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Friday, 12 August 2011

"COWBOYS & ALIENS": THE LONDON PRESS CONFERENCE. PART ONE

The COWBOYS & ALIENS team come to town. L-R: Jon Favreau, Olivia Wilde, Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Roberto Orci. Images: Tim Whitby/Getty for PARAMOUNT PICTURES.

If real life extra-terrestrials came down to Earth I don’t know what they’d make of the concept of Tea and Cucumber sandwiches, but as a human it was very nice to indulge in such eating niceties at the swanky Claridges hotel in London’s West End, where the blockbuster stars and behind the scenes talents of the hit movie COWBOYS & ALIENS quickly converged for a lively and very enjoyable press conference for UK journalists (including little old me from AFICIONADO!), just prior to the film’s premiere later that evening (Thursday 11th August) at the O2 Arena at Docklands.

Here’s the first part of our transcript from the event:

Chris Hewitt - Host/ moderator: Nice easy one to start off with. This is going down the line to everybody. Which side of this movie appealed more to you? The cowboy’s side or the alien’s side?

Jon Favreau: Well, I grew up watching science fiction so I was first exposed to the western through science fiction. I grew up with STAR WARS. I was part of that generation and of course Lucas drew a lot of inspiration from Kurosawa. And Kurosawa drew a lot in inspiration from John Ford. And Spielberg is a huge fan of John Ford as well. And I think as you start to learn more about directing you learn to appreciate the western a lot more, and this was a wonderful opportunity to get to do a large scale western which has fallen out of favour for many years. So I think we all gathered around the notion of doing a western and that seemed liked a really unique opportunity.

Daniel Craig: I can’t answer intelligently as that. (Laughs) Probably the western. Though I’m a huge science fiction fan, I think I always wanted to play a cowboy.

Olivia Wilde: I would say western as well, because it was something I didn’t think I’d have a chance to be a part of.  I felt that the western genre had died for the most part and I certainly didn’t think that there would be a part in a western that would be this interesting, this tough, that I would have a chance to do. So I’d say the western is what got me.
Icon heroes together at last: Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford.
Harrison Ford: To be fair, I don’t really care what the genre is (Big audience laugh). I did it for the money (More laughs). No, I was playing a part of the western part of the story- that is really what attracted me. Uh, but it was a particular special character that I was attracted to (in Dolarhyde). And the opportunity to work with all these wonderful people was the other main draw for me.

Roberto Orci (Screenwriter): And I liked the idea of the mix. I’m a fan of both but we all felt the challenge and the fun of doing something we hadn’t seen before and mixing them very nakedly and very openly.

Questions open up to the press audience.

Press: Daniel, I want to regress you back to the summer of 1977 and what your 9-year-old self would have thought of the prospect of sharing the screen with Mister Ford?

DC: Well, the truth of it is… I don’t known when BLADE RUNNER came out. I went to the cinema-sat in the cinema on my own, because not many people went to the cinema that I went to- I had no idea what was playing and BLADE RUNNER  came on. So I thought, I’m gonna work with that man (Says humorously). And I did. (Laugh)

Press: A couple of questions for Miss Wilde. First of all, the western question followed by a science fiction question. Can you give us an idea of the craziness of the stunt where the aliens lasso you?  How you persuaded Mister Favreau to let you do that and exactly what was involved, because I can’t believe it was easy. And on the alien’s front, I’m told that you’re a Trekkie and that you have a deep desire to play Captain Kirk.
The lovely Olivia Wilde, who plays the mysterious Ella in the film.
OW: (Slightly surprised) Oh, well… (Laughs, asks Bob Orci) Bob, are you listening? Producer of TREK over there.  (Laugh) To the first question, the stunt. That was supposed to have been done by my great stunt double. And we started off with me on a mechanical horse which they did use in SEABISCUIT, but it looked way too slow in our movie and so I ended up getting on a real horse and Jon let me do it. And I didn’t have to convince him. Our Stunt Coordinator convinced him.  And he said I was confident I could pull it off and made me very proud. And I felt safe because Daniel was riding next to me and I galloped through two eight foot cranes-we (Olivia and Daniel) galloped through-and at one point, a bungee cord attached to my waist yanked me back forty feet into the air and the danger was that I would get suck it the stirrups, so my trick was to not get caught in the stirrups and get ripped in half. It was a lot of fun and it as amazing to be floating above the set and have this unusual perspective and there was our crew looking like little ants and there was this incredible desert, mountains and canyons around us. It just made me realize how adventurous it was to lug these giant machines and cameras out into the middle of nowhere and tell a story. It was really beautiful. And for the second question, I grew up watching STAR TREK with my family often.  And my sister was a Trekkie as well. There have been some great female characters in TREK over the years, and still are. There was Captain Janeway –she did it well. She had that voice I could never compete with, but I would love to play more powerful women in science fiction. I think what Sigourney Weaver did for women in science fiction was incredible and I think she set the standard. I love the genre and I’d love to do more of it.

JF: (To Olivia) Do you mind if we paint you green? (Jon imitates Captain Kirk) “What is kiss?” (Laughs) The episode I saw of STAR TREK there was a green woman saying, “What is kiss, Captain Kirk?” “Let me show you.” (Laughs)

Press:  A question for Daniel on influences from the past. When a stranger arrives in a western town you immediately think of Clint Eastwood. Do you go with that or try to fight it?

DC: You go with it. You wouldn’t try and fight that. I don’t really know what the question is. If you’re asking me whether or not I watched Clint Eastwood for this movie, yes I did. I watched everything else as well. Lots of John Wayne, BUTCH AND SUNDANCE… I’m reeling off lots of westerns now. But yes, I kinda stole everything I could, but nothing specific.

CH: Jon and Roberto, I gather Steven Spielberg gave you a starter pack of westerns. What was in that pack?

JF: Well, the first thing was that when I, with Steven and Bob and Alex (Kurtzman (co-writer) sat in Steven’s conference room for the first time which, for those of you who haven’t been there, is a very intimidating place-small, and there’s the actual sled from CITIZEN KANE which says “Rosebud” hanging above your head. So if it’s not intimidating when you have the most important and powerful director in the world you’re looking at the most powerful and important prop in the world, too. There’s not a l to look at intimidating to look at other than Bob’s eyes, so we shared a lot of looks. We had the meeting-it went very well- and at the end Steven said to us, “I have a restored print of THE SEARCHERS and do you guys want to take a look at it with me?” And I said, I think that we could schedule that (laugh), and he screened it for us and talked us through THE SEARCHERS giving a very interesting perspective on it. Our start gift was an iPad- this new fangled contraption at the time- with classic westerns filled with movies from STAGECOACH to UNFORGIVEN. And it was great pre-production every night we’d watch another western. It was a bit of Directing School as well as a fun movie experience.

CH: Roberto, did that starter pack help shape the script in any way?

RO: Absolutely, we had to go back to school in a way. We wanted to make sure that we treated the western seriously –that part of what interested us was the challenge of making it not a joke but making it a genuine piece for real story and real emotion, and so the westerns have that. It was a pleasure to go back to school in that way.

Press: For Harrison Ford. You’re character starts off as quite feared, almost as if he was the villain. Was that more fun to play than the hero?

HF: I don’t know if it was any more fun. I just played an interesting character in the telling of the story overall. Uh... it was fun. I didn’t know where it was going as I read along in the script but I was pleased by what I read and thought it was something different for me to do.

Press. For the whole panel. Have you got a favourite western film of all time and/ or a favourite sci-fi film of all time?

JF: I guess you call it a western-THE SEVEN SAMURAI I consider a western structurally and as far as the characters. It’s one of those films where every time you watch it you see something new in it.

DC: LITTLE BIG MAN is probably my favourite western. ALIEN.

OW: I’d say BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDAY KID and ALIEN.

HF: I’m gonna opt out on this (Audience laughs).  I don’t uh…I don’t watch movies! (Audience laughs a lot)

RO: I’m gonna say THE FRISCO KID and STAR WARS. (Audience laughs).

HF: That’s why! (More laughs)

PRESS: Daniel, this was a physically more demanding role. Was it more so than BOND? Did you pick up more bruises and grazes from this than playing 007?

DC: It was just different. I don’t get to ride many horses on BOND, so that was really the main distinction. No more than usual (on the injuries). There was a more I can do this in the horse riding-I’m getting better at it, but I’m no expert on it. A lot of what you see in the film is brilliant doubles and stuntmen. Funnily enough, I picked up more bruises at the studio when we got back to LA than when we were out on the filming. I think everything is made out of some fiberglass, which can sprain and bruise you like the real thing.

PRESS: Mister Ford, I gather you that you weren’t too keen on the project when you first heard about it. What would you say changed your mind? And was it because the title sounded a bit jokey- a romp- rather than a more serious western, and an alien movie?

HF: Well I didn’t really know what I was reading. I was impatient with it a bit and until I talked to finish the script I became more interested in the character. And speaking to Jon about what tone he was looking for with the film that I was reassured. But you can read the same words and imagine different music. His intention to be committed seriously to the western rather than tongue-in-cheek pop mish-mash was what reassured me. That and just getting to know his… uh…what work he had already done. The first meeting I had with Jon he showed me a lot of graphics that had been developed showing the look and feel of the thing. But he also made it clear to me that there was... that he was committed to the characters and the relationships of the characters, which is what makes my part work in the film.

CH to JF: You talk about the tone. It does have this very serious, straight down the middle, serious western tone, which I found fascinating. Talk about the decision to stick with that.

The multi-talented film-maker Jon Favreau.
JF: Well, the movie's called COWBOYS & ALIENS and we thought long and hard if that should be the title that we keep. That was the title of the graphic novel. And it certainly made me curious when I read the script. The script had been developed a long time. I think they tried for a while to make it into a comedy. I have a comedy background and the first rule is that the more ridiculous the premise the more serious you have to play it in otherwise its a joke on a joke. And I think there’s something refreshing when I speak to the British Press. There’s an expression that you have here- “It does what its says on the tin”- and I think there’s a certain integrity to that. And there’s an irony intrinsic to the title that we try to support by presenting both genres with a pretty straight face and let the juxtaposition of them create the absurdity and the comedy. But the characters should never know that they are making people laugh, or if the situation’s absurd they should be playing it to the hilt of their reality. And I think you’re going to see it a lot more-it’s been a part of the comic book culture for a while, this specific tone, where you let the irony of the situation play the comedy. You’ll see a wave of it in films coming soon, something called ABE LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES. These are real titles and hopefully they play them dead on otherwise I’m gonna be really upset. If you play ABE LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER for laughs you’re gonna have big problems: you’ll last about five minutes. The challenge is actually to make something emotionally compelling that comments on both genres by combining the two and what I’m most proud of  (with COWBOYS & ALIENS) is that these are real characters, with real stakes and we seem to be able to honour the traditions of both genres that we respect greatly while combining the two. Its been done in music for a long time with mash-ups, and even with cuisine oddly. And so it’s a way to bring a new voice of a generation, to something you respect, and most importantly do something original. After doing the two IRON MAN films I really wanted to try my hand at something different and if you look at the films coming out of Hollywood this summer there are a lot of things that are remakes and superheroes-there are not a lot of chances being taken and I figured at this point in my career there was an opportunity to do something I felt passionate about, even if it was a little off-beat and risky, and so we’re seeing a group of people up here who worked on something that they believed in and that was a bit different. And that was part of the appeal of the whole thing.

PRESS: Leading on from that question. We are seeing a raft of movies that do have their origins in things like multi media and comic books. Is that because we now have a generation in Hollywood that grew up with those rather than perhaps looked down on it as a format to start with?

JF: I think its really about marketing to be honest with you. As online theft is becoming more predominant you don’t have a DVD market that is worthwhile anymore and everything is about being in the theatre. And in the theatre the people who come out are teenagers mostly. And so everything is geared towards content that’s going to appeal to the youth audience. It’s always been the case but now it’s especially the case. And there’s a tremendous amount of competition for the few months where people are out of school. And you have a few weeks around the holidays as well. And so young people respond to branded content more than to movie stars or than to directors. It becomes about products that they already have relationships with. Like superheroes, like toys, like board games, sequels. And it’s an event to go the movies for young people. They do it communally. So you’re seeing...there’s still a rich product coming out of the entertainment industry but its being spread out across the Internet. The independent film world, I think, is slowly being replaced by what’s on television-you’ve seen a lot of rich wonderful content. Following, I might add, the BBC model, of less episodes and more complete storylines, and so you’re seeing shows like MAD MEN, GAME OF THRONES, THE WIRE, BREAKING BAD. It’s a real golden age for adults but that R rated content now exists more on the small screen so its very difficult to take a chance if you’re going to use the big canvas of a mainstream film, especially foe something like a western. And that’s why we really appreciated the opportunity not just to do this but to be 2-D on film and in anamorphic. To do something to introduce young viewers to the western that we really respect. It's part of our heritage. So for us its fun to do something a lot of people want to see but its fun to challenge ourselves and try to buck the trend in many ways. And every time I’ve taken a chance it’s always paid off in one way or another, from the time I did SWINGERS all the way to now. I feel like this was a big challenge and I’m really happy I took it on.  I’m very proud of what we have here and I’m happy to share it with these people tonight at the 02.

To be continued...

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