Meet 'Hail, Caesar!' Star Alden Ehrenreich, the Dreamy Crooning Cowboy


Alden Ehrenreich in ‘Hail, Caesar!’ (Universal)

If you saw the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! this weekend, you probably left the theater wanting to know more about the actor who played Hobie Doyle.

The aw-shucksy cowboy star who proves he has no capacity to say, “Would that it t’were so simple,” is played by Alden Ehrenreich, a 26-year-old newbie from Los Angeles who stands out in an ensemble of veterans that includes George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Josh Brolin, and not just one, but two, Tilda Swintons. His work in Hail, Caesar! — which requires him to convincingly play dumb, do a solid job of playing a terrible actor in a drawing-room comedy, warble a cowboy ballad, and perform some impressive lasso tricks using both a rope and a piece of spaghetti — feels like a breakout moment for the actor, who seemingly emerged out of nowhere. But actually, you probably have seen Ehrenreich before in a non-Coen brothers-related project.

Related: We Ranked All 17 of the Coen Brothers Movies, Including ‘Hail, Caesar!’

After guest-starring on TV shows like Supernatural and CSI, he made his screen debut in Tetro, an obscure 2009 piece of film noir directed by Francis Ford Coppola, in which he played the younger brother of the titular character, played by Vincent Gallo. Ehrenreich worked with Coppola again on Twixt, a dream-scapey horror movie starring Val Kilmer as a struggling writer that, like Tetro, only got a very limited release in theaters.


Ehrenreich on the red carpet (Getty Images)

More moviegoers may have gotten their first glimpse of Ehrenreich in 2013’s Beautiful Creatures, the witchy coming-of-age romance in which he was cast as lead Ethan Wate. The film got so-so reviews and an even less enthusiastic response at the box office, but Ehrenreich got some nice notices, including one from the New York Times’s Manohla Dargis who cited the “button-cute-narrator-hero” as one of the film’s charms.

That same year gave us Ehrenreich in a small, but memorably nasty part in the incredibly dark Stoker, and in a brief supporting turn in Blue Jasmine, as the estranged stepson who rebuffs Cate Blanchett near the end of the film. Eventually, the Coen brothers came into his life. Or rather, as he told Yahoo Movies last month, Ehrenreich insisted on coming into theirs.

Related: 'Hail, Caesar!’: Hollywood’s Golden Age Inspirations for Coen Brothers’ New Caper

“Originally someone said, ‘You’re really not right for it. We don’t want to see you for it,’” the L.A. native recalls about the process of getting cast in Hail, Caesar! “Then I read it, and I was like, ‘Can I please come in?’ And then they were like, ‘Okay, but I don’t know…’ and then I went in and I read for the casting director. Then I came in and I read for the Coens a couple of times. And yeah — and that was it.”

That audition must have convinced the Coens that Ehrenreich could do what he does so successfully in the film: take a dim bulb of a character and give him both heart and more brain cells than one initially might think.

Next up for the rising talent: a lead role in The Yellow Birds, an Iraq war movie in which he stars alongside Tye Sheridan (Mud), Jack Huston and Jennifer Aniston, and a part in a long-gestating film directed by Warren Beatty.

But maybe the best part of Ehrenreich’s story is how it began. Turns out he was discovered the way every aspiring Coen brothers player always dreams it will happen: by appearing in a bat mitzvah video seen by Steven Spielberg.

As he told Vulture in a 2009 interview published around the time Tetro was released: “I made a short film with a friend of mine when I was 14 that played at a friend of ours’ bat mitzvah. In it, I ran around as a skinny little punk, trying on girls’ clothes and eating dirt. My mom was like, ‘I really don’t know if you want to present yourself that way. It’s not the best portrait, and there are a lot of people who will be watching this.’ To be honest, you go to a bat mitzvah in Los Angeles and you can count on at least a few industry people to be there. But it wasn’t like we thought of that. Well, Steven Spielberg was there. I got a call afterwards from these girls from school who told me that he had really liked the movie. Pretty soon, the DreamWorks people had gotten me an agent, and by now I’ve gone on hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of auditions.”

Yes, it was just that easy for Ehrenreich to get his initial break in show business. But for most people: Ah, would that it t’were so simple.

Watch a video about Ehrenreich’s character: