Over the past thirty years, the Coen brothers have succeeded in attracting an impressive array of acting talent into their decidedly unorthodox fold. With their offbeat methods and disarming charm, the brothers have been able to coax spectacular and often unexpected performances out of major stars and venerable veterans alike.

Working with the Coens seems to be a liberating experience which can redefine careers and alter perceptions.  But for all their success, the Coens have remained steadfastly loyal to the nucleus of acting talent with whom they forged their reputation, maintaining this formidable core whose presence lends a comforting continuity to their work, and without whom no Coen brothers offering would be complete. They are built into the very foundations of the off-kilter and often unsettling universe the brothers have created.

The Coens’ repertory is a distinctive mix of character actors and indie stalwarts whose unconventional looks and versatility lend themselves perfectly to the brothers’ skewed aesthetic. They have been responsible for some of the most enduring moments in the Coens’ canon, and they comprise the ultimate Coen brothers cast.


John Goodman

Goodman’s collaborations with the Coens were an essential stage of his transition from beloved television star to respected character actor. Working with the Coens afforded Goodman the room to cast off the baggage of the lovable slob he portrayed in Roseanne and extend his range in the eyes of the public. Goodman proved himself to be a valuable asset, bringing a previously unseen level of intensity to the Coens’ work.

Goodman broke definitively from his jovial image with performances that encompass ferocity, fragility, bombast and buffoonery. There is the amiable yet tortured Charlie Meadows in Barton Fink (1991), the belligerent and volatile Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski (1998) and the gluttonous and garrulous Big Dan Teague in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000); each one played with consummate menace and focused fury.


Steve Buscemi

Prior to his breakthrough performance in Reservoir Dogs (1992), Steve Buscemi was a peripheral presence in the Coens’ canon, just another of the strange faces who populated their universe. Buscemi lent his weaselly presence to small but memorable roles in Miller’s Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991) and The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) before the brothers found a substantial role that would make full use of his singular talent.  And what a role it was.

Carl Showalter in Fargo (1996) is one of the most unconscionable and funniest characters in the Coens’ oeuvre, eliciting gasps and laughs in equal measure as the inept kidnapper. No less funny, though totally different, is Buscemi’s portrayal of the supreme nonentity Donny in The Big Lebowski (1998). Buscemi brings a hypnotic banality to Donny that only reveals its brilliance with repeated viewings.