One genre that has been making a bit of a comeback in the last several years is the Western from remakes such as 3:10 to Yuma to originals like The Hateful Eight. Director Antoine Fuqua took on the task of remaking one of the most famous, and arguably defining, Western films with The Magnificent Seven. Before its premiere at TIFF, he and the whole cast got together to discuss the film and the task of remaking a classic.
One of the first questions to be asked was how Fuqua could make The Magnificent Seven relevant. Though the genre has seen a bit of a comeback, it’s still nowhere near as popular as it was in its heyday after all. “What makes it relevant is the cast,” Fuqua said. “It’s a very diverse cast, very strong cast. That always makes it relevant. It’s also a timeless story. Human beings have an inclination to do right by others and I think that’s a timeless story.”
The conversation did, as indicated above, turn towards race and diversity. One of the main topics of conversation that has dominated Hollywood in the last couple years is diversity, whitewashing and the lack of opportunity for actors of colour. The Magnificent Seven is one of the most diverse casts seen in a major blockbuster film this year. In fact, though the movie at times acknowledges the diversity of its characters, the races of the Seven are never really brought up a whole lot.
“It’s a statement because it obviously has an effect on the question, but we just wanted to make a good movie,” says Fuqua. “When I was in the room with MGM, Sony and the producers, we just talked about what actors we wanted to see. I said I’d like to see Denzel Washington on a horse, that’d be an event. Everyone else fell into place around that idea, but it wasn’t to make a statement. Denzel walks into a room and the room stops. Clint Eastwood walks into a room and the room stops. Is it because he’s a gunslinger or the colour of his skin? We let the audience decide.”
Haley Bennett also felt the same way about her character and what audiences can expect from Emma Cullen. Not only does she seek out the Seven to hire them, but she takes an active role in the defense of her town against Peter Sarsgaard’s villainous Bartholomew
Bough. “As a little girl I didn’t really watch Westerns because there weren’t any female characters I could look up to. Playing Emma, it was such an honour because I personally would want to be a woman like Emma in the 1800s. I got to get my hands dirty. That’s not something that a woman got to do in any of these old Westerns. Usually they’re in the kitchen, they’re not out there in the forefront shooting guns and riding horses with dresses on and getting into all the action. That was a really exciting aspect to be part of the ‘boys club’ on and off set.”
One of the most appealing aspects about the film is the chemistry each member shared on screen, a chemistry that was still clear as they sat up on the stage. Chris Pratt and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s characters have an interesting dynamic that was built upon the relationship the actors shared on set. Fuqua even let them improvise some of their lines and the two shared a competition of sorts between themselves.
“Antoine really likes people to just come in and bring stuff and if he likes it he’ll use it, if not he won’t use it,” Pratt said. “One of the things that worked with me and Manuel is we’re naturally competitive with each other, spinning our guns and drawing our guns. One day he came in and I was spinning my guns at first and then he started spinning his guns and next thing you know there’s this competition between us which then really translated into the characters.”
The other two characters who share a close relationship are Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux and Byung-Hun Lee’s Billy Rocks, who have been partners for several years. “In the script, we are best friends and have travelled a lot and do anything together. So Ethan and I got to be closer very naturally on set,” Lee stated. In a moment which showed the chemistry the actors shared, Lee continued with “I used to be a huge fan of him actually –”
“Used to be!” Hawke scoffed, looking slightly hurt and amused.
“My wife loves him,” Lee continued. “Once I invited my wife to set and I’ve never seen her that happy. 10 years hanging out with her and I’ve never seen her that happy. So I love him, but also hate him.”
One surprise in the conference came with the reveal that Washington had never seen the original Magnificent Seven, not even as prep for his role in the remake. “I didn’t keep away from it, I just didn’t know how it would help me,” he explained. “I’d never seen it as a kid and I think it allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do instead of trying not to do what somebody else did.”
Hawke took Washington’s answer further, saying “I know it’s odd to hear that from us, but its not something you do when you approach a project. You don’t try to be something that already happened, you try to create something new and hope that happens.”
Fuqua also jumped in to say that he wanted to give the next generation of fans and filmmakers their own Western. “Young people that don’t have Westerns need to feel like they have their own. They find it and decide it’s their Magnificent Seven. The most important thing to me was staying true to the DNA of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, which is what the original Magnificent Seven is based off of. It’s important to honour that and not take the story away from what the heart is, which is seven men coming together to do the right thing when they don’t have to. That’s the ultimate story.”
It was a very enlightening conversation that not only showed how much passion went into the film, but just how close the cast became. You can check out our review of The Magnificent Seven from TIFF here. The film will have its general release on September 23.