The stars of “Cowboys & Aliens” are proud to point out that their film is different from most blockbuster summer releases because it is not a sequel, it’s not a superhero movie and it’s not in 3-D. “Cowboys & Aliens” (based on the graphic novel of the same title by Scott Rosenberg) is a story about what happens when space aliens invade a small town in New Mexico in 1875. The movie has the unusual premise of being both a period Western and a sci-fi flick.
Harrison Ford plays Woodrow Dolarhyde, a powerful rancher in the town of Absolution, New Mexico. When people in the town start disappearing, Dolarhyde teams up with a mysterious stranger name Jake Lonergan (played by Daniel Craig), an elusive traveler named Ella Swenson (played by Olivia Wilde) and an assembled posse to battle against the alien force that threatens the town. Here is what Ford, Craig, Wilde and “Cowboys & Aliens” director/executive producer Jon Favreau had to say about the movie at the “Cowboys & Aliens” press junket that was held at the Paws Up Ranch in Greenough, Montana.
Interview with Harrison Ford
What was enticing to you about the “Cowboys & Aliens” concept?
Ford: Well, first of all, I was attracted to the chance to do a Western. The people who are involved in [“Cowboys & Aliens”] are people whose work I admire and who are very ambitious. The one thing I didn’t get from the script was the tone of the piece. And so I had to meet the people and find out what their intention was.
I was very pleased that they were ambitious enough to make a film with real human behavior in which weird stuff happens. First and foremost, it’s a Western, and then weird things happen, and it goes back to being a Western. And that, to me, was very interesting. And I got to play a character that was very different from most of the characters that I play.
How would you describe your “Cowboys & Aliens” character Woodrow Dolarhyde?
Ford: Dolarhyde is an ex-career military officer who suffered a devastating defeat in the Civil War at Antietam; he lost 265 men out of a company of 400. He thinks he was failed by authority. He quit his military career and became a rancher on the Western frontier, and he became successful.
He’s powerful and not very nice. He’s used to having his way. There’s no Mrs. Dolarhyde in sight. She would’ve fled a long time ago. And he has a son who has not profited from his wisdom and child rearing. This kid is the bully in town. So he’s a character on the path of redemption and getting his son back. And having another chance at creating a relationship with him: That’s his path to redemption.
What was it like working with Daniel Craig?
Ford: He’s a wonderful actor, skilled and wise about how to make movies. And he’s fun to work with. I admired a lot of things of his that I’d seen. I’d never met him before, but I was delighted to work with him.
“Cowboys & Aliens” director/executive producer Jon Favreau is also an actor. Do you think that experience helps Jon in how he directs actors?
Ford: I think the wisdom of his experience led him to understand that you don’t talk to actors about acting. You cast what you’re looking for. And then you really are informed of the reality of their lives, rather than to shoehorn them into something that doesn’t fit them. It doesn’t feel right.
How does “Cowboys & Aliens” stand out from other big-budget movies released in the summer of 2011?
Ford: Hopefully, that it’s successful and engaging people and giving them a fun experience in the theater.
Interview with Daniel Craig
What attracted you to the “Cowboys & Aliens” movie?
Craig: I was lucky enough to get sent the script and read the title and thought, “This is obviously going to be a very funny movie.” And actually, when I read it, I was kind of surprised to find out that it was a movie that was funny but also was out to make as an authentic a Western as it could. I’ve always harbored a secret desire to play a cowboy, so it kind of fitted nicely.
How would you describe your “Cowboys & Aliens” character Jake Lonergan?
Craig: Well, he wakes up in the middle of the desert with no shoes on, bashed and bruised, and with a strange bracelet on his wrist. He’s lost his memory, so in the first 20 minutes of the movie — apart from other things — he’s trying to figure out where he’s from and what he’s done in his life.
What was it like working with Harrison Ford in “Cowboys & Aliens”?
Craig: Harrison is an incredibly generous and funny man who is also an incredibly generous and funny actor, who I’ve been a fan of for a long time. Just getting a chance to work with him has been a joy, and getting to know him has been a joy as well.
Jon Favreau has done a lot of comedies and made a lot of funny films. He’s been in a lot of funny films, but he always comes from the point of view that comedy comes from reality. And his commitment to this movie is above and beyond the call of duty. He’s a collaborative director who wants to hear your opinion but also has an incredibly strong sense of what the movie is about and is always trying to make it better. So it makes my job very easy.
What were the most exciting and biggest challenges of making “Cowboys & Aliens”?
Craig: Riding horses every day was probably one of the most exciting things that I’d done on a movie set. I love horses. I love being around them, and I love being out in the open near dying cattle. Challenging-wise, I’m from England, so I wasn’t someone’s natural choice to be a cowboy, but I wanted to make him as authentic as possible. Wearing chaps and a hat and a gun — that really helped.
What separates “Cowboys & Aliens” from other big-budget movies released in the summer of 2011?
Craig: I don’t know. I know we’ve done as good of a job as we can. I don’t make comparisons. I’m not looking at what’s out there at the moment. I don’t get out to the cinema very often. I know we’ve done a good job on this movie. It’s got a really incredibly talented cast and good people behind it. And from what I’ve seen of it, it looks stunning.
What will audiences get out of seeing “Cowboys & Aliens”?
Craig: I think they’re going to be surprised. The title sends them one way, and the movie is going to take them in another. I like that. Again, that’s what attracted me in the first place to this film.
Interview with Olivia Wilde
What attracted you to the “Cowboys & Aliens” movie?
Wilde: I loved that it was going to be such a challenge. It was such an interesting, new idea. The originality of the material really drew me in. This was a big, giant event film, an avenger movie that wasn’t based on a superhero. It’s not a sequel. The title is taken from a comic book, but that’s about it.
And I thought, “Wow, they’re coming up with this new idea, and they’re mashing together two genres that no one has ever consider ‘mash-able’ before.” And I thought it was a really good idea. And I loved the way it was being approached: with a real reverence for the Western drama. It was a mixture of “Unforgiven” and “Close Encounters [of the Third Kind].”
So I think that’s what drew me in: that it was actually a serious take on this idea, with a lot of comedy, of course. If Jon Favreau is directing, it’s always got a really good wit to the dialogue. But I was drawn in by the people involved and the originality of the material.
How would you describe your “Cowboys & Aliens” character Ella Swenson?
Wilde: Ella is the female member of this cowboy posse riding out to find their people who have been snatched up by mysterious beings. They think they’re demons. She has sort of slinked into town unnoticed. She’s very mysterious. She’s wearing a gun. She’s not a cowgirl or a ranch hand or a prostitute. She’s something else.
And she’s very intrigued by Daniel Craig’s blaster that he’s wearing — this mysterious bracelet thing. And she needs something from him. So we immediately wonder if she has dark intentions, whether she means to manipulate and use him for good or for evil. It’s an intriguing character because you actually don’t figure out her final big secret until the end of the movie.
But she’s just as ballsy as the boys. She’s very important in their journey. She becomes kind of their magic weapon. And she brings together the two groups of cowboys and Indians. She becomes the peacemaker and allows them to join forces to defeat the common enemy.
Do you think that is a major message of “Cowboys & Aliens”: that people who normally wouldn’t work together join forces for a shared cause?
Wilde: Yes. It’s the lesson we need to learn, that humanity needs to learn. This film is about occupying foreign lands and killing the people there and using them and manipulating then. And I think that’s still happening today. It’s certainly happened in our history. It’s something we need to learn from.
So I hope people come out of the movie realizing that we have to come together to defeat common enemies but also work together to make the world a better place in so many ways. It kind of shows the ridiculousness of the differences [conflicts] between the cowboys and the Indians. They find a common bond in their love for their families. And that makes them realize that they’re all human, which is something that we all need to realize today.
What was it like working with Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and the rest of the “Cowboys & Aliens” ensemble cast?
Wilde: Unbelievable. I couldn’t believe I was sitting anywhere near them. I learned a lot from Harrison and Daniel. Also from Jon [Favreau]. I’m an aspiring director as well, and watching him very closely was very interesting to me. Watching people like Sam Rockwell [who plays Doc] and Paul Dano [who plays Percy Dolarhyde], who took smaller characters and made such meals out of them. I think [Doc] is my favorite character in the movie.
I just felt very lucky to be sitting with all these people who loved Westerns too. We had John Wayne’s grandson in the movie: Brendan Wayne. So we felt somehow that was a good omen for the project.
We had a lot of really great character actors. We had Walt Goggins, who plays the head of the outlaws. It’s an extraordinary, funny performance. So I remember our first table read. We were sitting in the old Western town that we ended up blowing up [in “Cowboys & Aliens”]. And I looked around the table and I thought, “Wow, this is major. This is special.” Everybody was very committed. They embraced the language and the history and the tone. And I think that’s ultimately why it’s successful.
What was your favorite part of making “Cowboys & Aliens”?
Wilde: Probably riding with the rest of the cowboys across the desert. It’s challenging. We’re really galloping with guns on our hips. The whole process was a challenge. You’re also working with cameras — and horses don’t like cameras. So you have to work around that too. But it was so thrilling. The stunts were also challenging but real thrilling too. So there was not a dull day on this project.
What was it like to do training for gun shooting and horse riding?
Wilde: Well, the day I was cast, I said, “When do I get on a horse?” And it was about three months before I started shooting, and I drove out to the middle of nowhere in California and started riding, hours every day. I grew up riding English, but I had never ridden Western. It was a learning process for me, and I threw myself into it.
I wanted to be really confident on the horse, because this is a woman who has been riding her entire life, and there’s an effortlessness to it that I really wanted to capture. When you watch old Westerns, you can tell that John Wayne has been riding a horse since he was 4 years old. He hardly has to move. He’s not holding on to the horn desperately.
So I wanted that to be realistic. And I wanted to be able to tell Jon, “Let me do all my own stunts.” And I remember one amazing day when Daniel and I were galloping across this field, and we were going as fast as we possibly could. And it was just this moment where I realized the enormity of the entire experience and how blessed we were and how cool it was. That shot is certainly in the movie — and I love it. You can tell we’re really flying across the field.
What is it about the “Cowboys & Aliens” mash-up of the Western and sci-fi genres that makes it a fresh approach?
Wilde: What they have in common — Westerns and sci-fi — is the idea of the unknown, the battling of the unknown. And people who are sort of pioneers. People in Westerns are often settlers who have gone out West, and they’re very brave people for wandering into this unknown territory. And that’s the thing with sci-fi: It’s usually people exploring space and coming up against unknown adversaries. And I think that’s what binds them together.
I think it makes sense that they come together but it has to be done with the right technique. I think that’s why we’re very lucky to have [executive producer Steven] Spielberg, [producer] Ron Howard and [producer] Brian Grazer involved as well, because they really know film. They know how to bring all these genres separately —
their best quality — and also to meld them together. Favreau is a master of tone. He knows how to make it consistent and to keep it grounded in reality.
What separates “Cowboys & Aliens” from all the other big-budget movies released in the summer of 2011?
Wilde: I think we’re different because we’re original. We’re not a superhero movie. We’re not a sequel. We are just different. It’s a Western. It’s a big Western! It’s not 3-D. It’s anamorphic. It’s very beautiful. It feels very classic. And I think we’re showing people something they’ve never seen before.
Interview with Jon Favreau
What was enticing to you about the “Cowboys & Aliens” concept?
Favreau: I had heard about “Cowboys & Aliens” long before I had been involved with the project. And there was always a compelling, interesting name. I didn’t know what kind of movie to expect. I guess I expected more of a comedy.
And then later, when I ran into [“Cowboys & Aliens” producers/screenwriters Alex] Kurtzman and [Roberto] Orci at a party at Comic-Con, I asked about the project because they were involved with it, and they were writing the latest draft of the script. So it was reading their version of the script that really hooked me, because they didn’t go for the fool’s gold of just doing a silly comedy because it’s a fun title. But they were able to preserve the fun of the title in having two conflicting genres of films smash into each other in a very thoughtful, intelligent way.
What can you say about putting together the cast for “Cowboys & Aliens”?
Favreau: The ensemble of “Cowboys & Aliens,” each of these people starred in films in their own right. I was incredibly fortunate to have this mixture of people. As far as directing each individual, the style of directing I’m comfortable with usually includes a lot of discussion with the actor beforehand — or even on the set if need be — because to me, the actors are the best shepherd of their characters. They can understand the internal logic far better, in certain cases, than the director, because I’m thinking about a hundred different things, and they’re usually concentrating on that one given moment.
So for Harrison [Ford] and Daniel [Craig], they have a very good mind for story. And they like to understand why they’re being asked to do what they’re doing. Even in a film like “Cowboys & Aliens,” what the logic is, because you always have to break it down into real little pieces, even if the movie s big and broad, it doesn’t give you permission to just do anything because people don’t necessarily expect it of you if they think that the movie is a high-concept film. Just because they’ll forgive you a lot doesn’t mean that you don’t have the responsibility to break it down into bite-sized, logical pieces that all together make sense.
And Daniel and Harrison — and Olivia [Wilde], for that matter — operate in a place where they have to understand in that given moment what the reality is. They know what to play. It’s not just a matter of standing on the mark and doing what’s on the storyboards. They’re not those types of actors.
What were the biggest and most exciting challenges in making “Cowboys & Aliens”?
Favreau: The opportunity to do a Western does not along that often — certainly not one of this scope where you can use all the technology and have the camera equipment, the crew — everything that’s required to do something of this scale. Most Westerns now are every small because they don’t make a lot of money. [The 2010 remake of] “True Grit” was the first film — and that came out after we started shooting [“Cowboys & Aliens”] — that gave a little bit of a glimpse that there might be some commercial prospects to the [Western] genre film, but in general, you don’t get to do it.
So everybody who was involved with “Cowboys & Aliens” because it was a genre mash-up, the idea that it is a big action movie and the fact that it might bring in more money than a normal Western gave us the permission to do a Western on this scale. And we all really welcomed that opportunity. Certainly, Harrison Ford had always wanted to do a Western. He did a small comedy called “The Frisco Kid” many, many years ago, but he didn’t really get to sink his teeth into that as much as some of his other roles, because it was a different type of movie.
With this film [“Cowboys & Aliens”], it felt like he was getting to finally do something that he had really relished the opportunity to do it. And, of course, for Daniel Craig, for an Englishman to play an iconic Western figure, that’s got to be a lot of fun. He said as much. I know they really appreciated being involved with this, and as they start to see the film and how Matty [Libatique, the cinematographer for “Cowboys & Aliens”] was shooting it, they really felt connected to the project because I think they were proud of what we were doing.
Now that it’s a finished movie, I have to say the big challenge is holding my breath as I present something that I’m very proud of. I wouldn’t do anything differently with it, but that’s only half the story. People have to like that flavor of ice cream.
It’s exciting, it’s tense, but it’s a fun part of what I do. It feels like you’ve got a big bet down on the table and you’re waiting for the dice to fall. It’s exciting, but even before [“Cowboys & Aliens”] comes out, I can say I couldn’t be happier with how it’s come out.
For more info: “Cowboys & Aliens” website
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