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From Iron Man to Cowboys And Aliens

Last updated on: July 29, 2011 11:47 IST

From Iron Man to Cowboys And Aliens


Raja Sen in Mumbai

Most of our readers may know Jon Favreau because of his role as Monica's zillionaire boyfriend Pete on hit sitcom Friends, but acting is a hat the director only wears occasionally nowadays.

After writing and starring in indie films like Swingers, Favreau directed Elf, brought Tony Stark to life in Iron Man and Iron Man 2, and is now swinging for the fences with Cowboys & Aliens, hitting the screens today.

Favreau had a brief conversation over e-mail with Raja Sen, a conversation that led to a quick look at Harrison's Ford on-screen persona over the years, the reason C&A isn't in 3D, and why James Bond looks good in a cowboy hat. Excerpts:

Frankly, how much does a title like Cowboys & Aliens help? Like, say, Snakes On A Plane, it leaves no room for ambiguity, and ends up promising something for two very different 'species' of genre-fans. As a filmmaker, is that potentially campy title liberating and fun or do you think it restricts the appeal of the movie?
Well, I'd heard the title when the writers did their first draft, and I thought 'there's a really cool version of this film to be made if you get it right.' And I read the writers' first draft of the script and they got it right, they got the balance.

They combined the two genres with enough irony and humour but the humour was not based on the characters winking at the audience. In trying to make the Western relevant, a lot of times people would sort of joke through it, or comment on the genre. With this we play the Western totally straight and all of the fun comes from combining these two disparate elements.

Image: Movie poster of Cowboy And Aliens and (inset)Jon Favreau
Photographs: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

'You totally believe Daniel in a western setting'

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Craig and Ford make for an interesting pair. How much of the baggage they have as larger-than-life characters --  granted Craig has far lesser experience in the Bond shoes, but how much of their public perception as James Bond and Indiana Jones --  did you have in mind when you cast them? Also, what are your favourite performances of each actor?

With Daniel, you evoke a different thing. I just kept thinking of Steve McQueen and that was kind of mind blowing. Everybody said 'he's so British' and 'he's so James Bond' and you do think of him like that, but he puts that cowboy hat on and boom! He's The Stranger.

With his blue eyes, the hat (or the gunbelt) and the rugged face, he feels like a real man and you believe him totally in a Western setting. When we were casting we kept saying 'this guy has lived a full life and yet doesn't know his own past' and so you have to see that in his face.
And if you remember when we first met Harrison, with roles like Han Solo, he's shooting a bounty hunter under the table before the guy even fires at him.

Even in Indiana Jones, there are some scenes where you don't know whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. People forget that because we're so familiar with him now in heroic roles but in the beginning of his career he was more of a rogue -- maybe a loveable rogue who ended up doing the right thing, but a rogue. He was rescuing the Princess for the cash and when he comes back at the end it's a surprise because you think he's selfish.

And then, over his career, he becomes the President, Jack Ryan, the guy in Witness and he's softened. But if you remember who he was when we first saw him and he played some guys who were in that grey area. And the thing is, with Cowboys and Aliens, you still love him even though he's as bad as he is.

And with Cowboys and Aliens, we needed to make both Harrison and Daniel's characters strong and intimidating and then they have to deal with each other. It's about them going back and forth, like two Silverbacks vying for who is going to run things. And that's one of the themes of the film --  in the end they have to work together to overcome untenable odds.

Image: A still from Cowboys and Aliens

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'We didn't shoot in 3D because we wanted to keep it authentic and tradional'

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For what could perhaps be looked on as a shoot-em-up actioner, there's a pretty topnotch ensemble at work here: Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine. How much of Cowboys & Aliens is an authentic Western?

It's as authentic as it can get and that's why we didn't shoot in 3D. We wanted to keep it very traditional, we wanted movie stars who could play these rugged men, we wanted it as authentic in the period as it could be and then when the alien movie comes in we wanted to make sure that it was a very specific type of alien movie that was sort of that Spielberg era, 1980s, pre-CG. It's about smoke, it's about lights, it's about imagination, it's about tension and it's about building that thing in your imagination that you eventually show pieces of.
Your last two films, the terrific Iron Man adaptations, were made under the eye of the online fanboys. They loved them, yes, but there must have been pressure both from purists and innovators, fans of canon and people who wanted something fresh. Is it unnerving and frustrating, this challenge to win over people already married to a character and a franchise, and are you glad to be working with a much more specific niche product now, with lesser bloggers baying for blood?

I appreciate the support I got for Iron Man but I would like to come up with any idea, which has a potential of getting transformed in to a motion picture and I would like to believe that if the film is good even the people who are married to a franchise or a character would not mind to give it a look. (Fingers crossed)

Image: Movie Poster of Cowboys And Aliens

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'I'd rather be a cowboy than an alien'

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Pardon the overfamiliarity, but you wrote Swingers, man. Do you miss working on smaller, intimate films or is the blockbuster adrenalin just too addictive?

I am glad the way I started. Swingers was my work and so is Iron Man. The day I'll stop working I'll miss it, not until then.

Thanks to Jack Sparrow, we know movies about theme-park attractions can make billions of dollars, but what attracted you to the idea of making a movie about Magic Kingdom? Also, the great Michael Chabon coming aboard to do the script sounds thrilling. Do please tell us at least a bit more.

Not just yet.

Finally, and most whimsically, you don't star in the new film but if you had to play a larger-than-life role, would you choose to be a Cowboy or an Alien?

You kidding me? Of course, a cowboy -- the chaps, the panama, the guns, the belt, the horse it's just so heroic.

Image: Jon Favreau

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