Before "Iron Man," writer/director/actor Jon Favreau was known mostly for indie movies ("Swingers") or lighthearted fare ("Elf"), but after his huge success bringing to life the superhero with a suit of high-tech armor, he became a go-to guy for big-budget, effects-driven Hollywood movies.
On Friday, Favreau brings his latest effects-filled flick to silver screens, but "Cowboys & Aliens" comes with risk. It is a more obscure comic title than "Iron Man," and it brings to theaters a genre that hasn't had much success in recent years at luring huge numbers to box offices.
Fortunately, Favreau has the help of lead cowboys Daniel Craig (James Bond) and Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones) in his movie that has Apache Indians and pistol-packin' cowpokes teaming up to battle aliens that crash land in Arizona.
Back when the movie was still being made, Favreau sat down with Reuters to talk about the new alien movie, his take on westerns, and the mash-up of both.
Q: For those who aren't familiar with the comic, tell us your vision of "Cowboys & Aliens"?
A: Well, I drew a lot of inspiration from the script that I was given, more than with "Iron Man" because the source material doesn't provide as many clues as it had in working with the Marvel properties, where I had 40 years of comics to draw from. What I liked about it is that it read like a western, and then the alien aspect of the film seemed to really fit in with my favorite aspect of the genre, which was the early, pre-CGI (computer generated images) alien films that were much more psychological and horrific. Whether they had an uplifting ending like "Close Encounters" or "E.T.," or whether they went dark like "Alien" or "Aliens," those were the films that I really grew up with and liked. And that was the version of the alien movie that we wanted to emulate with this film, and the script really lent itself well to that.
Q: Had you been a fan of this comic like you were of the "Iron Man" comics?
A: It was a project that I was aware of because Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman had been attached to write it along with the (first) "Iron Man" writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby. For a while Robert (Downey Jr., who stars in the "Iron Man" movies) was attached to the project, and I definitely thought it was a very cool idea. Finally, when I read the script I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to explore something very different from "Iron Man," but still be a big summer movie.
Q: Did you approach it as a comic book movie or western?
A: The material seemed like a way to do a western, which is every filmmaker's dream. So I got to direct a very straight-ahead, down-the-middle western because it's a mash-up with a genre that is typically much more appealing to a worldwide audience. There was a way to do a western in a very straight-ahead way, without it being relegated to a smaller-scale movie or an independent film, which typically over the past few decades has been the only way to make a western.
Q: Since you were a movie buff growing up, were there particular westerns that really stuck with you and influenced you on this movie?
A: Yeah, certainly John Ford, and the Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood stuff. We really wanted to embrace it as a straight-ahead version of the genre. I think a lot of films that attempt to reinvent the genre tend to take a lot of liberties with it, like "Jonah Hex" or "Wild, Wild West," and we wanted to take a different approach, which was to let the alien invasion be something that descends upon a very straight-ahead take on the western.
Q: And what's it like having James Bond and Indiana Jones together on set?
A: Well, they're both fantastic actors that bring tremendous authenticity to their roles. What I've learned from the films that have been successful is that casting is the most important aspect of directing. By having the right combination of people, having a talented and intelligent cast, you're able to come up with something very special because the script develops every day. With each rehearsal and every day you shoot, having such thoughtful collaborators allows everything to elevate. I learned that working with Robert (Downey Jr.) and Gwyneth (Paltrow) and the cast on the "Iron Man" films, and I want to continue that strategy with filmmaking.