1875. New Mexico Territory. A stranger (Daniel Craig) with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don’t welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). It’s a town that lives in fear. But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known. Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation. As this gunslinger slowly starts to remember who he is and where he’s been, he realizes he holds a secret that could give the town a fighting chance against the alien force. With the help of the elusive traveller Ella (Olivia Wilde), he pulls together a posse comprised of former opponents – townsfolk, Dolarhyde and his boys, outlaws and Apache warriors – all in danger of annihilation. United against a common enemy, they will prepare for an epic showdown for survival. ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ will be hitting cinemas July 29th 2011 in the US, and August 12th in the UK.
For the most part, both Westerns and Sci-Fi have existed quite separately for some time now, what is it about the genre mash-up that makes it fresh for you?
Olivia Wilde: What they have in common, Westerns and Sci-Fi, it’s the idea of the unknown, battling the unknown. People who are sort of pioneers. Westerns are often settlers who have gone out west, that are very brave people for wondering out into this unknown territory – that’s the same with Sci-Fi too, people exploring and coming up against unknown adversaries, that‘s what binds them together. For me it makes sense they come together, but it has to be done with the right technique. I think that is why it was important to have Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer on board, they REALLY know film, they really know how to bring these separate genres to their best quality – and also to meld them together. Jon Favreau is a master of tone, he knows how to make it consistent, and also to keep it grounded it reality.
Initially what was it about this film that enticed you?
Olivia Wilde: I was drawn in by the people involved and the originality of the material. I loved that it was going to be such a challenge, it was such an interesting and new idea. The originality of the material really drew me in, this is a big, giant, event film. I thought “wow, they’re coming up with this new idea, mashing together two genres no-one had considered……mashable before.” I thought it was a really good idea. I loved the way it was being approached, with a real reverence to the Western genre. It’s sort of a mix between ‘Unforgiven’ and ‘Close Encounters,’ that really drew me in, that it was a serious take on this idea, with a lot of comedy of course, Jon Favreau is directing, he’s always got a really good whit to the dialogue.
How does you character Ella fit into the story?
Olivia Wilde: Ella is the female member of this Cowboy posse, riding out to find their people who have been snatched up by mysterious beings – they think they’re demons. She has sort of slinked into town unnoticed, she’s very mysterious, she’s wearing a gun. She’s not a Cowgirl, a ranch-handler, a prostitute, she’s something else. She’s very intrigued by Daniel Craig’s blaster that he is wearing, this mysterious bracelet thing. She needs something from him, so we immediately wonder if she has dark intentions, whether she means to manipulate him for good, or for evil. It’s an intriguing character because you don’t actually figure out her big secret until the end of the movie. She’s just as ballsy as the boys, she’s very important in their journey, she becomes their magic weapon, she brings together the two groups in Cowboys and Indians, she becomes the peacemaker, allows them to join forces to face a common enemy.
That storyline of people who wouldn’t generally be working together, having to come together, it gives it such a human element.
Olivia Wilde: Yes! It’s the lesson we need to learn, humanity needs to learn that. This film is about occupying foreign lands, killing the people there, and using them and manipulating them. That’s still happening today, it’s certainly happened in our history. It’s something we need to learn from. I hope people come out of the movie realising that we have to work together to make the world a better place, in so many ways.
It kind of shows the ridiculousness of the differences between the Cowboys and the Indians. They find a common bond in their love for their families. That makes them realise they’re all human, which is something we all need to realise today.
How was it working with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, the whole ensemble in fact, it’s quite an esteemed cast put together?
Olivia Wilde: Unbelievable, I couldn’t believe I was sitting anywhere near them. I learnt a lot of Harrison and Daniel, also from Jon Favreau as well, I’m an aspiring director so watching him very closely was really interesting for me. Watching people like Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano, who took smaller characters and made such meals out of them – I think Rockwell’s is my favourite character in the movie. I just felt very lucky to sit with all of these people who have loved Westerns too, John Wayne’s grandson is in the movie, Brendon Wayne, we felt that was a good omen for the project (laughs). So many great character actors, Walt Goggins, an extraordinary, funny performance.
I remember our first table read, we were sitting in the old Western town that we ended up blowing up, I looked around the table and I thought, “wow, this is major, this is special.” Everybody was very committed, they embraced the language, they embraced the history, and the tone – and that’s why I think it’s ultimately successful.
What was your favourite and most challenging part about shooting?
Olivia Wilde: Probably riding, riding with the rest of the Cowboys across the desert. It’s challenging, we were really galloping, with guns on our hips. The whole process was a challenge, you’re working with cameras, Horses don’t like cameras (laughs). You have to work around that. It was all so thrilling, the stunts were really challenging but really thrilling too, there was not a dull day on this project.
How was the training with the Horses?
Olivia Wilde: The day I was cast I was like, “when do I get on a Horse?” It was about three months before we started shooting and I drove out into the middle of nowhere, in California, and I started riding hours everyday, riding Western, I’d grew up riding English, but I’d never ridden Western. It was a learning process for me, I threw myself into it, I wanted to be really confident on the Horse – because this is a woman who has been riding her entire life, there’s an effortless to it that I really wanted to capture. When you watch old Westerns you can tell John Wayne has been riding a Horse since he was four years old, he hardly has to move, he’s not holding onto the horn desperately (laughs). I wanted it to be realistic, I wanted to tell Jon, “let me do all of my own stunts.”
I remember one amazing day when Daniel and I were galloping across this field, we were going as fast as we possibly could, it was this moment that I realised the enormity of the entire experience and how blessed we were – and how cool it was (laughs). That shot is in the movie and I love it! You can tell we’re really flying across the field.