Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke on Drive-Away Dolls | Interview

We catch up with the filmmakers behind 'lesbian B movie' Drive-Away Dolls.

James Mottram

13 Mar 24

After four decades working with brother Joel, Ethan Coen is back, this time working with his wife and regular editor, Tricia Cooke. They co-wrote the comedy Drive-Away Dolls, a lesbian B-movie that Coen directs. Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan play Jamie and Marian, an odd couple embroiled with criminals on a road trip to Tallahassee. Here they discuss its long gestation, influences and the weirdness of directing sex scenes....

Drive-Away Dolls is in cinemas from 15 March - book your tickets now!

The Big Interview

Drive-Away Dolls was a script you co-wrote 20 years ago. Why did it take so long?
Ethan Coen: When we wrote it, we were gonna make it with a friend, Allison Anders, the director, but we just couldn't get together, couldn't get it done. 
Tricia Cooke: Then we lived a whole life. We got to Covid, and Ethan had kind of semi-retired but a friend of ours asked us to cut a documentary [2022's Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble In Mind] that he had shot. We did that at the beginning of Covid and after we finished that, Ethan was like, "Oh, why don't we revisit these scripts" – we'd written a couple of these lesbian B-movies – "and see about making them?" I thought they were just going to end up in the bottom of a drawer somewhere. But lo and behold... 

What made you cast Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan in the leads?
Cooke: They both had the right kind of energy for their given characters. The character Margaret plays (Jamie) is very free-spirited, and Margaret had that energy when she came in and Geraldine... I don't know if she's as uptight as Marian, the character that we wrote. 
Coen: I think we can both say she isn't! 

The film is a road movie. How influential are road movies to you? 
Cooke: We love to travel, take road trips. I mean, it's something I've done all my life since I was a little kid. We take road trips every year with friends, just driving around the country. Midnight Run...I definitely watched Midnight Run before we started making the movie, which is a perfect road movie. 
Coen [laughing]: I would reference Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, which was a big influence on this movie, being the ultimate road movie! 

This is also the first of a trilogy. How do they connect up? 
Cooke: What they have in common is they're all queer. They all feature lesbians as the main characters and they're all supposed to be kind of raunchy B-movies. 

Talking of which, Ethan, you and Joel notoriously don't feature sex in your movies but here you do. Was that refreshing? 
Coen: You know, it's weird, not having done it. Every movie has something new, and this was definitely new. Then like anything it becomes a workday almost immediately. You know what I mean? It's a little weird. You could think, "Oh, well, they're going to be simulating sex. The actors are going to be simulating sex." It's just another acting thing. It's like simulating a murder. That doesn't make anybody uptight – and the novelty wears off quickly. 

Will audiences enjoy seeing Drive-Away Dolls on the big screen? 
Coen: You never know but certainly we hope so. It's an effervescent comedy. You always enjoy those more if you see it in a theatre with a crowd than sitting alone at home in your pyjamas.
Cooke: I think people will really enjoy it stoned! I just drove from Palm Springs to the beach here in Santa Monica and I was like, 'This is a movie people should see high." Not that I'm suggesting everyone gets stoned! 

Do you have any plans to reunite with Joel?
Coen: Yeah, we just spent a few months writing something, me and Joel. That's kind of in the offing but you just never know when. Trish and I have something that's about to go. Hopefully I'll do this with Joel. Joel has another thing that he might do but it's all very up in the air. We kind of take it as it comes.

Interview by James Mottram.

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Drive-Away Dolls is in cinemas from 15 March Book Now!