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Saddle-sore but happy as Magnificent Seven ride again

Published 23/09/2016

Cowboy dreams: from left, Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt
Cowboy dreams: from left, Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt
The Magnificent Seven is in cinemas now
The Magnificent Seven is in cinemas now
Seven up: The original cast of the Magnificent Seven
Western promise: actress Haley Bennett plays Emma Cullen

Almost 60 years after the original Magnificent Seven rode into town, a new group of gun-toting outlaws are hoping to beat the bad guy. Susan Griffin chats to Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and film-maker Antoine Fuqua about bringing the story up to date.

Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington are no strangers to putting their bodies through the wringer in the name of movie-making. Take Pratt motorcycling alongside dinosaurs in the mega box-office hit Jurassic World, or Washington in, well, almost everything he's ever starred in.

But neither actor was prepared for the chaffing they'd ensue as a result of all the horse-riding required for their latest movie, a reboot of western classic The Magnificent Seven.

They laugh as they recall the discomfort of feeling "saddle-sore" at the end of hard day's shoot.

Washington admits the horses were the biggest challenge of filming. "But that was also fun, the opportunity to learn to ride," adds the ever youthful-looking actor, now 61, who plays Chisolm, the leader of seven outlaws who unite to overthrow a corrupt industrialist.

"I really got close to my horse. I get that relationship, I like it, the freedom of it," continues Washington, who's so far notched up six Oscar nominations, winning twice for 1989's Glory and 2001's Training Day.

"Some days, you'd go down to the lake and your horse would dig it; you'd let them walk around and eat some grass. Life's simple pleasures are the best."

Pratt (37) enjoyed getting acquainted with their four-legged co-stars, too. "I'm a lot better on horses than I was before, but still not very good," he confesses. "I can do enough to fake it in a movie."

Director Antoine Fuqua says he had fond memories of watching the 1960 original - starring Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson - with his grandmother, but was tentative when first approached about tackling a remake.

"I went back and watched the film. I started to study it more and I thought the story is worth telling - but how do you do that in a more interesting, contemporary way?" recalls the 50-year-old film-maker, who also helmed Southpaw and Olympus Has Fallen.

"But then I looked at the project and said, 'That is terrorism'. When you burn down someone's church, kill them in the streets, leave their bodies there for a while, that is horrific. And I thought that's going to resonate with an audience because they see it on the news now."

Pratt agrees there are many themes that movie-goers can relate to.

"It's not just an American thing in this global economy. Listen, don't get me wrong, I'm not here banging some socialist bandwagon. I believe in capitalism but I believe you should have capitalism with a conscience. And that's what we get from our villain (Bartholomew Bogue played by Peter Sarsgaard), he has no conscience. It's profit over everything," notes the father-of-one.

"Unfortunately, that is timeless. A 100 years from now, I don't think the world will be eradicated of greedy people and greedy entities," he adds.

Once Fuqua had agreed to lead the project, his thoughts immediately turned to casting the titular seven - "because that is the heart of the film".

"The thing I love about a western is that you can't hide behind anything. If you don't care about the characters then it won't stick with you, nothing matters, so the characters really have to be powerful," he notes.

From the outset, he had Washington, who he'd previously collaborated with on Training Day and 2014's The Equalizer, in mind for the main role.

"As a black man, I love westerns but something isn't clicking for me," recalls Fuqua.

"I thought, 'I want to see Denzel on a horse', and everybody was like, 'Huh?'

"I said, 'People would love to see that - he has never done it and is a bona fide movie star of the day'. I got excited about it - so excited I didn't know what I was going to do if he said no."

Aside from Washington and Pratt, there's Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux, Vincent D'Onofrio as Jack Horne, South Korean star Byung-Hun Lee as Billy Rocks, Mexican-American actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez, and Native American actor Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest.

"It's a culturally and ethnically diverse cast, and I think that resonates today because that's the way the world looks," remarks Pratt, who plays the drunken gambler Josh Faraday, Chisolm's right-hand man and the first person who joins him in the seven.

"It's also the way the American frontier looked. Outside of Native Americans, it was all immigrants so the Wild West is a melting pot, and it didn't matter who you were or the colour of your skin.

"What mattered was how fast you were with your guns."

This is something Washington excelled at.

"Yeah, I have a quick twitch," reveals the father-of-four, who boxes daily and has done for decades.

"As a kid, I had fast hands and fast feet. And boxing keeps you young. You twitch muscles, the way you react to things, you develop that style."

The opportunity to fulfil many a childhood dream wasn't lost on him.

"We got to play and be cowboys, ride horses, flip cards and spin guns and get paid for it. We're ordinary guys with extraordinary jobs," he admits with a satisfied sigh.

Following his performance in TV hit Parks And Recreation, Pratt's known for his comedic talents, so The Magnificent Seven pushed him into unfamiliar territory.

"I have a natural impulse to be a pleaser, and to be good boy and respect authority. I care if people think I'm a jerk, and Antoine would say, 'Hey man, you're mean, you've killed people'.

"This is a person mired in the guilt of having done some pretty terrible things, and there was something appealing about that. I'd never done anything like it before," he says.

As Fuqua points out, "nobody is perfect" in this tale.

"But the point I remembered was what it means to people to try and get it right," says the film-maker.

"I have a chance to bring it up to date, and for young people to get that message."

The Magnificent Seven is in cinemas now

Belfast Telegraph

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