Each vignette in The Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs on Netflix has its own discrete title. And in the fifth narrative, The Gal Who Got Rattled, Bill Heck and Zoe Kazan join forces. Ahead of the movie’s debut on Netflix, Kazan and Heck sat down with Express.co.uk to talk about preparing for their roles, how they built a relationship, and working with a team as renowned as The Coen Brothers.
Zoe Kazan had both the privilege and burden of having the sole main female point of view in the whole six stories.
But appearing in a film of this time period wasn’t wholly unfamiliar to her.
“I had read a lot about the women on the Oregon trail because I did this Kelly Reichardt movie Meek’s Cutoff about nine years ago,” Kazan explained.
“I was fascinated by the time period, so I was excited to put on a bonnet again, as it were.”
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: Bill Heck and Zoe Kazan talk working with the Coen Brothers and more
Heck had never been in a Western (sort of dressing up as The Lone Ranger for Halloween for three Halloweens in a row as a child, he confesses) but to prepare for his role as Billy Knapp, he read The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck.
“Rinker Buck took a wagon across the original Oregon trail with his brother in 2011, and it was the first time it had been done since 1908.”
But of course, when asked if they had the Oregon Trail computer game, Kazan and Heck both to light up.
“Oh yeah!” They both exclaimed in unison, “that’s all I remember from fifth grade,” Heck says, prodding invisible computer buttons as Kazan laughed.
In their easy conversation, you can see how Heck and Kazan were able to form such an intimate bond on screen.
It’s intimacy without lust, and when Billy Knapp and Alice Longabaugh, Heck and Kazan’s characters respectively, finally speak their feelings it is a moment charged with as much intimacy as a long-anticipated first kiss.
“I love how they paint the intimacy of that moment, what it means to decide to go on a first name basis. “
Kaza and Heck both agree (and their co-star Tim Blake Nelson also says) is The Coen Brothers write very well fleshed out characters – so much so, the actors don’t have much to fill in.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: Alice and Billy have a blossoming, nuanced relationship
Kazan said: “It’s so well written that the only pressure was feeling like, am I going to be able to execute this as well as it needs to be done.
“The Coen Brothers are very good at writing female parts, so I just trusted in them.”
“As an actor,” Kazan explains, “for myself, there’s a huge part of me that’s still attached to the playing dress up that I did as a child.
“Part of the joy of getting to act is letting your imagination go to these places and fill in these spaces.
“But at the same time, the Coen brothers’ writing is so specific and so strong there was a part of me that felt, I don’t want to write a character biography — I don’t want to go away from their intention.
Ballad of Buster Scruggs: The pair both put trust in The Coen Brothers for their characterisation
“Fill it out, yes; Let your imagination roam free, yes; but sometimes I think when you start to fill in all those blanks it can take you further away from the authors’ intention.”
Likewise, of imagining his character’s life after the final curtain, Heck said: “I didn’t think about it until I saw the movie for the second time, it was the first time it occurred to me to imagine beyond what the story we were supposed to tell.”
Together, Heck and Kazan tell their story – one of intimacy, precariousness, and the unknown – with nuance and care.
The result is The Gal Who Got Rattled is one of the stronger, more heartwrenching, tales the Coen Brothers tell in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is now playing in select cinemas and is now available worldwide on Netflix.