Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig on Their Roles in Cowboys & Aliens
Hollywood legend Harrison Ford meets Bond star Daniel Craig in a Western with a difference. Rob Driscoll asks why they were a little reluctant about the project at first
WHEN Harrison Ford began reading the script for his latest movie Cowboys & Aliens, it’s fair to say he wasn’t too impressed.
Rumour has it that after the first 30 pages he threw the script across the room at his agent, saying: “There’s nothing in this for me!”
Now he’s all smiles and proud handshakes, however, attending the London premiere and meeting the press alongside his British co-star Daniel Craig and director Jon Favreau.
I decide to take my chances and remind the veteran action star of the classic Indiana Jones and Star Wars movies about his initial hesitation, to put it mildly, over the project.
“Well, I didn’t really know what I was reading,” says Ford, staring me fair and square in the eyes throughout his reply. “I was impatient with it for a bit until I had finished the script and then I became more interested in the character, and spoke to Jon about what tone he was looking for, and I was soon reassured.”
It’s hardly surprising that a talent as imposing and iconic as Ford might have some qualms over a movie called Cowboys & Aliens, which sounds like it could be a spoof send-up of genres.
In fact, this £100m summer blockbuster, executive produced by none other than Steven Spielberg, turns out to be a surprisingly solid and even serious Western adventure, which just happens to include the arrival of extra-terrestrial enemies halfway through the proceedings.
With Ford at his most irresistibly grumpy as the iron-fisted colonel of a desolate New Mexico desert town in the 1870s, combined with James Bond star Craig as a mysterious gunslinger who turns up with no memory of his past, and you have a classic Wild West scenario.
But there’s something sinister in the skies – marauding monsters screaming down with breath-taking velocity and blinding lights as they abduct the helpless one by one, challenging everything the small-town residents have ever known.
Once Ford realised that Jon Favreau – actor-turned-director of the smash-hit Iron Man movies – was treating the Western aspect of the movie with due respect, the 69-year-old actor took a more favourable reaction to the project in front of him.
“You can read the same words, and imagine different music, but Jon’s intention to be committed seriously to the Western rather than do a tongue-in-cheek, kind of pop mish-mash, is what reassured me – that and just getting to know what work he had already done,” says Ford, who made a guest appearance in the ’60s TV Western series The Virginian.
“On my first meeting 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 he was committed to the reality of the characters and the relationships of the characters, which is what makes my part work in the film.
Many of the characters I’ve played have been informed by Western archetypes. Han Solo is a gunslinger. Indiana Jones has a degree of a Western about it. So it’s what I grew up doing. I was always ambitious to make a Western, and I’m glad I finally got the chance.”
If Ford dithered over taking on the project, Craig needed a lot less persuasion to sign on the dotted line.
“I’ve always wanted to play a cowboy – it’s the stuff of boyhood dreams,” says the Chester-born actor who’s found international fame playing the world’s most famous secret agent in two hugely successful ‘re-booted’ Bond movies, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
“I rode on a horse every day, and I got paid to do it, so I couldn’t have been happier.”
“I saw the title, Cowboys & Aliens, and thought, ‘What the hell is this?’ You think, ‘OK, this is going to be a send-up, it’s going to be something funny.’ But actually, the script read straight.”
He’s certainly used to the rough-and-tumble of full-on action sequences playing 007, but how different were the physical demands of a Western?
“I don’t get to ride many horses in Bond – that was the main distinction, I guess,” says Craig. “Although I’m getting better at it, I’m no expert. So, a lot of what you see is my brilliant double and my brilliant stuntmen”
“Funnily enough, I picked up more bruises at the studio, when we got back to LA, than I did when we were on location in New Mexico. I think everything’s made of fibre glass in the studio, and that seems to scrape and bruise you worse than the real thing!”
Another ‘pinch-me’ aspect of the movie for Craig was the chance to work with Harrison Ford.
“I remember sitting in a cinema on my own as a kid watching Blade Runner, and thinking even then, ‘I want to work with that man!’ And then I did.”
The James Bond and Indiana Jones combo is clearly one of the big sells of Cowboys & Aliens. Away from the cameras, meanwhile, both Ford and Craig have recently married their actress partners – Calista Flockhart and Rachel Weisz respectively.
The fact that their press conference is introduced with the frosty announcement “No personal questions” means we’re not allowed to even go there, alas, which is probably just how the notoriously reticent Craig wants things.
Even on the set of the film, it appears that Craig is happier keeping as quiet as possible. During filming, he decided to reduce the amount of dialogue he had, as he thought it felt more appropriate to the genre and made his alter ego’s behaviour more believable.
“Isn’t there a legend that Clint Eastwood only has 11 lines in one of his movies?” asks Craig. “My character, Jake Lonergan, was initially more verbose, but I didn’t think he would talk about his feelings before he goes and starts shooting. I thought he’d just go and start shooting and maybe talk about it afterwards.”
“It was kind of a natural process. It kind of ended up being like that. I mean, I’m glad… as far as I’m concerned, the less I get to say the better! But the more the character talked about how he felt about things, the less real it seemed. What we did, I think, turned him into more of a man of action as opposed to a man of words.”
Harrison Ford, of course, has experienced both the action and sci-fi genre throughout his illustrious career.
Since movies like Star Wars and Blade Runner, the special effects have clearly become a lot more sophisticated. But he was pleased that Cowboys & Aliens wasn’t swamped by CGI (computer-generated imagery) trickery, and kept the alien invasion as credible as possible.
“Obviously, we now have the ability to replace a man in an alien suit with a computer-generated alien but what I was pleased with in Jon (Favreau) and his group’s creation of the alien is that it didn’t move like a man in an alien suit,” says Ford.
“They created a movement for the aliens that wasn’t humanoid, which was interesting. The danger of computer-generated graphics is that there’s a temptation by many directors to generate more than they need. Often when I do see films, they tend to lose human scale. And so if you get too much of any one thing, you begin to think about it.”
Cowboys & Aliens is in cinemas now