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Casting Calls
In casting A Serious Man, Joel Coen reports that "we wanted a lead actor who would be essentially unknown to the audience. Now, Michael Stuhlbarg isn't unknown if you're a theatergoer in New York, but to movie audiences he's relatively unknown. From his theater work, we knew how good he was.”

The Tony Award-nominated actor was originally called in to read for a part in the film's prologue, scripted entirely in Yiddish. To prepare, Stuhlbarg "studied with a Yiddish tutor and had a wonderful time working on it. At the audition, Joel and Ethan Coen laughed a lot and I was really pleased. But they ended up going with an actor who spoke Yiddish fluently.”

The Coens were impressed enough to bring Stuhlbarg back to read for both Larry and Uncle Arthur. "I was excited because there was so much material to work with,” remembers Stuhlbarg. "Time passed, and then a call came; they said they wanted me in the movie, but weren't sure which part I should play. Finally, while at a theater retreat in Vermont, Joel called and said, ‘I'll put you out of your misery; you're playing Larry.'” Stuhlbarg enthuses, "I fell in love with this script when I first read it, taking the whole story in, marveling at its twists and turns, and thoroughly enjoying the artistry with which it was constructed.

"Being on the set almost every day was a blessing and a terrific education in how the Coen Brothers work, and how and why it all flows so beautifully. I felt I was able to shape the character over a long period of time.”

Of his character, the actor comments, "Larry goes about his life in a very normal way, having developed his routines. He's quite content to continue his life the way it's going. He enjoys his mathematics and his physics, loves his family, and probably takes a lot of what's around him for granted. He's not aware that he's doing that until it all starts to slip away and he discovers that life isn't what he expected it to be, which throws him into a crisis of faith and takes him out of his bubble.

"He hopes that, through his community's spiritual leaders' wisdom, he will learn why these things are happening to him. Then other wrenches get thrown at him. His brother, Arthur, is having his own crisis, which is another weight on Larry's shoulders, though one he bears well because of the great bond between them.”

Furthering their approach to work with actors new to movie audiences, the Coens cast the roles of Larry's wife and children with local actors from Minneapolis, where they would be filming the movie. Joel points out, "As we did when we made Fargo, a lot of roles in A Serious Man are played by local actors.”

Beyond various speaking parts, extras and background players were also recruited, as Rachel Tenner, one of the film's two casting directors (the other being the Coens' frequent collaborator Ellen Chenoweth), logged considerable time in Minneapolis and St. Paul visiting Jewish youth centers, retirement communities, and synagogues. Robert Graf remarks, "Rachel was trying to dig a little deeper, to go beyond just those actors represented by agents, because we felt we had to go a little off the beaten path – especially on some of the more specific parts, for which we held open calls.”

Only by discovering fresh faces that would resonate with the Coens and on-screen could the production convey what Ethan calls "the whole incongruity of Jews in the Midwest. We wanted to cast real Jews as opposed to the Hollywood ethnic type. They are Jews on the plains – that's we wanted to get across. It is a subculture, and a feeling, that is different from Jewish communities in New York or Los Angeles.”

Joel notes, "We wanted to involve the real-life community as much as possible in the movie. The local religious leaders that we went to all had a good<

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