Q I know the screen writer wrote the character with you in
mind and said he was not sure if you had another movie, but I
gather that you agreed very quickly after you'd read the script?
A. Very quickly. I know they were writing it for me and I kept telling my agent to get back to them. I knew it had to be a Western and when I read it and I'd say within two or three hours I called back and I said: "I'm in, if you want me."
Q What was it about the script that attracted you?
A. Always the part first. I knew I understood that kind of guy, back to the days on my uncle's ranch when I was a kid in Northern Montana.
I was always around these cattle men and cowboys. The Western is ours. You have Shakespeare, but the Western is ours, and I knew I could play that guy, and they wrote it for me, and it just was a wonderful reaction I had to the part and to the script because everybody wants to do Westerns.
Q. But not many of them are made these days?
A. Its kind of a sporadic thing, I think. When it comes along, everybody loves them, and then they don't, and they say well will they come again. So not a lot, not a lot.
Q. Now I gather that you might have never got into the movie
because there was an accident on the way?
A. Well that was two months before. Yeah, I got bucked off a horse, and I broke six ribs. Because the horses 100 years ago were between 12 and 14 hands. They were small.
I had a beautiful roan quarter horse that was broken well, but when he got back to my farm, in Virginia, he started bucking one day, and because a small horse has a fast action, I was on the ground so hard and so fast that I was just like, out of it, and for six weeks I was trying not to sneeze!
I mended in time and I even took my physical examination still with the broken ribs for insurance purposes for Canada, but thank goodness it happened two months before, or I couldn't have done the movie. It was a bit of a red flag at first.
Q. And were you nervous about getting back on a horse again?
Q. A touch. Fifteen years ago - no. When I was in Lonesone Dove, I was riding two or three hours a day, but they have very good cowboys and very good ranchers in Western Canada, and they picked me out a nice horse - 'The Blues Brothers', so you know, it was OK.
Q. In the course of your career you've worked with many fine
actors and great directors. I wonder how Kevin Costner compares
in both those capacities?
A. As a director?
Q. And as an actor
A. Well, he's a professional actor and, as a director, he has a vision and he comes in with his vision and then we step up and do we do.
He's like any other director, really. It's not that unique that he's an actor. Usually, it seems like there's uniqueness when they are actors and become directors, but he's like many other professional directors.
He has a vision and you come in and you fit in. He definitely had a tack on this Western he wants to do, and that's kind of his genre to direct. They are original, but still imitations of films I feel that went before, rather than the true West, but he knows how to do that well.
Q. His character often defers to your character on screen.
I wonder if the positions were reversed, in reality, or how that
worked? Did he allow you a lot of latitude to develop things in
the way you saw fit?
A. Some. Not anymore than other people. Not deferment wise. It was a collaborative thing, though.
Q. Do you not a favourite Western yourself?
A. Yes. My favourite was the one I was in, Lonesome Dove, the mini-series. Let the English play Hamlet and King Lear and I'll play Augustus McRae. That was my Hamlet.
Q. Apart from one in which you yourself have appeared, are
there particular types of Western that appeal to you?
A. The ones that ring truest to their era, that represent the good horsemen, the good workers, the good range men. True to life - those are the ones I like the best, the ones that represent life itself the best.
Q. It's a very colourful character you play in this film.
It reminds me of Lucky Ned Pepper all those years ago in True
Grit. Was it in any way comparable to doing a film like this with
Costner to working on a traditional John Wayne all those years
A. Somewhat. But, once again, my favourite was Lonesome Dove, and I think that was my best work.
Lucky Ned Pepper - that was very difficult working with that kind of director in those days, when if you looked at the ground they'd cut and say 'what are you looking at?'
So it was not that easy a film to do (True Grit) although it was wonderful working with John Wayne.
But I feel I am a better actor than I was then, and whatever I can bring to either part from what I learned as a boy on my uncle's ranch in Northern Montana.
By the way, the best cowboy my uncle ever had was a Scottish imigrant. So I learned a lot from those days.
Hopefully, now I can carry a sense of that wisdom, that these kinds of characters have on to the screen, better than I could when I was a younger actor, kind of fighting with an old school director who wanted a proscenium so to speak.
Q. I remember when we did a press conference with you some
years ago on The Apostle, and you talked about your love of the
tango. You've done a movie about the tango since we last saw you.
Can you tell us a bit about that and will we see it over here
in the UK?
A. Well I don't know if it has been distributed. The Assassination Tango. It's a small film.
We went to Argentina and my way of working is, I would like to think, a little bit like Kenneth Loach's, who I admire very much as a director.
I'd rather take a tango dancer and make them an actor, than take an actor and make them a tango dancer, cause the Argentines are wonderful natural actors.
So I just roll the camera and use subtitles, because they were wonderful actors, so we improvised some and we found a way of working, because once you get non-actor to a certain level, they'll put the professional actor on notice I feel and be just as pure.
That's the way I like to work as a director. We didn't really work that way in this movie, like that on the western, but the films that I've done I like to work that way.
Q. You mentioned earlier about Westerns coming in and out
of favour and genres coming round again. There are three in fairly
quick concession. Open Range, The Missing
and The Alamo. I just wondered if
there was something in the air if you like that prompts a revival
of a genre like this?
A. I think people will always welcome the Western. I have a modern day Western and a period Western that I want to do in the near future, so there's always room. The Alamo is a historic thing. Once again, its our genre. So there's always room for the Western. I think The Missing, this year, was well done by Ron Howard. I think it was one of his best films so there's always room.
Q. What was it like to work with Michael Jetta?
A. Fine. He was very polite and very professional and very nice to work with. Very pleasant.
Q. Despite your enthusiasm for acting, do we get the impression
that maybe somewhere tucked within you, is the desire to have
perhaps have lived in the time of the Western?
A. Well I always say that if we lived 100 years ago, it would be difficult to get from 6am to 6pm with no electricity, no lights, no coffee, so no I don't think I would have wanted to live then.
I like living when I do now, but I have respect for the past and the West and after the Civil War, all of those returning veterans from the confederacy, they had no homes, so they went west and all those cowboys came from the cavalry, particularly from the South, and naturally they got into the life of being a cowboy.
Had I lived then, maybe so, or maybe if a weren't an actor now I'd be a rancher. My uncle always said I could have been a rancher had I chosen to be that.
Q. It's rare that we are treated to an extraordinarily accurate depiction of gun fighting as we did in this movie. Can you tell us something about shooting that sequence? The complexity, the choreography, etc.
A. Yeah, they worked on that for over three weeks, I believe. They tried to make it as realistic as possible, and, as I say, we spent the better part of three weeks on that.
Not every day, but Kevin choreographed it and tried to make it as realistic as possible, and it was clumsy at times, and bloody here and there, but it was well thought out, with good stunt men, and regular actors. It was a well thought out process and pretty interesting I thought, the final result of that gun battle.
Q. A recent poll voted your 'I love the smell of Napalm in
the morning' speech as the most memorable speech in film history.
Do you get asked to repeat it at various occasions?
A. Yes Sir. And whenever they come up to me, it's like only they know and I know the line. No one else in the world knows it.
When I was doing research for The Apostle, all the preachers would say, 'oh, I heard he had a great line that I love the smell of gasoline in the morning'.
He missed the whole point but people do come up to me and yes it's a pretty famous line.