Why Westerns Are So Hard To Film, According To The Magnificent Seven Cast

The Magnificent Seven

Once upon a time, Westerns dominated the film scene the way superhero blockbusters currently crowd the multiplexes. Instead of debating the merits of Batman v Superman, audiences anticipated the next collaboration between John Ford and John Wayne, or reveled in Gary Cooper taking down a town filled with baddies in High Noon.

This weekend, Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) and his frequent collaborator Denzel Washington revive a classic of the genre -- as well as elements of the genre, itself -- with The Magnificent Seven. And during recent press event for the high-octane ensemble Western, I wanted to ask the cast why period Westerns are so hard to pull off in the modern studio system. Peter Sarsgaard, who plays the villain of this piece, broke the reason down to dollars and cents, telling me:

They're expensive. I mean, all of these people, and the horses. When you start employing seven actors, it's expensive. [laughs] It slows things down, and people's schedules and... to make a movie like this is extremely difficult. It's not a financial slam dunk for anyone. People like Westerns, but they're not easy to make.

Sarsgaard's co-star, and a Training Day holdover, Ethan Hawke echoes the sentiment of the extreme cost of the Western, saying that the genre has become a victim of the creative cycle -- an opinion recently expressed by none other than Steven Spielberg. Hawke told me:

To do it on this scale, to have a whole town catch on fire, and the townspeople and the costumes and all of those horses... that means all of those wrangles, and all those guns. It's just expensive. There was a period of time when anything with a horse in it sold. And then [those movies] go out of fashion. And now, in this day and age, if you make Unforgiven, it'll be a big hit. If you make Django Unchained, it'll be a big hit. But it has to be a good film. So it's a risk. Whereas, if you put a zombie in it, they feel more comfortable that it'll sell.

Vincent D'Onofrio goes one step beyond cost, and says the true effort that has to go into replicating the era is what stops several from taking the plunge on a period Western these days. D'Onofrio tells me:

It's making it look authentic. That is the actual hardest thing. You have to build the town. You have to wear the clothes, shoot the guns, and have the weather cooperate. It's tough, man. It's tough. It's not easy. Everybody on this shoot will tell you that the extremes that we went through was amazing, from having glorious days of fun and just -- outright, a blast -- to storms and lightning and flooding and, my gosh, it was crazy.

But when you pull it off, you can get something truly special. The Magnificent Seven remakes Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, which later was remade as a traditional Western starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. The remake casts Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio and Peter Sarsgaard in a rough and tumble period thriller. Here are the interviews with the cast members, talking the challenges of filming a Western.

The Magnificent Seven opens in theaters on Sept. 23.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.