Metro Weekly

Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke on the Making of ‘Drive-Away Dolls’

In their first movie together, Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke concoct a whizzy, trippy lesbian road trip for the ages.

Drive Away Dolls: Tricia & Ethan
Tricia Cooke and Ethan Coen

“It’s really sad, isn’t it?” says Ethan Coen. “That we can’t call it that.”

Coen is lamenting the fact that his latest movie, the magnificently spry, lesbian-centric jaunt Drive-Away Dolls, was unable to be released under its original moniker: “Drive-Away Dykes.”

“It was something just for commercial reasons,” adds Tricia Cooke, who co-wrote the film with Coen and edited the finished product. “There are movie theaters that won’t release the movie with that title and the MPA [Motion Picture Association] kind of dictates what your title can be. We were told we couldn’t use it.”

“To be fair, the studio, Focus, has been great,” chimes in Coen. “They were totally open to releasing with that title. It made them laugh. But it wasn’t going to happen, sadly.”

“Yeah, it was the great heartbreak of making the movie,” says Cooke, “not being able to use the original title.”

“But you can use it in your headline,” grins Coen, impishly. “The more you use it, the better.”

In a clever wink of a moment, the pair sneak the original title into the film anyway. It’s a capper to a film that, for a brisk 84 minutes, follows the crazed exploits of starched lesbian Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) and her brash, Texan wiseacre chum Jamie (Margaret Qualley) as they travel to Florida in a car from a drive-away service that they were most definitely not supposed to drive away in.

In the trunk of that car lie some eye-popping surprises — surprises that put some bad yet bumbling men, led by The Chief (a sinister Colman Domingo), on their trail. The film is a whizzy, trippy tribute to road movies, romantic awakenings, neon-soaked lesbian dive bars (complete with go-go dancers), and rubber playthings.

One of Ethan’s few solo directorial efforts without his brother, Joel, the movie still has that Coen stamp of playfulness and style throughout (witness the ravishing, gasp-inducing close-up of a glass of bubbling champagne, for instance). And it’s got something extra added by Cooke, Ethan’s wife and longtime editor for the Coens.

Drive Away Dolls: Writer/producer Tricia Cooke, director/writer/producer Ethan Coen, and actors Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan -- Photo: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features
Tricia Cooke, Ethan Coen, Margaret Qualley, and Geraldine Viswanathan – Photo: Wilson Webb / Focus Features

Though she doesn’t officially share a directing credit due to Guild regulations, Cooke was every bit as vital to bringing the film to life as her husband. She was particularly crucial in getting the lesbian scenes just right. Of course, the fact that Cooke herself is a member of the LGBTQ community may have been an invaluable asset.

“Historically, lesbian films are tragic and have sad endings,” says Cooke. “And I very much wanted to make a movie that wasn’t that, one that was lighthearted. It wasn’t about [the lead characters] coming out, or having to cope with being a part of a marginalized community.”

“Can I just tell you,” says Coen, “we screened the movie for Colman Domingo and he said, ‘This is the most lesbian movie I’ve ever seen.’ It was such a compliment.”

When it’s brought up that the scenes in the movie’s various lesbian bars have a powerful authenticity, it sparks a playful back-and-forth bickering between the couple.

“I pushed hard for the go-go dancer,” says Cooke.

“Oh, my God,” says Coen, rolling his eyes.

“That would not have been in it,” she continues, alluding to Ethan’s reticence to include the dancer.

Oh, my God!” Coen says again. “It’s just a totally digressive practical, ridiculous story about why that was a little bit problematic. Should I get into this? One was just very practical. Fixing the poles in this bar which didn’t have go-go dancing poles. They had to be anchored in. And the second was….”

Drive Away Dolls: Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan -- Photo: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features
Drive-Away Dolls: Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan – Photo: Wilson Webb / Focus Features

“Ethan didn’t relate to go-go dancers the way that I do,” Cooke interjects. “I mean, I think in the lesbian world, that was a big part of the bar. There were go-go dancers on the bar. And that felt very authentic. And I think to Ethan, it just felt a little crass.”

“I like crass! I like crass!” says Coen. “But in retrospect, you’re the expert in this regard. And you were right and I was wrong.”

“We had initially cut it out of the film because Ethan had such an aversion,” Cooke smiles. “And I just went in one weekend and I’m like, ‘I’m putting the go-go dancer back in, and I don’t care.'”

“Like I say, she was right,” says Coen, mildly exasperated by the exchange. “Okay?

Despite the pole dancer disagreement, Coen and Cooke had a strong working relationship.

“It makes for ease and comfort in the working process, and generally it’s great,” Coen says of directing with a close family member. “Sometimes it gets a little heated because, well, it’s a disagreement, and you see something very clearly in your mind, and the other person sees it differently, and that’s weirdly frustrating. Maybe even a little more so if it’s between two people who are personally close. But that’s okay.”

“But then, I mean, I think it helps with communication skills,” adds Cooke. “We talk through it, and that kind of helps build a stronger relationship because we have to figure out how to get our point across in a way that isn’t hurtful.”

“In that respect, it’s like me working with Joel,” says Coen. “You’ve got to figure out what the other person is seeing that you’re not. Or, how can you describe what you’re seeing to the other person? That’s what makes the movie what it is.”

Coen and Cooke have been married for 30 years and have two children. Their obvious affection for one another and shrugging off of society’s too-frequently stringent conventions are testaments to following their hearts.

“It seems boring to us,” says Coen when asked about the marriage. “It seems unremarkable to us. Yeah, we’re a committed married couple, and we have partners outside of the marriage. I’m straight. She’s gay. And it is just the way it is.”

Drive Away Dolls: Writer/producer Tricia Cooke and director/writer/producer Ethan Coen -- Photo: Wilson Webb / Working Title / Focus Features
Tricia Cooke and Ethan Coen on the set of Drive-Away Dolls — Photo: Wilson Webb / Focus Features

“When we first got to know each other, we were good friends,” says Cooke, expounding on Coen’s comment. “Ethan had asked me out on a date when I was very young, and I told him that I was a lesbian, and we became very close friends. And then, years later I was like, ‘This is dumb. This is the person I love. I love spending time with him.’ So we started a relationship and we were partners — monogamous partners — for many years. And then finally we were just like, ‘Okay, let’s open this up.’

“I’ve had many partners since,” she continues. “And Ethan’s partner actually is the costume designer on the movie, Peggy Schnitzer. My partner at the moment is a radical anarchist — I’m not lying — who I met in D.C. doing political work. We share the same house. We have bedrooms in different parts of the house, and we raised our kids together and travel a lot together and work together and really enjoy each other’s company. We just really love being together. And then other partners just add to the — I don’t know — the richness of our life.”

“We have a family, but it would appall some people,” says Coen.

“When our kids were younger, we used to call it the ‘Super Family,’ because it was unconventional,” says Cooke. “They didn’t really understand. So we were just like, ‘It’s a family, but bigger.'”

Drive-Away Dolls is playing in theaters nationwide. Visit

The movie is also available exclusively on digital platforms to own or rent on premium video-on-demand platforms, including Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu, and Google Play.

Read Zach Schonfeld’s 4-Star review of Drive-Away Dolls here.

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