Either you get Cowboys & Aliens or you don't. It's quite a title and certainly something many established actors could have shied away from. Harrison Ford, who stars in the film, wasn't sure about taking on the role at first because he didn't get it.
We got a chance to sit down with Ford and co-stars Olivia Wilde and Daniel Craig at the Paws Up Ranch in Missoula, Mont., to talk about how each got involved with the film, women in sci-fi and flying cowboys.
For some actors, joining a film like this would be a decision based on a love of the genres. Maybe a desire to work with director Jon Favreau. Maybe even a chance to work with the rest of the cast. For Harrison Ford, it was another reason entirely. "Well, I told my agent that, one of these days, I wanted to be in a movie that people wanted to go see," said Ford. "One that appeals to what's left of the movie audience. He said, 'I've got one,' and he said that the title was Cowboys & Aliens."
Still, it wasn't that simple for Ford. He continued, "I read about 30 pages and said, 'I don't get it. I don't think that there's anything in this for me.' He [Ford's agent] said, 'Well, I thought you were into doing a movie that people wanted to go see.' I said, 'All right, I'll finish it,' and I read the rest of it. It was ambitious, I thought. I said, 'Why don't I go talk to Jon?' and then I met with Jon Favreau. I was impressed by what he had to say and his collegial spirit. I met the writers, and they made it clear that it was still a work in progress. I met Daniel [Craig], who was very generous about sharing a bit more space for the character. Then I began to see an opportunity to play a different kind of character than I'm used to. To enjoy the pleasures of having a character where you don't have to have anybody like you. It's a chance to really attempt to bring in some texture to the piece. I had a great time. So I said, 'I'm in. This should be fun.' And it was."
So you've got Han Solo/Indiana Jones in the film. Who do you get to match a name like Harrison Ford? James Bond, of course! Daniel Craig told us he was a fan of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Aliens and taked about his initial reaction to the title Cowboys & Aliens.
"I'm a fan of those movies, but that didn't make me immediately kind of go, 'I want to do a movie about cowboys and aliens,'" he said, laughing. "I loved the fact that I got the script and it said Cowboys & Aliens, and I was like, 'Oh, okay, here we go.' And the movie actually took me somewhere else when I read it. And that's hopefully what we tried to achieve here. There's going to be preconceptions about the title, but actually we've done an authentic western and tried to bring, well, there's a great bunch of actors in this movie, but some real characters together that deal with this incredible thing. When the $#@! hits the fan, hopefully you're caring about them."
To people in this time period, aliens are demons and flying is a dream. They just didn't have the frame of reference for creatures from space. They certainly didn't have planes. It's not exactly a sci-fi culture out there on the plains in the 19th century. Craig talked about the moment his character flies for the first time and the shock that came along with that.
"You kind of trying to base everything in reality, therefore the reactions are going to be kind of as real as they can be, and then, hopefully, there's some humor comes out of it, because it's like 'WTF just happened?,'" said Craig. "These people are kind of 1870, I imagine, people in the west weren't really thinking about life on other planets. ... I'm sure the concept of it had gone through people's minds. People have fallen off cliffs before, they were flying for a moment, but it's not the same. [Laughter] Douglas Adams' books, they say: flying is just falling over and missing the ground. It was trying to keep it as real just as possible." Does it make anyone else insanely happy to hear Craig quoting Douglas Adams?
For Craig, the title of the film is the only thing that Cowboys & Aliens doesn't take seriously. "I think the title is the sendup and then it was our job not to send it up," he said. "And we all agreed about that, and that was certainly one of the reasons I did the job. We weren't winking every time something happened. It's a kind-of risk, but you have to go for it, when you make a movie, you have to take that risk. I think the easy way out is to make a gag every time something extraordinary happens. I think it's funnier to get people reacting in a real way, like we were discussing. Then it becomes funny because of situation as opposed to sort of bullying the audience into laughing. It was funny, the first time I saw Blade Runner I saw it double-bill with Outland. And Outland is a western, it's Sean Connery and people. They blend. They do blend, and they always have. For Chrissakes, Han Solo's a cowboy." We couldn't agree more.
Olivia Wilde has made a career of playing women in sci-fi, and she couldn't be happier. She gave us her feelings about how the genre is a perfect place to find strong female roles.
"I grew up as a Trekkie, which is really funny," she said. "I think on Star Trek they were always great female roles, but there's no reason the captain shouldn't be a woman. I think we could do Captain Kirk as a woman. I'm really glad they're doing Alien again, because Alien had a huge effect on me as an actor, and Sigourney is someone I look up to very much. I think that's really cool, that that's happening. Hopefully that'll continue to happen. I think there's some great sci-fi films in the works that have some really interesting female roles. It takes people really taking risks and understanding that the public will go see a movie starring a woman. There's this strange idea that the public won't go see female-driven movies, that they won't pay as much money for it. I don't think that's true; I think they will, and I think Sigourney proved that. Similarly in comedy, Kristen Wiig has just proven that. We're moving forward, and hopefully I'll get to do more sci-fi roles and take on more of the burden on my shoulders in terms of playing the lead as opposed to the wise, helpful female sidekick."
Cowboys & Aliens opens in theaters on July 29, 2011.