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Reinventing The Western - Ed Harris Interview

Author: Gaynor Flynn
Monday, 9 March 2009

Eight years after his directorial debut with Pollack, Ed Harris (The Truman Show, A History Of Violence) returns, both behind the camera and in front, with his western saga, Appaloosa. 3D’s Gaynor Flynn caught up with the 58-year-old to discuss directing, westerns and starring alongside Viggo Mortenson for the second time.

What attracted you to this story-
I was reading the book when I was on holiday in Ireland with my family and it just delighted me. I was intrigued by the relationship between these two men. I mean I do like westerns but it was the dynamic between these two guys that drew me in. They could have been cops or fishermen or doctors, you know.

A lot in this movie reminded me of High Noon. Are there any westerns in particular that you drew on for inspiration-

We watched a bunch of films. A lot of them I had seen before, but I looked at them in a different way. High Noon was one, but [also] The Man who Shot Liberty Valence, The Oxbow Incident, My Darling Clementine… so all kinds of stuff. Also some of Clint’s [Eastwood] stuff, Wild Bunch, some John Ford and Howard Hawks and Anthony Mann. I really just immersed myself in watching films because one of my intentions as a director was not only try to be authentic to the period but to be authentic to the genre in terms of its classicism. I wasn’t trying to modernise anything. I wasn’t trying to film it in a way that was making it more exiting to anybody. I just was trying to shoot it, let it happen. Plus I have only directed a couple of movies, so technically I am not some guy who is gonna go whizzing the camera all over the place. I didn’t want to do a bunch of close-ups and bam-bam-bam and not know where I was. So we really wanted to shoot kind of wide, let things take place but still get to know these characters as intimately as possible. It was kind of the way we wrote it, and the way we always envisioned it, and hopefully that’s kind of the way it turned out.

What kind of source material did you look at to find out what life was like in 1882-
You read a lot of photos, you know, from that era – at least from the 1880s. Keith Walters, who was the prop guy, was really well versed in the weaponry of the time. And of course we’ve done our own research. And Waldemar Kalinowski was the production designer, [he] did a fantastic job in terms of the look of the town and all the set dressings, set decorations and texture of things. David Robinson, who did costumes, who also worked on Pollack with me, obviously did a ton of research himself. One of the things I do like about the film is it’s very detailed. There’s a lot to see in there. The more you watch it, the more you’ll see how much attention was paid to detail actually in all aspects of the production.

Can you talk about what made you choose Viggo Mortenseen-

I don’t know. I just had to pick somebody. [Laughs] We’ve worked together on A History of Violence and I really enjoyed working with him. I not only have great respect for him as an actor, but also as a human being. You know, he is a really decent guy; he is great on the set and treats everybody really respectfully. I just thought he would be perfect. These were two guys, they communicate a lot about being who they were and the knowledge of each other without really talking. I mean they talk about stuff but they don’t really talk about their inner feelings. I wanted a guy who I could ride next to on a horse for ten hours and never say a word and feel totally comfortable. And I figured he is the guy. He is the only man I wanted to play that role. I don’t know if I wouldn’t have made the movie if Viggo couldn’t have done it. But we got the script written I showed it to him and said, “Will you commit to do this-” And he said, “I will.” He basically gave me his word there and then. He was extremely busy. He has a publishing company, he was doing other films and we pushed back the film, to fit in with him. It would have been a lot easier for him in his life not to do this film. But he said he would do it. He did it and he did a great job. I applaud him for that as well as my other compatriots. These were the people I wanted to do this film. Jeremy [Irons], Renee [Zellweger], it is like an intuitive thing. You feel this is the person to do this. I didn’t want anyone else to do these parts.

How would you compare making this to the making of Pollack-
Well, Pollack was my first movie as a director so it was a complete shock all around. [Laughs] Also that was a movie I was obsessed with for a long, long time. I had to make it and I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I did. I ended up putting a lot of my own money into it. I didn’t do that this time around. I’d learned my lesson. I think the biggest difference is that I knew what to expect with this one. I knew that I had to stick to a budget, which I didn’t really do with Pollack and got hollered at a lot back then because of that. This time we figured out a budget, and I knew I wanted most of that to go on production values. It had to look a certain way to match the landscape we shot in. So I fought for that and I didn’t want to do it unless we got a certain amount of money. In my own personal life I’m a pretty relaxed kind of guy. When I’m directing I’m the opposite [Laughs]. I’m a stubborn pig-headed son of a bitch. That’s why I couldn’t direct 365 days a year.

Appaloosa opens 12 March, or pick up the region 1 DVD online.

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