The Western and science fiction genres have often been intrinsically linked (Star Wars, Star Trek and more recently Firefly), but Jon Favreau’s current Cowboys & Aliens genre mash-up is perhaps the most obvious example of the trend, and is certainly one of the more high-profile.
Directed by Favreau (Iron Man) and starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde (among an equally stellar support-cast), C&A is essentially a straight Western that just happens to have aliens land in the middle of it. Released in cinemas on Wednesday, the film isn’t played for laughs, and instead strives to be equally effective as both a straight sci-fi film and a straight western. The principal cast, along with Favreau and writer Roberto Orci, sat down in London last week to talk to us about their vision.
“Well, I grew up watching sci-fi”, explains Favreau. “I was first exposed to the Western through science fiction, and this was a great opportunity to actually get to do a large scale Western, something which has fallen out of favour in recent years.”
For House star Olivia Wilde, it was more the strong female character that attracted her to the project. “It’s something I never thought I’d get to be a part of. I thought maybe the genre had died for the most part. I certainly didn’t think there’d be a female role in a Western that would be this interesting. Growing up watching Westerns I wanted to be Steve McQueen, I didn’t want to be the girls.” Wilde speaks of how fascinating she found doing the research, revealing that she had ancestors who were early settlers on the Western frontier. “I don’t know how long I’d have lasted”, she admits.
And Harrison Ford? “To be fair, I don’t really care what the genre is”, he drawls, entirely dead-pan, and with a dry-as-the-desert sense of humour, “I’m just in it for the money.” That wry-and-dry sense of humour is prevalent throughout the press conference, which is in stark contrast to his character in the film; something that – after initial scepticism – is what attracted him to the project. “When I read the screenplay, I was impatient with it. But I eventually became interested in the character. His [Favreau’s] intention to be committed to the Western and not do a tongue in cheek pop-culture mish-mash reassured me. He convinced me he was committed to the reality of the characters.” Favreau confirms the point; “The more ridiculous the premise, the straighter you have to play it.”
Favreau is an eloquent speaker, and bears obvious passion for the project. He also displays an in-depth knowledge of both film history and of the way the industry works today. “I really wanted to try my hand at something different. If you look at the films coming out of Hollywood this summer, there are a lot of sequels and remakes and superheroes… there are not a lot of chances being taken. I figured at this point in my career it was an opportunity to do something I felt very passionate about, even if it was a little off-beat and risky.”
“The challenge is to make something that’s emotionally compelling and comments on both genres. We were able to honour the traditions of both genres by combining them.” Indeed, the film does strike a good balance between the two, featuring enough staples of the each to keep fans of both genres happy.
Meanwhile, Daniel Craig relished the opportunity to play a cowboy – “I don’t get to ride many horses in Bond”, he notes – and is cast in the strong, silent mould of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. Craig encouraged his characters stoicism; “The more the character talked about how he felt about things, the less interesting he was. He was a man of action!” It made it easier for the screen-writers, Roberto Orci jokes, “You want fewer lines? Great!”
Cowboys & Aliens may not reignite the Western genre in Hollywood (although it will leave you wanting to watch a classic Western afterwards!), but there is certainly an undeniable thrill at seeing a fledging, wooden town being blown to smithereens by unknown, futuristic forces. The cast of big names brings a sense of class to proceedings, while Harrison Ford gives his best performance in years. If you like either genre, you’ll find much to enjoy here. And if you like both? Well, then this is a summer-blockbuster tailor made for you.
Watch the trailer…