Mr. Beaks Takes A Trip Back To TOMBSTONE With Curly Bill Brocius Himself, Powers Boothe!
Published at: April 27, 2010, 6:57 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
Of the two competing, fact-based retellings of the Wyatt Earp legend that were inexplicably greenlit in the early '90s, TOMBSTONE was, by far, the audience favorite. How could it not be? Though Lawrence Kasdan's WYATT EARP boasted a fine cast in its own right, it couldn't compete with the collection of badasses who chose to saddle up for writer-director Kevin Jarre (before he was given the heave-ho and replaced with Kurt Russell and/or George P. Cosmatos). There's Russell, Val Kilmer, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton (ALIENS reunion!), Sam Elliott, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, Michael Rooker, Billy Bob Thornton and legends like Charlton Heston, Harry Carey, Jr., and Robert Mitchum (who would've played Old Man Clanton had he not fallen off his horse on the first day of filming). This is a man's movie.
There are so many memorable performances in TOMBSTONE that it's impossible to pick a favorite, but, if pressed, I might just go with Powers Boothe as Curly Bill Brocius, the leader of the vicious Cowboys. Starting with his co-starring role in Walter Hill's underrated SOUTHERN COMFORT, Boothe has had a knack for finding his way into classic tough guy flicks like EXTREME PREJUDICE, RED DAWN and RAPID FIRE, while also carrying the more thoughtful THE EMERALD FOREST for John Boorman. In most of these movies, Boothe comes off as the rough, capable sort; the kind of guy you'd either love to have at your side in a firefight, or hate to take on as an adversary. And while he's played both hero and villain exceptionally well, it's impossible to say he does one better than the other. Boothe's got far too much going on behind the eyes to be pigeonholed like that.
When I was given the opportunity to chat with Boothe to help promote today's (April 27th) release of TOMBSTONE on Blu-ray, I was elated. Then I realized I'd only have fifteen minutes with the man, which would scarcely leave us time to delve into his Walter Hill collaborations. Hell, judging from all of the stories that seem to keep surfacing regarding the tumultuous production of TOMBSTONE, fifteen minutes on just this film felt painfully brief. Mostly, we stuck to TOMBSTONE (a film Boothe is understandably proud to have been a part of), but later in the interview I did try to talk Walter Hill. Unfortunately, I waited too long, so don't expect any great insight on EXTREME PREJUDICE. This also means we never had a chance to discuss DEADWOOD, RAPID FIRE (in which he seemed to have a good time bantering with the late Brandon Lee), and how he enjoyed working on MACGRUBER.
Good news: Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club got a "Random Roles" piece out of this press day, so there is a definitive Powers Boothe interview on the way. I can't wait.
For now, here's my fifteen minutes with the man who once shot down four Russian MiGs somewhere over the Rocky Mountains.
Mr. Beaks: Looking at this film again, the cast is so stacked. Even at the time, it felt like someone got in my head and cast all of my favorite actors in one movie - and a Wyatt Earp western at that! What was the dynamic like on set?
Powers Boothe: It was terrific. Like you, I was a huge fan of everyone in the cast. Just to digress for a moment, it was such a great script that, as I understand it, everyone pretty much cut their money to do it. All of the better folks in Hollywood were tripping over themselves trying to get in the film. Some of the guys I'd worked with before, but it was just a pleasure to be with everyone and work with them. It was truly an ensemble and team deal, and everybody, in my opinion, more than carried their weight.
Beaks: It's kind of a dream come true for many actors to be playing a part in the Wyatt Earp story.
Boothe: Yeah. I mean, I grew up in Texas and farms and ranches, and, for me, to do a western at all, particularly one as good as this, it doesn't get any better than that. (Laughs)
Beaks: I remember when this film was announced, it was talked up as if it was going to be rather epic. I believe the screenplay was much more extensive than what ended up on the screen.
Boothe: I think they actually cut ten or twelve minutes out of the final version, which, unfortunately, had a lot to do with The Cowboys and a lot of my stuff, but that's neither here nor there. The screenplay itself was extraordinary. Kevin Jarre wrote GLORY, and, at that period in time, was certainly one of the best writers around. The research he did, every character, right down to the color of horse you rode, your wardrobe and all of that stuff, was just [perfect]. And everybody who was in it had more than enough meat to play. Fortunately, for all of us, it ended up on the screen.
Beaks: Was there any competitiveness between you guys?
Boothe: I mean, to some degree. But on the other hand, the give and take was there; your character had his moment to step up to the plate. You had your home run opportunity, and sometime you'd go up there to hit a single. Nobody was in there trying to steal scenes. Everybody was in there trying to tell the story of that scene, and, ultimately, the story of Wyatt Earp. And one thing I'm really proud of that came through on screen is that the Earps didn't come to Tombstone to tame Tombstone, they came there to make money. (Laughs) And there was sort of a deal that was cut between the Earps and The Cowboys: we'll live and let live; you make your money, and we'll make our money. And then when they took Ike down, as they should've, that sort of broke the deal. Then one thing led to another, the morality play started, and just... You know, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE is one of my favorite movies, but this one was a little less romanticized - and therefore the story came through, and it took on its own romanticism.
Beaks: I think maybe the nice thing for you was that Curly Bill hadn't been as frequently dramatized as the other characters in the drama. The only Curly Bill portrayal I could fine previous to yours was in John Sturges's HOUR OF THE GUN, where he was played by Jon Voight.
Boothe: If he's ever in any of them, he's only in there briefly. Because everyone knows the Clantons and all that kind of stuff. But the truth of the matter is that Curly Bill truly was the leader of The Cowboys. He was like the boss. But he was also pretty smart in that he was the boss, but, for the most part, kept his distance from the actual doing of the deeds - so, therefore, I guess he's not as famous. But if you get into Curly Bill's spin... I read the testimony from his trial for killing Marshall White, and Marshall White testified, "Well, it's probably a little bit his fault that he reached for his gun and it kind of went off." Of course, Curly Bill got off from that, and then he went off and invented this Curly Bill spin where he flips the gun around and shoots him. We had a great gun man on that shoot; he taught me the real Curly Bill spin. And, I don't know... that just made it all better. (Laughs)
Beaks: Can you still pull off the Curly Bill spin?
Boothe: If I worked at it a little bit, I could. It's a little tricky, though. You've got to have your hands just right, and flip it it where your thumbs are just the right way - because you're shooting it upside down. If you don't do it right, it would look really stupid.
Beaks: I've read different accounts of how the director issue worked out. I know Kevin Jarre was on for a little bit, and then Kurt apparently filled in while the studio brought on George P. Cosmatos as a replacement. Do you remember how that all went down?
Boothe: I don't know that Kurt "filled in". I mean, Kurt was our leader. I love Kurt. He's a real all-American boy. He's been in the business all his life. But he's a team player all the way, and, in this case, he had to be. All I can recall is that, because we got behind a bit with Kevin, when George came in the first thing the producers did was rip out twenty to twenty-five pages of the script. And to Kurt's credit and Val's credit, they fought to put a lot of that stuff back in, even though a lot of it didn't have anything to do with their characters on the page. And it's because, in my opinion, that Kurt was smart enough to know that the writing was brilliant - and that if those scenes weren't there, it made his character and the story less. Realistically, we got almost everything back in the script - and I give Kurt, and certainly Val, and the producer Jim Jacks a lot of credit for fighting to keep this great script together and to shoot it. We shot the last week or so, as actors, for nothing because [the production] had run out of money. We all hung around and stayed to finish that movie. That doesn't happen very often.
Beaks: As you look back at all the films you made, does this one stand out as a particularly fulfilling experience?
Boothe: Oh, yeah. It really was. Look, when you walk on the set, and, first of all, you're walking on with that script to shoot. And then the quality of the actors... no pun intended, but you come with your guns loaded and ready to give it everything you got out of respect for the material and the other people. It was a gas. I mean, come on! I wore this red John Wayne shirt, and chaps and a gun belt that were handmade for me! It was just fabulous.
Beaks: It fits into your filmography quite well - particularly at the time. You had done these films that were studies in manhood. One film, and performance, of yours that I really love was EXTREME PREJUDICE with Walter Hill. Was this a particular type of film you were trying to make at the time?
Boothe: Oh, one thing leads to another. You're attracted to certain things. You read the script, and it either appeals to you or it doesn't. In Walter's case, he's a huge John Ford aficionado. Every movie Walter's ever made is a western - it's just that people don't know it. Thematically, men standing up for themselves and making their way in the world is a theme that's been in movies throughout the world. But it's particularly an American genre, and it has to do, in my mind, with the development of our nation: you can do anything you're strong enough to do; right is right, and wrong is wrong. And at least in the movies, right wins out.
Beaks: More often than not, yes. Have you talked with Walter about going back and making a film in that style?
Boothe: Well, Walter is one of my greatest friends and supporters in this business, and if Walter Hill called... anywhere, anytime, I'm there. He's a great gentleman and a terrific filmmaker. They don't make 'em like that anymore. I'd do anything for that man.
Beaks: I'd do anything to see you two making a movie together again.
Boothe: Me, too!
One more thing with [TOMBSTONE], I can't tell you how many times I've been stopped by all kinds of folks, but mostly families and dads in particular, who say, "It's one of my favorite movies, and I watch it all the time with my kids." You don't get to make many like that. I'm very proud to have been a part of it.
Good man, and a damn fine actor. Thank you, Mr. Boothe.