10 actors that prove Michael Bay is the world’s biggest Coen Brothers fan

The most hated director in Hollywood is obsessed with the Hail, Caesar! helmers.

Scarlett Johansson in the Coen brothers' Hail, Caesar!
Hail, Scarlett! Johansson reunites with the Coens 15 years after The Man Who Wasn't There. Image Picture Universal

You’d never guess it, but one of the most mocked directors in Hollywood is the world’s biggest fan of Joel and Ethan Coen.

Yes, we’re talking about Transformers ‘mastermind’ Michael Bay. The two-time Razzie Award-winning director has been hoovering up Coen cast veterans – to the point where ten of his 12 movies to date feature at least one actor previously featured in a Coens classic.

Bay, known for ear-splitting explosions and casual blockbuster misogyny, has barely spoken about his unlikely heroes. But back in the post-Armageddon glory days, he gave an off-hand mention of the Oscar-winning Fargo filmmakers, citing them as inspirations.

“I’m a huge Coen Brothers fan, and I’d love to find some dark, quirky comedy or some thriller,” Bay said. “Nothing to do with special effects or explosions. You know, those are tough movies to find, but I’d really like to twist it up.”

That sort of sounds like Bay’s crime thriller Pain & Gain – but he’s mostly failed to fulfil his Coen ambition, as anyone who saw Transformers: Age Of Extinction can attest.

With the Coens back in cinemas with Hail, Caesar!, here’s a look back at ten actors Bay has shamelessly pilfered from the brothers.


Frances McDormand

Fargo Frances McDormand
Prolific Frances McDormand has notched up the record for Coen film appearances. Image Picture Gramercy

McDormand has been a regular presence in the Coens’ life for more than 30 years. She’s been married to Joel since 1984 and has featured in eight of the brothers’ films, including a memorable cameo in Hail, Caesar! Bay gave her a hefty paycheck to star as a government stooge in Transformers: Age Of Extinction.

Coens filmography: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Burn After Reading, Hail, Caesar!
Bay filmography: Transformers: Age Of Extinction


Nicolas Cage

Raising Arizona Nicolas Cage
Image Picture 20th Century Fox

Remember when Nicolas Cage wasn’t a straight-to-DVD laughing stock? Those were great times. He made his name in the Coens’ Raising Arizona, won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, then capped it all off by becoming an action hero in Bay’s The Rock.

Coens: Raising Arizona
Bay: The Rock


John Turturro

Transformers Dark Of The Moon Shia LaBeouf John Turtorro
Neon sign John Turtorro stands by a word that isn't reflective of Transformers' Rotten Tomatoes score. Image Picture

A character actor who’s a Coens staple, Turturro’s crowning glory was playing screenwriter Barton Fink in 1991. More recently, he’s been Bay’s go-to man for slapstick comic relief, playing bumbling covert agent Seymour Simmons in the first three Transformers entries.

Coens: Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou
Bay: Transformers, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon


Steve Buscemi

Fargo Steve Buscemi
Fargo Steve Buscemi has five Coen films under his belt and two with Bay. Image Picture Gramercy

You couldn’t swing a cat in a 90s indie film without hitting Steve Buscemi. From Tarantino to a quintet of Coens classics, he was everywhere. Bay cast him in Armageddon and The Island, and more recently he had the misfortune of appearing in Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous 6. He’s currently starring in Louis CK’s online sitcom Horace And Pete, but it’s time to give the brothers a call and remind them you exist, Steve!

Coens: Miller’s Crossing, The Hudsucker Proxy, Barton Fink, Fargo, The Big Lebowski
Bay: Armageddon, The Island


Peter Stormare

Fargo Peter Stormare
That guy! Peter Stormare goes bleach blond for the Coen brothers' Fargo. Image Picture MGM

You know the name but not the face. Peter Stormare is a classic “that guy” actor. Most memorably he played blond-haired Gaear Grimsrud in Fargo, and Bay loves him so much he’s put him on more films that the Coens have.

Coens: Fargo, The Big Lebowski
Bay: Bad Boys 2, The Island, Pain & Gain


Billy Bob Thornton

The Man Who Wasn't There Billy Bob Thornton
Hidden Classic Billy Bob Thornton led the cast of the Coens' black and white gem The Man Who Wasn't There. Image Picture USA Films

Thornton took on the lead role in the Coens’ under-appreciated 2001 gem The Man Who Wasn’t There, followed it up with a supporting turn in screwball rom-com Intolerable Cruelty and even featured in the Fargo TV series. For Bay, he barked out astro-babble in a NASA control room as Bruce Willis tried to blow up an asteroid in Armageddon.

Coens: The Man Who Wasn’t There, Intolerable Cruelty
Bay: Armageddon


Scarlett Johansson

The Island Scarlett Johansson
Flop The Island was a rare financial failure for Bay – producers blamed it on Scarlett Johansson. Image Picture DreamWorks/Warner Bros

Before her breakout in Lost In Translation, the Coens spotted Johannsson’s raw talent and cast her in The Man Who Wasn’t There. 15 years later she’s reunited with them to play a no-nonsense Bronx actress in Hail, Caesar! She and Ewan McGregor led Bay’s sci-fi flop The Island. Producer Walter Parks blamed the duo for The Island’s failure, saying they were “superstars of the future, not superstars of the present”.

Coens: The Man Who Wasn’t There, Hail, Caesar!
Bay: The Island


Tony Shaloub

Pain & Gain Tony Shaloub
Torture Tony Shaloub being made to watch all the Transformers movies back-to-back? Image Picture Paramount

You know him best as TV detective Monk, but Tony Shaloub has crossed paths with the Coens and Bay when it comes to big screen roles. Pain & Gain, Bay’s stab at trying to do a Coen crime caper, benefitted from his presence, even if it wasn’t a patch on anything the brothers have put out.

Coens: Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There
Bay: Pain & Gain


John Malkovich

Burn After Reading John Malkovich
Burn After Viewing John Malkovich starred in the Coens' Burn After Reading and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. Image Picture Focus Features

Malkovich is just the kind of unhinged, edgy actor you’d think would be in every Coens film. Not so. He gave good crazy in 2008’s Burn After Reading as an ex-CIA agent writing his memoirs, but that’s it for Joel and Ethan. And then Malkovich played Shia LaBeouf’s boss in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Coens: Burn After Reading
Bay: Transformers: Dark Of The Moon


John Goodman

The Big Lebowski John Goodman
Image Picture Gramercy

John Goodman has got the Coens/Bay crossover just right. He’s been in six of the brothers classics, and only appeared in one Bay movie. Fortunately, he was (barely) heard and not seen, providing the garbled voice of Autobot Hound in Age Of Extinction.

Coens: Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Inside Llewyn Davis
Bay: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Previous Post
Next Post

Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn