So this generation's James Bond had a little time on his hands waiting for the pieces to fall into place on his third go-round with 007, and he decided to make a western…with aliens in it. Daniel Craig gets to pull-out all of his blue-eyed menace in COWBOYS & ALIENS, in which he plays a man who has lost his memory and wanders into a nearby town with the hope of figuring out who he is. And then there's an alien invasion and stuff.
Although we didn't talk about much beyond COWBOYS & ALIENS, Craig has been a busy man with the psychological thriller DREAM HOUSE coming out September 30, plus THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (for which he provided a voice) both being released at year's end. And then there's "BOND 23," which finally appears ready to roll in November (Craig confirms this in this interview). Oh, and the dude just got married to Rachel Weisz, so I've stopped thinking his life is hard.
Craig sat down with a group of online journalists recently during the COWBOYS & ALIENS junket on a ranch in Missoula, Montana. It was a beautiful day, and Craig was in a great mood, especially when he sat down in a folding chair with an irreparable wobble. Enjoy Daniel Craig…
Daniel Craig: Why do I have a broken fucking chair?
DC: [jokingly to the publicist] You did that deliberately!
Capone: You do your own stunts, though, so you should be able to handle it.
Question: Can you talk about being a fan of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and ALIENS, and how that was part of the appeal of doing this mash-up. Is that correct?
DC: Well, kind of, I mean I am 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.” I didn’t have that idea. No, I just loved the fact that… I got the script and it said “COWBOYS AND ALIENS” and I was like “Oh, okay here we go.” The movie actually took me somewhere else when I read it and that’s kind of what we have hopefully tried to achieve here is that there are going to be preconceptions about the title, but actually we’ve done an authentic western and tried to bring a great bunch of actors into this movie and some real characters together that sort of deal with this incredible thing. So when the shit hits the fan hopefully you are caring about them.
Question: When you are developing your character in terms of you have no memory at first, and he sort of evolves over the time you are working with that. He is immediately ruthless. He is willing to be without hesitation, ruthless.
DC: I think that’s instinctively ruthless. I think that’s what I liked. In all good westerns, the good guy is always a little bit questionable, because he kind of has to make moral judgments. Yes, there’s an instinct with him that is about survival and killing, I mean let’s be honest, and during that movie there’s a kind of redemption about that, and he wakes up for the first time through this kind of awful experience. But then with Harrison’s character as well, he’s going through a sort of redemptive process as well and that kind of appealed to me that just gives it a few more levels, and I kind of like bad guy-good guys; they're more interesting people.
Question: On that same level, I know you have done it more directly with James Bond, but this type of character is sort of a trope into itself of the western--the silent strong type--and I’m curious what the challenge was in trying to take a very familiar character that’s been played by many actors over the years and give it your own flavor.
DC: I’ve just wanted to play a cowboy for as long as I’ve lived. I don’t know really. [Laughs] I just gave it everything I could in the sense I watched as many westerns I could watch. I’ve always seen them. You know, you choose the costume, the chaps go on, the hat goes on, and you just give it your all. I don’t know, I’m just lucky that I’ve been given the chance to do it as far as I’m concerned.
Question: Do you revert to like a sense of childhood in playing cowboys and Indians?
DC: I’m always reverting to my sense of childhood just in everyday life.
Capone: My favorite line in the film is yours, and it’s just when you and Olivia come off of crashing that ship, and you just look at her and you go, “We were just flying.” That seemed like that was just you in a genuine moment.
DC: Again there’s sort of that thing about combining the two things, trying to base everything in reality, therefore the reactions are going to be as real as they can be and then hopefully there’s some humor that comes out of it, because it’s like, “What the fuck just happened?” I imagine that in 1870, people in the west weren’t really thinking about life on other planets.
Capone: Or even just flying at all.
DC: I’m sure the concept of it had gone through people’s minds and people have fallen off of cliffs before; that might have felt like they were flying for a moment. Who was it in one of Douglas Adams’ books they say “Flying is just falling over and missing the ground,” but I don’t know. It was trying to keep it just as real as possible.
Capone: That’s a very great real moment.
Question: Well how difficult was it to keep it real? I know Olivia was saying that there were football players dressed up with angry faces on tennis balls instead of aliens [while you were shooting].
DC: [Laughs] That’s true, there were…
Question: So was it difficult playing against that?
DC: The could move quick, Christ almighty. Yes in a way, but no in another way, because ultimately you're employed to use your imagination as an actor, and that’s part of the job. We laughed about it that’s all. You kind of have to see the absurdity of it, but you're giving your faith over to some really technically brilliant people at Industrial Light And Magic and having total faith that they are going to be able to make it real, and you’ve got to give them the reactions. If you don’t give it to them, then they’ve got nothing to work off, so in spite of the fact we were giggling about it, we had to commit to it as well.
Question: And when Jon was playing an alien?
DC: Did he play an alien?
Question: She said he did.
DC: He might well have done. He’s in the movie in little bits. I think he’s on a wanted poster in the jailhouse.
Question: There’s his cameo.
DC: That had to be.
Question: Did you train with a dialect coach? What was that like?
DC: I had one on set with me all of the time, and then I cut as many lines as I possibly could. That was my main thrust on that.
Question: Was it difficult to get the American accent on top of playing a cowboy?
DC: The one thing I wanted to do was I didn’t want to make it too kind of southern, because I think it would have stood out. Hopefully the idea is that people sort watch it and are like “Oh he’s talking like that” and then forget about it, so that was the aim.
Question: As a fan of western films, was there a particular staple that you really couldn’t wait to film or was really important for you to be in the movie?
DC: Galloping across the prairie, I mean ultimately. I didn’t think Harrison Ford was going to be doing it next to me, but that I would say was one of the biggest thrills.
Question: Can you expand a little bit on that, on working with Harrison Ford?
DC: You know I’m a fan and as a lot of people are, but he’s an actor and I’ve been lucky enough to find with working with great actors is that first and foremost all they want to do is get it right, and he came powering in with lots of ideas, but also with humor and grace and all of those things that you would hope in somebody, but you can’t expect. He wanted to take part in the movie, and I’m like, “Take it, it's yours. Have as much as you want.” But across the board and I could talk about Harrison until the cows come home, but they are obviously home. [Referencing the cows in the background of the interviewing area.]
DC: So the cast, I mean Olivia and Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, and Paul Dano. Jon Favreau’s absolute attention was to gather as good a cast as we possibly could, because it’s an extraordinary idea, and we had to have the best acting we could in every part, like Clancy Brown and everybody.
Capone: You talk about cutting lines, and Jon had told us that in the first script your character had a lot more dialog. How much of the character changed once you were actually signed on to play him.
DC: Quite a lot, but also this sort of thing. I mean I joke about cutting lines. Harrison says this as well, you don’t want characters explaining what’s going on and more so probably in a cowboy movie than any other. They don’t talk about, “I don’t feel good about this.” It’s that and it’s action and getting that right is quite hard, but I had to rely on Jon to sort of just be confident enough about the story telling, and you are also appealing to the fastest member of the audience who has already seen the end of the movie and is like, “I know what’s going to happen now.” So you want to keep things back for as long as possible; that was the plan anyway.
Question: What was more fun for you? The hand-to-hand violence or the bigger stunt pieces?
DC: I don’t know, I mean really the best fun I had was just saddling up everyday. Whether you came to work with a bad head or just in a bad mood, getting on a horse would be like, “Oh, okay here we go.” Everything just kind of calms down a little and you look, and we were in a beautiful countryside. I get a kick out of doing the action and I always have, it’s one of the reasons I wanted to become an actor was so I could fall over well. So, it just gave me that opportunity.
Question: I noticed that your character keeps his hat with him throughout the whole film.
DC: You can’t lose your hat. With all of the wranglers on the set, I lost my hat a couple of times and had to buy them a crate of beer every time I lost my hat.
DC: So I glued that motherfucker to my head.
Question: But it was like a real conscious effort, like when you have to have the water it was right there.
DC: It's got to be. The best proponent of that art is the man sitting over there [gestures to where Harrison Ford's interview tent is set up].
Capone: Jon told me last night that there was a scene that you guys were going to do where both of your hats fell off, and you were going to go for the wrong one and Harrison said, “Nope, that’s mine.”
DC: We nearly did it, but it was too on the nose.
Question: So Olivia said she rode her whole life, had you? Was this new to you?
DC: God no, I'd been involved with movies before that had no money to pay the horses or only on the days, so I kind of ended up doing movies where I would sort of… When you ask every actor “Can they ride?”, they always say yes, and I always said, “Yeah, kind of.” Then they’d stick you on a horse and you would sort of pretend and hopefully not fall off. I got the chance to ride a lot and I can’t say how fantastic that was. It was just great to learn and realize actually I know nothing. Everyday is kind of a little bit of a learning process. Harrison bought two horses, he bought my horse and his horse. If I had a patch of land or even a patch of grass, I would have bought my horse.
Question: As far as the tone of the movie--we talked a lot about getting really close to homage or taking elements from westerns and taking elements from science fiction and finding where they meet in the middle as well and kind of joke about too on the nose bit about the hats and that sort of thing--how did you keep it in the moment from becoming something that crossed that line?
DC: I think the title does it all. I think the title is the send up, and then it was our job not to send it up and I think we all agreed about that and certainly that’s one of the reasons I did the job, because we weren’t winking every time something happened. It’s a kind of risk, but you have to go for it. I think when you are making a movie you have to take that risk. I think the easy way out is to make a gag every time something extraordinary happens and I think what is funnier is to just get people reacting in a real way, then it becomes funny because of the situation as opposed to bullying the audience into laughing. It’s funny, the first time I saw BLADE RUNNER I saw it in double bill with OUTLAND, and OUTLAND is a western, you know what I mean? They blend and they always have; for Christ’s sake, Han Solo is a cowboy, it’s an obvious thing.
Question: Was it hard to have a blaster around Han Solo and not make jokes?
DC: I never stopped making jokes.
Question: Please tell us one.
DC: No I can’t. I can’t let secrets like that out, I took advantage of all of those things. The only way I could stay sane working with him.
Capone: Olivia said you didn’t like to have your blaster called a “bracelet.”
DC: Like I said, “But you should see the earrings.” [Laughs] “The Daniel Craig line.” That will be on QVC before you can turn around.
Capone: Do you know when you are starting to shoot your next BOND film?
Question: This is maybe a little strange, but as far as having that blaster, this otherworldly piece of technology on your hand and talking about keeping it real, how do you as an actor learn what a real response to that would be? How do you take someone from the 19th century and try and put your head in that head?
DC: You make shit up.
DC: You talk about it, and that’s what you do.
Question: But it does seem very naturalistic.
DC: We rehearsed. For a couple of weeks, at least a couple of weeks, we were in rehearsal for about four weeks all in all and then when we were filming it, it was constantly a question we were always asking ourselves, “How do we keep it authentic?” That was just the aim, just the way we made the movie. But joking aside, you make shit up.
Question: I found myself watching the movie and seeing how people from this different time period would respond shockingly similar to I think how we would respond to it, because the alien technology is just so much advanced.
DC: The leap of faith is one of… Obviously there’s someone in the beginning of the movie that says, “These are demons,” and I can imagine he lives in the wild west and it was heaven, hell, and a dusty earth. The fact is, they carried around as though they were being punished for something and then taken to the next stage is how these people suddenly go, “Fuck this, we're going to deal with it and we are going to be…”--I’ve said this before, but it doest make sense--“We're going to head them off at the pass,” and it’s like they are literally get a posse together and go after the aliens, because “they’ve taken our kin.”
Question: Did you learn any Apache?
DC: I couldn’t, it’s a mouthful. I know Olivia did, so she learned some, and we had Adam on set. I mean for me there are a couple of the guys who are on it who play some of the bigger roles and I got invited to a sun dance, which I didn’t make it this year, but I will eventually. LITTLE BIG MAN is one of my favorite movies, and the whole mystique of western life, but also the mystique of native American life, and the coming together in that clash and the tragedy about that has always been a major fascination for me.
Question: Can you explain a little bit about that as someone who is not from the United States?
DC: Well I suppose it was the political westerns of the '70s that used it and were using Vietnam as a backdrop. Let’s be honest, it was a genocide that took place and there is no kind of getting around it, and a lot of that is fascinating to my people as well. There’s that Stephen Hawking quote that if the aliens landed now, it would be much like Columbus hitting the United States, it would have that much a tectonic movement on our society, and that’s interesting. There’s that great PBS documentary "How the West Was Lost & Won," which I recommend to anybody. It filled in all of the gaps for me.
Question: Do you think that creatures or space aliens… I mean obviously they are using it here as the last bastion of pure evil that we can just enjoy you fighting and killing a lot.
DC: I know what you are saying.
Question: Is that something you are conscious of when you are doing it versus like you are talking about the political films of the '70s, this is the only place…
DC: Right, but this one is called COWBOYS AND ALIENS. Joking aside, we are trying to get this to as wide an audience as possible, but this is not the movie of discussing or developing those ideas, but I try to do as varied movies as I can, because they obviously interest me. But it's interesting “Why aliens?” It’s sort of after the war and the sort of nuclear age, as it’s so called, it was a lot about aliens attacking, because there was this kind of constant threat. There’s a whole thesis to write on this, and I’m sure you will. [Laughs] People have got PhDs about the thing of why we apply science fiction to culture, because there are other fears in our lives, but its much easier and much more morally right to blast aliens than to blast each other.
Question: It’s a lot more fun to watch, too.
DC: True, very true.
Question: So since you have this love of westerns, would you actively pursue another?
DC: Yeah, I think I would. Yeah, I mean maybe one without any aliens in it, but definitely I would. They are amazing stories. There’s always a major moral argument within a western, and they're life or death decisions and therefore it’s kind of really heightened and plus I like riding a horse, wearing a hat, and carrying a gun.
Capone: They're the prettiest movies, too.
DC: That’s very true. We went over some of that earlier, but we didn’t shoot this movie in 3D, and I’m so glad we didn’t, because I don’t think 3D is ready to capture this kind of thing yet. It actually doesn’t make sense, this works in 2D and we shot it anamorphically, so it's as much a wide screen spectacle as possible.
Capone: You get that from the very first shot of that empty desert. It looks more 3D than just about anything I have ever seen in 3D.