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Open Range - Kevin Costner Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. The gunfight happens very late in the film. Were you trying to re-define violence in the movie, or were you simply putting it off?
A.
I wasn't trying to put it off. The staple of the Western is that you've got to have the gunfight and I promised that I will.
I just like to invest in the characters and the story. The plot swings on a very quiet moment, you know, maybe one that's not even recognisable to whoever watches it, which is simply that the open range creates the plot of the movie.
It gets the wagon stuck, the wagon can't move, the cattle scatter and clearly its going to take five to six days to gather up these animals, which was a historical event.
The West is not fairy tale, it's what happened, and in doing that, they realised that they are going to have to get supplies, and so when one man leaves to town, that's when the shoe drops, ever so quietly, but it drops and during that time we get to know these characters.
Hopefully, that's what I like to invest in, who they are and their sense of humour, and also try to create moments of violence.
But potential violence can be as satisfying as violence. For instance, when the four men appear on the hill, with their faces covered like cowards, they are very threatening; there's the awesome promise of violence at that moment, and in this movie we resist creating a gunfight there, we simply have them evaporate over the hill and by doing that, in a way it's creepier.
It's creepy when people kind of loom over you, and out of that comes the common sense between the two other characters, that they should go and meet this violence head on, and, of course, they go find him in the trees and I think that the way men arbitrate their problems there is quite interesting.
I styled that scene a little bit after the Oxbow Incident, where they come upon those horse thieves, and how Robert Duvall takes charge at that particular moment, but I think the threat of violence always existed in the West, simply because men wore guns and that threat existed, and so the shoot out will always be the staple of the Western.
If you don't have it, you don't really have a Western - you have some other genre. So I did want to put my stamp on the violence.
I wanted to show the vulgarity of violence. I wanted to show the chaos of it. I didn't necessarily want to do it in slow motion, or in close up.
I wanted you to feel the ground between the combatants, because often, if you feel the ground between me and a person against the wall, you can tell the ballet that exists there has a real kind of ugliness to it, and certainly when Charlie kills the man whose holding Sue, he does it at a point blank range, and I kind of wanted to debunk the theory of the hero - that Charlie is willing to shoot somebody in the foot, he's willing to draw first, he's willing to shoot somebody point blank.
He's even willing to kill a mortally wounded man with the idea that he doesn't want to face him again, but I think what happens is, because we've invested in who Charlie is, as a character, we don't actually hold that against him, we've actually come to realise that he's been trying to tell us who he is.
But, of course, when Sue sees it point blank, she's a little horrified and that's what Charlie didn't want to reveal.

Q. After quiet a lot of negative reaction to The Postman, did you feel the need to prove yourself with Open Range?
A.
I wasn't aware of how The Postman was received. I liked Postman, but I'm a realist and know that there were some that didn't, and a lot of people who did, but it won't ever be considered a commercial success but there might be a revisionist view of it someday, with people who look at it for what it is, and how it was done, but I've not been really in step with trying to anticipate what's the smartest move to make, what's in vogue in terms of commercial.
What would be the easiest, simplest step. In my own country, the genre is just not well thought of, and I go and make it.
If my career is up against the wall, which I don't believe that it is, but if someone would see it that way, and I can see why they might, they'd just want to go 'why Kevin, why would you make a Western?'
I just believe in the genre. I am also a realist. I don't feel I need to make it for the mass audience, although I do believe it could find a mass audience.
I believe it has an entertainment value and I made it for that reason. I didn't make it as a valentine to myself, or to the West. I made it as a really solid piece of entertainment.

Q. Your film reminds me a lot of Lonesome Dove and Robert Duvall was in that. Was there any kind of indicator from that part that you thought would make him excellent in this role?
A.
No, but clearly he was great in that particular piece and I gave him top billing in this particular movie.
I needed for the Boss character to be the age he was. I needed someone to be formidable and there are only a few actors that can carry that kind of formidability into a role and I felt the role was a big enough departure from Lonesome Dove that Robert would be attracted to it.
Clearly, I am not going to suggest that there's no connection - its not like he's unrecognisable to that part. Certainly he fits it like a glove.
This story is different and I felt that he would understand the sense of humour that I would have wanted for that character and the sense of authority, and he would be a character that Charlie, who is clearly a dominating, aggressive kind of character, would yield to and have the respect for.
They have a very interesting relationship, those two, in their age difference. There was a lot of respect, at least that's what I wanted to convey.
It was on the page and I thought Bob would understand how to do that and he did. I mean, there's a scene in the cafe, where I don't even say a word, when he does all the talking and I think it's really appropriate and he was very happy to do this role.

Q. Kevin, you spend a lot of the film getting very wet and very muddy which must have presumably brought about its own problems. Could you mention those?
A.
It did, yeah. We flooded the town and one of the reasons I wanted to deal with that was because I felt it wasn't born to the film.
For instance, it did create our plot turn. I think one of our obligations in the Western is to slow people down. Not to slow the movie down, so it's not entertaining, but that they actually start to create the dilemmas that you realised people faced.
I mean, the West is not a fairy tale. It was settled by Europeans, it was settled by resourceful people. It was settled by incredibly violent people and sociopaths.
Right across the board, the awesome promise of the West was fuelled by people who didn't even share the same language, and when you combine that with the weather, there are a lot of things that can kill you in the West.
Rivers, swollen rivers and even in the town, if you notice there's a big rut going down the street, I put that in because I just wanted to point out that these little cities are also not fairytale cities.
They became the Chicago's. They became St. Louis. But they were often built in the wrong spot. Nature tells us where to build, and so for those guys it was an ordeal just to figure out how to get a cup of coffee.
I just hope that those moments are kind of engaging for people. You don't dwell on it, but see the difficulty involved.
Then you come into the cafe itself, with its French roots, and you see that the whole town is in there because, of course, these people wanted to be social with each other. You'll notice there were women in there ,but there weren't women in the saloon, so you know I thought that the rain dictated the same way as in a haunted house, when you're always wondering 'how come these people don't get out of this scary house?'
In this instance, you realise that the rain created elements where, they can't go anywhere else, they can't really get very far, and, in actuality, you want to place yourself 150 years back and simply realise that it's very easy to track somebody in the mud.
You can't really hide. It's like trying to walk away in the snow. So there was one moment, actually, that was cut out of the film, where you actually see the bad guys tear down the telegraph wires and that's simply to actually cut off all communication for what they are going to do. No one seemed to understand that that's what they were doing.
It's funny how something that's written down, and you think as a director, that would play very logically. It also makes the bad guy smart. That's one reason why Sir Michael Gambon is in my movie.
I liked the idea of Robert Duvall's character coming up against somebody very formidable. I don't like movies where the hero is knocking down a buffoon, you know. So yes, the rain was a character and it was an element that everyone who came to the West had to deal with and, it killed people.

 

Q. At the time of Dances with Wolves you said you thought you were born 30 years too late with the kind of movies you wanted to make. You've given us a really good Western now. Are there other types of movies that you'd like to make?
A.
I probably came 30 years too late for the industry too! I'm not a sequel guy. I'm not doing it exactly right, this trying to stay on top thing.
I don't feel any special pressure to revive the Western or to set it straight, or to finally give a history lesson.
I think a movie really has to wrap itself up in entertainment and a Western is a very hard thing to do because most people think of it as a simple art form.
They even think of the time as being simple when, in fact, I would argue that it is not. We are in a time that is much more simple.
For example, if you have a problem, a real problem, you can get the police to handle it. Or if you have a problem, you can get a lawyer, or an agent, or a PR person to actually put a spin on a real bad situation, or your behaviour when in fact, in the West, you had to arbitrate your problems yourself.
You often found yourself in a moral position where it put you outside the law. That is not a cliché, it was fact of life, every day.
Because we know that powerful people usually control the law, and people who control the law, if they are not incredibly evolved, and most people are not, then they begin to distort the law for their own uses and when they do that, small people get stepped on and those small people either accept it, but then there's always those few, sometimes like a Charlie or a Boss who can't abide that at a certain point.
And Charlie, who is clearly equipped to actually handle violence, you see early on that he is not sure that starting this violence with these men over cows is really worth it, being a man who has seen a lot of violence, but because his friend can't abide by that they have a relationship that is forged.
These relationships were forged ever so quietly, as you realise the men don't even know that much about each other.
They simply know they can trust each other and I think that's where the Western's real appeal is. It's a very refreshing quality to know that the man or the woman to the left or right of you will stand by you in the most critical of times, and I think that will always be the appeal of Westerns.

Q. Your movie tackles some of the classic themes from Westerns but at several points in the story it goes in a different direction than films like "High Noon" and "Shane". Is that something you were very conscious of doing? Of being revisionist?
A.
Not revisionist. I'm only being revisionist in the sense when I think human behaviour has been avoided. I didn't make Dances as a revisionist piece, I simply acknowledged that these people had a sense of humour and could be worried about things, could be confused, have different opinions about the very same thing.
For instance, in Dances, the two Indians, when they discover the white guy at the fort, they have very different opinions of him.
One's thought it that he must be an incredibly powerful guy, probably their best warrior, because who with any sense is going to send just one guy out unless he's completely a bad ass.
And then the other thinks, bullshit this guy is lost. This guy is out here by himself. He's an idiot, and that I found could be very charming and also very realistic and not revisionist at all.
I just addressed how men look at things when they don't have any kind of reference, and a native culture running into white people has no reference, they have a culture and so they begin to apply it to their own.
In Open Range, it's just as important for me to know that, for instance, the Annette Bening character, that she noticed that a man would pick up mud from her carpet.
There is not a lot for her to look at in her life, and she's clearly made up her mind that she is not going to settle for the most powerful, or the best guy in the town.
Something has happened in her life that we didn't explore on camera, but that she is going to wait for some kind of love and the Charlie character, it's not what he says, it's what he does.
I tried to invest in the little details of things. Something that sets the tone for the movie in a language is when Robert Duvall's character says to this younger boy: "A man's trust is a valuable thing Button. It's worth more than a handful of cards."
That sentiment, to me, is not a Western sentiment, that's a sentiment that probably fathers have told sons about through every century, in terms of what to look for in a man and maybe how to behave.
So from a revisionist stand point - no, I just tried to simply invest in behaviour.
For instance, when the boy is messing around while two men are working hard behind a wagon, that's probably happened in every century too, and I think that if you are not afraid of those moments, and I think most people actually are, because they don't think they are entertaining, or that they have any value, because they are not driving a plot forward, then I think that's where I fall out of step.
I happen to think those are good moments and they end up adding up to something where it becomes a character where you don't want to see killed.
You have invested in him as a person, so I like that, and the moments I like in some of the movies and some of the directors you are talking about are clearly when behaviour really reveals itself.
Because all those movies that I really love, Searchers, Liberty Bound, they are flawed, just as Dances is flawed, just as Open Range is flawed. It's when it's not flawed, where there become moments and things that you never ever forget and you actually see yourself as a man and you wonder, Jesus, would I have conducted my self this way under those circumstances.

Q. Why are Arsenal your favourite team and how does football grab you?
A.
When I came over and made Robin Hood I got a chance to go see a football game and it happened to be Arsenal.
They invited me as their guest and I didn't know what to expect, and I was blown away. I didn't realise how emotional it can be in the stands. I didn't realise that people sang and did all that and I was moved by it.
I thought that we are missing an opportunity, in America, even though we are fans, and we love our teams and we root hysterically loud, there is something communal about the way that they sing in British football.
I was quite taken with it and I'd never seen another game until yesterday, and I would suggest that our allegiances are tied to where we were born.
So my mythical relationship with Arsenal is because they asked me. Because they were kind to me and that was my first game, just like the Beach Boys said you've got to be true to your school.
I've been true to Arsenal, so I have been tied in an amusing way to that team. So ,when I came in on Saturday, I simply asked how Arsenal was going.
Maybe I could take my friends to see them on Sunday, because it was such an impressive thing, and well, it turns out that we were two hours away, and Winchester generously offered to have a helicopter take me up there, and I don't know that any of us could have resisted that invitation and I went.
I'll just tell you simply number one, because of how they've treated me but also, more importantly, because I wanted the friends who were with me to see a British sport and British fans in action.
It's really a scene and a positive one and I wanted them to see. I wanted to share that.

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