Why The Coen Brothers Sometimes Use A Secret Identity

The Coen Brothers have a distinctly peculiar sense of humor, to put it mildly. Their ability to inject comedy into otherwise dramatic or downright unpleasant scenarios lends their movies a unique quality, often making it hard to tell how seriously or not seriously audiences should take whatever's happening onscreen. They also frequently juggle multiple tones within the span of a single scene, going from being comical and silly to disturbing and violent (as they did in this infamous moment from "Burn After Reading").

Joel and Ethan Coen's off-kilter comical sensibilities manifest themselves in other ways, as shown by this making-of featurette from the "No Country for Old Men" collector's edition Blu-ray that's actually a wry mockumentary pretending to be a solemn examination of the Coens' creative process. The siblings are incredibly hands-on when it comes to every aspect of their films, typically acting as producers, editors, and writers on top of directing. Except, according to their movies' credits, the pair have never actually served as editors.

Save for "Raising Arizona" and "Miller's Crossing" (which Michael R. Miller edited) and "The Hudsucker Proxy" (which Thom Noble edited), the Coens have edited all of their joint feature-length directorial efforts under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. Their reasoning for doing so? As Ethan Coen told NPR, it's because the brothers' names are already in the credits so much that "adding one more just seemed like bad taste." But, this being the Coens, there's more to the "joke" than that.

Roderick Jaynes Is A Serious Man

This is far from a recent development: The Coens have been using the Roderick Jaynes alias since their feature directorial debut on 1984's "Blood Simple." They even developed a backstory for the non-existent artist since, as Ethan Coen explained in that same NPR interview, "you need bios for the personnel of your movies, I don't even know why, for PR purposes."

As the legend of Roderick Jaynes goes, the man started out "minding the tea cart and shepherding the studios" for the Coens before stepping in to edit "Blood Simple." When they made that film, the brothers described him as being an 80-something fellow hailing from Haywards Heath, Sussex — which would mean, in the alternate universe where he actually exists, he would now be challenging Jeanne Calment for the title of longest-living human being on record (via The New York Times).

As far as Hollywood creatives go, the Coens aren't alone in cooking up an imaginary collaborator. Perhaps most notably, one-man filmmaking army Steven Soderbergh has devised not one, but two alternate identities for himself (via Mental Floss). Since "Traffic" hit theaters in 2000, he has served as his own cinematographer under the pseudonym Peter Andrews, and he has edited his directorial efforts under the pen name Mary Ann Bernard since his "Solaris" remake in 2002. Still, he and his totally real production team have a way to go before they catch up with the Coens and their nearly 40-year run with their two-time, Oscar-nominated, absolutely bonafide editor.