Long, long, long time You Know, For Kids! reader, Joe, has tracked down and managed to interview Isabelle Townsend, the actress who played “Beauty” in Barton Fink. Below you can find the email exchange;
Greetings Mrs. Townsend,
Thank you for accepting our invitation to answer a few questions about “Barton Fink”. Much like the Maltese Falcon or Rosebud, your role as “Beauty” is an icon of cinema, and we appreciate your taking the time to share your experience in the making of a masterpiece. On to the questions…
Q: According to IMDB, “Barton Fink” was your first film. How did that role come about for you, and do you recall the process of being cast? For instance, did you have to audition, or do you recall your first meeting with the Coen Brothers? How was that first meeting, and how did the Coen’s describe the role to you?
Yes it was my first role and I had an audition with Joel and Ethan in NYC. They both made a big effort to put me at ease as I was painfully shy at the time. They didn’t talk much about the role. They just asked me if I had read the script. I didn’t hear for a long time and I knew they were seeing a lot of actresses in Los Angeles. One day my agent called to tell me the role was mine on one condition: Loose the British accent!
Q: What was it like to be involved in “Barton Fink”? Did you enjoy your time? Did you have an opportunity to read the script in advance? How long were you required on-set? Do you recall participating in post-production ADR? It sounds as if your voice is dubbed slightly.
It was a one day shoot at Zuma beach near LA on a sizzling hot day. I remember thinking how relaxed and professional everybody was. I had read the script twice before the audition, so I felt prepared. I did participate in post-production ADR.
Q: What were your thoughts going into the production, and did your expectations differ from the reality of your experience working on “Barton Fink”? Did the Coen’s give specific direction or make any requests of your performance?
I remember enjoying going to a fitting for the bathing suit which was custom made. I don’t remember rehearsing the scene with John Turturro. We just had a nice chat before shooting. I remember walking down the beach for technical rehearsal and going up to Joel and Ethan at some point for directions. They just said to do it as it’s written in the script. Joel said” Isabelle, you can do this with your eyes closed!” I guess that was all I needed to hear.
Q: The photo hanging in Barton Fink’s hotel room varies slightly from your scene at the end of the film. Are you pictured in the actual photo, and if so, was that a separate day of shooting? Can you tell us how the hotel photo came about?
Yes I am pictured above Barton’s desk in the hotel room and it was a separate day of shooting.
Q: Speaking of the photo, were you able to keep any production keepsakes? Many have wondered where the original photograph ended up. Is that hanging in an office somewhere? Do you have any personal photos from the set that you would be willing to share?
I was not able to keep any production items and the picture is not hanging in my office!I have no pics to share. Wish I did!
Q: The final shot of the film includes yourself in the foreground with a bird diving into the ocean background. According to many accounts, the inclusion of the bird was not intentional. It’s easy to imagine the crew having a good laugh as the bird “ruined” the shot, but do you happen to recall that moment? Was the diving bird noticed or acknowledged on-set?
The bird was not intentional! I remember reading an interview of Joel and Ethan joking that the bird was in the script and they had always been lucky with birds…everybody on set had a good laugh about it. It’s Joel and Ethan’s genius to use moments such as this.
Q: Did you attend the premier at Cannes Film Festival, and was that the first time you saw the film? What was that like? What did you think of the film when you first saw it? When was the last time you watched Barton Fink?
I did not attend the premier in Cannes film Festival, but I did get a chance to go to a production screening. I think the last scene reflects Barton’s state of mind, the nightmare he had gone through, the fact that he had lost his sanity. The scene has a soothing effect. I’ve been told it felt like a breath of fresh air. “Beauty” is not in the entertainment business, as Barton seems to think…perhaps she knows better…she may even know about writer’s block as she stares back at the horizon and its emptiness.
Q: Did “Barton Fink” change the direction of your career? Have you ever been recognized as “Beauty”?
Yes, I got an agent and I did get recognized as “Beauty” without the tan!
Q: The Coens have discussed filming a sequel to “Barton Fink” called “Old Fink”, and while we have no idea what the script might include, I wonder if “Beauty” might make a cameo. Interested?
I am not aware of a sequel. Of course I would be interested. Let me know if you hear anything further.
Q: Have you enjoyed any of the other films by the Coen Brothers? Care to name a favorite? Also, do any memories stand out to you when thinking back to your involvement in “Barton Fink”? Any anecdotes welcome!
I am a huge fan of Joel and Ethan’s work. They are simply brilliant. I enjoyed among others “Hudsucker Proxy”, “Raising Arizona” and “Fargo” which I did go to the premier of in Cannes and saw Joel and Ethan again afterwards at the party in a cloud of artificial snow!
All the best,
Thanks are due to Joe who has contributed a lot to YKFK over the years. Thanks, Joe (and sorry it took me so long to get around to posting this up!).