By Maureen Lee Lenker
July 15, 2020 at 10:30 AM EDT

Inside Llewyn Davis rests the brunt of its action on Oscar Isaac's shoulders.

The 2013 film follows Isaac's titular folk singer as he tries to make his dreams come true, navigating the folk scene of Greenwich Village in 1961. It was a major breakout role for Isaac, and as he crafted the part for the Coen Brothers, he turned to a long-trusted advisor, his Juilliard instructor Moni Yakim.

A founding faculty member of the Juilliard Drama School, Yakim is the subject of a new documentary, Creating a Character: The Moni Yakim Legacy, which is now available to stream in virtual cinemas. Isaac features in the documentary, and he joined EW for a virtual panel with some of his fellow Juilliard alums to discuss Yakim's legacy and impact.

While reminiscing on the panel, he reflected on how much Yakim helped him prepare for Inside Llewyn Davis and the physicality of the role. "I went to Moni and I said, 'I got to walk around a lot in this movie. Can you help me walk?' And then we came up with all sorts of stuff," he recalled. "I remember Moni, you set up the steps in 304 and you just told me to walk up and down the steps a few different ways. And then you told this great story, which I think I remember you telling when I was at school, which was about these wonderful jazz musicians that you saw."

Yakim then recounted the tale for the panel, explaining his memories of a performance he saw at Preservation Hall in New Orleans. He described old jazz musicians, whose bodies had morphed to reflected their instruments as they hunched and held their hands in the shape of whatever they played. "When Oscar came to work with me, I remembered that. I said you play the guitar and the hands are used to that and they take a little bit the shape of it and that gives a little bit of insight into the character, to try to shape the character a little bit more," Yakim said.

Isaac took that story to heart, injecting Davis's physicality with that air of the guitar player, as well as exploring the singer-songwriter's gait and movement. "We came up with a whole walking like a camel against the wind [thing]," Isaac continued. "It was an invaluable thing so when you're on set and just lost and feeling overwhelmed, it's very clear physical things you can remember and hold on to. It just orients you, and that's one of the many reasons I always go back to Moni."

Watch the clip above for more.

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Inside Llewyn Davis

  • Movie
  • R
  • 105 minutes
  • Ethan Coen
  • Joel Coen