play, the film, he’s desperate for somebody to come and get rid of him. So, yeah. So it’s the total disillusionment of that was how I saw it anyway.
The Knockturnal: The set was super interesting can you speak about that?
Miles Anderson: Because Bruno’s lighting and the atmosphere he creates, you don’t have to play that. You take that, that’s for free. So it felt very intimate the whole time. It felt as though people were talking, were very connected with each other, but also … we had the cupboard situation as well. And we were having to film through that. There were certain things we couldn’t do. And we were wary of doing and some people didn’t really like coming too close to other people. So we had to work out a whole way of filming it. And that was the Coen genius in being able to surmount the problems that COVID gave us. I mean, we started filming in February, January, I think. And we stopped in March. And then we did four or five weeks and then that filming suddenly came to a halt.
The Knockturnal: When did you resume again?
Miles Anderson: In August.
The Knockturnal: So months later.
Miles Anderson: Yeah. Months and months and months. Well, I mean, some people, we didn’t even know if we were going to come back to it. People were hoping though. Production was saying, please don’t cut your hair, or cut your beard.
The Knockturnal: Yes for continuity. So what was it like seeing Denzel and Frances transform for these roles and working alongside them?
Miles Anderson: I’ve always been a great fan of Denzel’s. I worked with him 30 or 40 years ago doing Cry Freedom in Zimbabwe. So he hadn’t changed. Fame hadn’t gone to his head. He was still the same wonderful man that he has always been. And so it was wonderful working with him. Frances, I’d never met before, but of course, I’d seen, I’m a great fan of her work as well. So watching the two of them together. Yeah. There’s a tremendous dynamic between them as there has to be.
The Knockturnal: How exciting is it to have this famous theater work come to streaming?
Miles Anderson: Brilliant isn’t it? It’s wonderful.
Bella Merlin: They say, if you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything. So it’s so great and inspiring for young actors who might be a little less sure, perhaps of the relevance of Shakespeare at the time. Somebody going, “Oh yes, I see this relevance. I see this value. I see this importance.” And, and I think the fact that it’s going to be so accessible and so immediate, it’s going to have a really big impact on young actors, entering the industry and valuing theater. I’m Miles’s wife and I also, I’m an actor and I train actors. So I worked with Miles on his initial audition.
Miles Anderson: Bella’s written about six books on Stanislavski.
Bella Merlin: And I do Shakespeare as well.
Miles Anderson: She’s an actress as well!
The Knockturnal: How did you get involved with the film?
James Udom: Well, I got the audition, sent in a tape, flew out to LA, and met with Joel and Francis. We ended up hitting it off because I’m from the Bay Area and Fran worked a lot in the bay area. I went off to actually shoot Judas and the Black Messiah and when I was on set for that, I got the call that I got this job.
The Knockturnal: So, tell me about working with Denzel.
James Udom: Unreal, unreal dream come true. Pinch myself every day, but he’s just so amazing at making you feel so comfortable and equal. No ego, even though he’s, in my opinion, the greatest of all time. Always the first one on set. You walk in, calls you over, when you do good work, called me over, called Moses over, called Corey over like, “Good work”, and you know, that means the world coming from someone like Denzel. So he was just amazing, onscreen and also the little things he did offscreen too. And Francis too.
The Knockturnal: Can you tell me a little bit about your acting background? Do you have a theater background?
James Udom: I do. Yeah. So I’ve been doing theater since I want to say, 2008, slowly climbing my way, literally stepping on each step of the ladder. And I think some point right before the pandemic, I told my team, I was like, “Hey, I love theater so it’s always going to be my home. But I think I’m ready to try something else, like fully throw my hat in the ring for TV and film stuff”, and I feel very fortunate, you know. Its kind of worked out in my favor, you know.
The Knockturnal: I know this was shot in two parts. Part of it was filmed pre-pandemic. What was that process like?
James Udom: Oh, it was crazy. I didn’t even know if it was going to happen because pre-pandemic, I hadn’t shot anything. So I was like, “Oh my goodness, they’re going to cut me from the film. They’re going to find a way to consolidate it.” And so when I got the call that we’re picking things back up, I was like, I cannot be more grateful, excited. And then, post-pandemic, it was a lot more focused because you know, we couldn’t have anybody on set and we had to get people out … Very structured. Actually, the most structured and organized thing I’ve done post-pandemic.
The Knockturnal: And anything else upcoming or anything else you want to share?
James Udom: Yeah, I’m actually working on an Apple TV series. I’m not allowed to say what it is, yet.
The Knockturnal: Hi, so nice to meet you. I absolutely loved Queen’s Gambit.
Moses Ingram: Thank you so much.
The Knockturnal: This was filmed after that I presume.
Moses Ingram: Yes, just after.
The Knockturnal: And so tell me, what was it like jumping into the world of Shakespeare with Denzel and Frances and a Coen brother?
Moses Ingram: Unreal, sort of like a really good daydream that I was lucky enough to have come true. I feel really blessed to be here. It’s kind of crazy.
The Knockturnal: And is this your first New York Film Festival?
Moses Ingram: Yes, my first New York Film Festival, my first serious carpet with talking, and I feel like I’m only just starting to feel a little bit better at the end of the carpet. So yeah, it’s a learning experience for sure.
The Knockturnal: And Queen’s Gambit was one of the most well-received shows of the year. You guys did great at the Emmys and so can you reflect a little bit on that now?
Moses Ingram: Another really cool experience. I didn’t know I’d end up there. I kind of assumed that the show would end up there, but I’m so glad to see everybody walk away happy.
A fun after-party followed at Tavern on the Green presented by Campari. A few notables we spotted included Daveed Diggs, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, Mira Nair, Molly Ringwald, Ziwe, Julia Kwamya, Nicole Ari Parker, Katie Holmes, Lucas Hedges, Isabelle Huppert, and Andre Holland. It was so great to be back on the scene in person at the New York Film Festival. Stay tuned for more of our coverage.