“I didn’t have any acting lessons or anything like that”—later, he realized he was doing a blend of Dwight Yoakam in Sling Blade and a dirtbag contractor—“but I wanted to try to wrap my mind around the place and the time and the people as much as I possibly could. Coping for me is working.
“First rehearsal, Marty introduced me to De Niro. I said, ‘I’m really excited to be here. I can’t wait to watch you guys work.”
De Niro looked at him like something was growing out of his head. “You know, the De Niro who-the-fuck-are-you face? And I thought, oh no, he’s not nice. Damn it. But finally he realized this is how I actually talk.” Like maybe he thought Isbell was on some Method bullshit. What’s this kid doing, acting like he’s from Oklahoma? ”When he figured it out, he was very friendly, but it took a few days.”
One last story about the wardrobe. He tells me he stole his hat when the shoot wrapped. “I just snuck it up under my hoodie and took it to my car. I got all the way home with it. Then Jacqueline calls me.”
“I think you have mistakenly taken your hat.”
“No ma’am, I have not. I have intentionally taken my hat.”
“You can’t keep the hat. We need it for post-production.”
“Then I saw her a couple nights ago. ‘We’re still working on getting your hat. You’ll eventually get your hat.’” But he still hasn’t.
I tell him I’ve noticed touring musicians have either seen two movies or all of them. Turns out he’s in the latter camp. “I watch a whole lot of movies.” He rattles off The Great Beauty, Magnolia, and The Deer Hunter as hall-of-fame favorites. In 2023, he was floored by Celine Song’s debut Past Lives. He was seated next to her at dinner last night, and was in fanboy mode the whole time.
I ask him what he gets up to when he’s in Los Angeles, as somebody who has thoroughly rejected the rock lifestyle.
“I walk. A lot. I walk many, many miles. The other day I walked from the Beverly Wilshire to UCLA. Almost walked to Santa Monica.” Nobody does this. He tells me he trespassed at the Los Angeles Country Club to piss in the shrubs. “I didn’t get arrested, so it was a success,” says the man currently up for three Grammys.
As for the Chateau Marmont, Sunset Strip hallowed ground, he’s over it. He’s over rock and roll hotels, period. In our periphery, a woman bundled in a hoodie is escorted across the room for a photo shoot, and I hear gawkers whisper Dua Lipa. He sighs a bit, pauses to reflect on his surroundings; you can tell it’s not his speed. “It’s a party hotel, and there was a time when it would have been great fun. But now I like old businessman hotels. I like hot water, soft beds, good gyms, and quick room service.” And air conditioning. Rock and roll people don’t get hot, he tells me, because they weigh 110 pounds but wear leather jackets all year. I’m surprised by this. He’s from Alabama. Don’t you develop a tolerance?
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