Brooklyn is a film about dreams that may come true within a short time, but can be destroyed within a second if you make a wrong choice. Tony, delicately played by Emory Cohen, is an Al-Pacino type guy, who’s madly in love with Eilis, an Irish girl with big ambitions. But one day Tony must face a reality that can take away from him the love of his life. Emory Cohen totally felt the character he portrays and delivers it in such gentle, sensitive, beautifully childishly way that you simply find it hard to stop being amazed by his performance.
During the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, I had a few minutes to sit down with Emory Cohen and ask a few questions about Brooklyn, Eilis, and of course, Tony, who I must say is one of the most pleasant and kindest characters appearing recently in the silver screen.
MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk about where you came from to get this utter simplicity and trueness for Tony?
Emory Cohen: I was basically doing a lot of research work about the period and I have a process. Then I rehearsed with a coach in LA. I figured it out from there and it was mostly that.
MOVIEMOVESME: What do you think is the motivation when he says to her, “Let’s do it before you leave?” Is it insecurity about her or for his own sanity so he won’t go crazy when she’s back in Ireland?
Emory Cohen: Yeah, that was a very difficult scene and from the get-go I never wanted to play it with a needy quality. I didn’t want to play it with a manipulative quality. I think it’s as simple as a young man in love with his girl once you’re married. I’ve been there!
MOVIEMOVESME: What do you think Tony actually found so special in Eilis that he wanted to wait for her?
Emory Cohen: The Italians, they call this thing “The Lightning Bolt.” If you read the book, “The Godfather”, they talk about when Michael sees his first wife, “he was scraped by the lightning bolt” and for a week straight he had to drink a bottle of wine just to go to sleep. It’s that kind of Italian idea of love at first sight. It’s called “The Lightning Bolt”. So I thought about it like that because that’s more of a romantic idea as opposed to an intellectual idea.
MOVIEMOVESME: What kind of research did you do on Tony to portray him the way you did that was loved by many?
Emory Cohen: My uncles are both half Italian and they’re electricians. So they had kinda the same blue collar type of thing and I thought about them a lot. I thought about Tony like a dog, that’s where all that physical stuff came from. Me and my coach were actively trying to make it Italian, really trying to kinda steal all those kinds of things. We wanted that to be a part of it because the film is so much about nationality and how America just kinda mixed all that up.
MOVIEMOVESME: Do you like to prepare a lot about the character or you have the script and that’s all what you need?
Emory Cohen: It changes. When I work with a guy, I basically wanna be able to trust him because I want them to come up to me and say, “Listen, this ain’t working. You gotta figure something else out.” I don’t like it when directors don’t talk to me a lot but I think it’s better for me and I think they sense it that I don’t like it. I’m a very neurotic actor on set and I think they let me deal with my stuff, and I think that’s important. In fact, the guys I’m little iffy to work with, they talk too much.
MOVIEMOVESME: John Crowley just spoke about having to teach girls table manners at the boarding house. How did you capture the sense of innocence when you’ve grown up in a world that basically has no innocence?
Emory Cohen: John was very good about that in rehearsal, understanding the relationship from a different time. I think for me it was a lot about not thinking about the period, not trying to play the period, just trying to be, understanding the world they live in and just forgetting it. If it’s truthful at least it can’t be bad. It may not be amazing but it can’t be bad.
MOVIEMOVESME: Did you read the character description beforehand?
Emory Cohen: I didn’t want such a descriptive idea the character might have. I’m more scared about knowing too much than knowing too little because if you know too little you can figure it out, but if you know too much, you don’t know what ideas might be cut off by such a specific image of a person.
MOVIEMOVESME: So you really want to make the character your own instead of the way it was described?
Emory Cohen: Yeah, in the screenplay it describes him as someone with dark hair and white teeth and muscular. I asked John to please cut that out for the read-through. I certainly don’t have perfect teeth, muscular and all that. I don’t think I would’ve been good, I don’t think I would’ve been real.
MOVIEMOVESME: What do you think made Tony not give up on her despite a lukewarm response when he said that he loved her?
Emory Cohen: That was something I liked. I’m the kind of guy who’d be like, “I’m done with this.” It’s kind of hard not to be. But I think what it was for me was really watching her go and let the experience we were having be there and not try to think about it too much. You talk about moments that are very important but you also have to remember as an actor, as important as this moment may be, it’s normally better to let it go and let it fly.
MOVIEMOVESME: You said you were shy with her when you started off. Were you going back to the shyness in between the takes? How do you balance yourself and John?
Emory Cohen: I spent three months creating impulses which in some ways had an effect on me. In some ways I’ll always be what I am. To be honest I can’t remember why I was acting the way I was, it was just the way that I was. Thereafter I just get out and not really care, just hang out.
MOVIEMOVESME: What would you say was the toughest thing for you to do in this movie?
Emory Cohen: There was this scene where I kept on opening the door too wide or too short for the lighting and I started hiding from John because I couldn’t deal with it. I was thinking the whole time, is this acting? It happened like eight times and I just hated it. It was so embarrassing, I’m still embarrassed.
MOVIEMOVESME: The scene where you introduce your Italian family, it’s like a whole new world opens up. Were you worried about the little kid stealing the scene from you?
Emory Cohen: That was the first scene I shot. I was walking up the stairs and then we shot the family stuff. That scene was good to get one under your belt when you’re starting off. There was some nervous energy in it and that was good because I was nervous being there for my first scene. The kid, he helped me out. I sort of just sit there and smile, do my thing knowing they’re gonna be on him the whole time.
MOVIEMOVESME: The impression I got is that the reason he wanted to spend time with her is because he felt it will make her come back from Ireland later on. What is your take on that?
Emory Cohen: I think you’re right in terms of the storytelling overall. He wants stability in a world that’s becoming vastly unstable for him. But I didn’t wanna play it like that. I wanted to play against that because I didn’t think it was right for him to be manipulative. I think it was better if he was being in love and he wanted the love of his life to be with her.