Interview – Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan on working with Ethan Coen in ‘Drive Away Dolls’

Written by Ethan Coen and Tricia CookeDrive Away Dolls is a comedy caper follows Jamie [Margaret Qualley], an uninhibited free spirit bemoaning yet another breakup with a girlfriend, and her demure friend Marian [Geraldine Viswanathan] who desperately needs to loosen up. In search of a fresh start, the two embark on an impromptu road trip to Tallahassee, but things quickly go awry when they cross paths with a group of inept criminals along the way.

As Drive Away Dolls speeds into Australian cinemas on February 22, Nick L’Barrow go to have a hilarious and coy chat with the film’s stars, Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan about their sticking to the script, and which Coen Brother’s character they would love to see their characters cross paths with!

Nick: Thank you both for taking the time to chat! One of the common elements I love about Ethan Coen’s films is the absolute inept goons that many of the main characters have to deal with. I am curious to know, in a hypothetical way, if Jamie and Marian got a chance to run into any other of Ethan Coen’s inept goons, who would you be the most interested to see them cross paths with?

Geraldine Viswanathan: Oh wow.

Margaret Qualley: Right out of the gate!

Geraldine Viswanathan: I really can’t – who are other good characters?!

Margaret Qualley: Who’s your favourite? What’s your dream scenario?

Nick: I’d love to see you both meet Brad Pitt’s character from Burn After Reading. I feel like there’s a matching energy going on there!

Margaret Qualley: Oooh, yes!

Geraldine Viswanathan: Yes! Maybe get a bit of Frances [McDormand] in there.

Margaret Qualley: I like that one.

Geraldine Viswanathan: Yeah, that’s a good one!

What was the experience like working with Tricia Cooke on this film?

Geraldine Viswanathan: I think Tricia was instrumental. I think her lived experience of you know, lesbian bars in the 90s. I think so much of this is infused with Tricia’s life and perspective. And Ethan really just kind of supported that. They collaborated, but I feel like it’s a whole lot of Tricia!

Margaret Qualley: I think, from my understanding, that Ethan made this both with Tricia, and for Tricia.

Geraldine Viswanathan: A love letter to Trish.

This film is full of surprises, and some really dirty humour! Did you both enjoy leaning into that dirty, comedic side of things?

Margaret Qualley: Geraldine’s gonna say that she lives, eats, sleeps and breathes… dicks! [laughs]

Geraldine Viswanathan: Took the words right out of my mouth! That is actually what I’m gonna say. I think I’m so accustomed to this dirty, nasty humour. I’ve done a lot of comedies where, you know, penises are so of a central element!

Margaret Qualley: It’s one of those themes that she likes to return to, you know? When she’s on the phone to her agents, and she’s like, “What do we got cookin’?” And they don’t mention a penis in the script… she’s not listening!

Geraldine Viswanathan: Yeah, I sort of clock out. I’m not really listening. I think it’s just sort of my North Star, if you like.

Margaret Qualley: It was really fun to lean into the comedy. We had a great time. I was lucky to work with a comedy veteran like Geraldine, and she’s absolutely brilliant. She kept us in a really grounded, safe place. So I felt really lucky dipping my toe into the comedy waters in the presence of Geraldine Viswanathan.

Was there much room for improvisation with this script?

Geraldine Viswanathan: We didn’t improvise at all really! I think the script is so tight and specific, and really in that Coen tone. So, you really don’t want to mess with that. Ethan and Tricia have such a clear vision for what the movie is, and the script is just so great.

I feel like in comedies, you’re trying to punch up jokes, or you know, a scene’s not working, so you try to find something new through improv. But with this one, they’ve been labouring over it for a very long time. They wrote the script over 10 years, so you don’t want to mess with it that much.

Margaret Qualley: The script’s so musical and it’s written so precisely that it would be a shame not to say it word perfect. I’m not gonna just chuck something out. It’s perfect as it is, why would you fuck with it?

Nick: I had a chance to chat with Ethan the other day, and he told me that “very serious thought” went into choosing the dildo for the “wall dildo” joke in the film. I just want you to take me back to that day of filming, and what your thoughts were on Ethan’s choice of dildo?

Margaret Qualley: Well, my first reaction was, “I think very serious thought went into that”!

Geraldine Viswanathan: This is a choice that an auteur has made! And it’s working. It’s paying off. I find that dildo’s kind of classic. It’s just familiar.

Margaret Qualley: It’s a statement enough to have the dildo on the wall, you know?

Thank you so much to Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan for their time, and to Universal Pictures for organising the interview. Drive Away Dolls is in cinemas February 22.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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