It’s safe to say that no one quite knew what to expect the last few years as pieces fell into place for “Cowboys & Aliens,” Jon Favreau’s upcoming sci-fi Western mash-up that features an impressive cast of celebrated Hollywood notables.
Scripted by the “Star Trek” and “Transformers” duo of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and based on a Platinum Studios comic book, “Cowboys & Aliens” follows mysterious loner Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), who rides into town with no memory of his past and a piece of strange technology attached to his wrist. Things quickly go from bad to worse as strange invaders from the sky lay siege to the town, forcing Lonergan to join forces with Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), the equally mysterious Ella (Olivia Wilde) and the rest of the area’s inhabitants to fend off the alien army.
With “Cowboys & Aliens” firmly entrenched as one of this summer’s most-anticipated blockbusters, MTV News spoke to one-half of the film’s writing team to get some insight into the genre-bending world of “Cowboys & Aliens.”
MTV: Ever since this film was first announced, no one knew what to make of “Cowboys & Aliens” from the title. Was it a comedy? Was it supposed to be a serious genre film? Did you ever consider changing the title?
Roberto Orci: No, the reason we jumped on this project originally was because we saw the title. So, once we were deep into the project, the idea of changing it seemed strange to us, even though a few people did question it because they thought it might be misleading. In a way, we tend to like things like that, because we think of the movie’s release as sort of a campaign. When we did “Transformers,” people said, “Well, is that a cartoon? Is that the Power Rangers? What is that?” And then as they become educated, they’re actually forced to think about it and it sticks in their mind even more because they have to reassess what the title means. It actually ends up being a dialogue with the audience as they start to see what we’re doing with it. So for us, we always thought we could never change that title. It’s a kick-ass title.
MTV: How much of the film have you seen so far? Is it finished?
Orci: I’ve seen everything multiple times, but we’re not locked yet. We’ve just been in post-production for months now, so I know every foot of it very well.
MTV: When it comes to actors like Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, there’s a certain amount of writing for the actors more so than the characters, because they can both make a role their own. Did you find yourself doing that with “Cowboys & Aliens,” even though the story had existed prior to either of them joining the cast?
Orci: Absolutely. When we found out that we might get interest from both of them, it already started affecting how we were finishing our rewrites. Then before shooting, we spent a couple of weeks with each of them separately and together and Olivia [Wilde] as well, to kind of refine what we had there. When you have actors who are that specific and that talented, you can find things that you can’t find working in a vacuum simply by sitting in a room and discussing the parts and what words fit better in their mouths.
In the case of Harrison Ford, we realized we had someone who could play an infinitely more complicated character than we originally imagined, and that manifested in more complicated lines and more complicated dialogue. In the case of Daniel [Craig], who is so amazing physically and just so amazing technically as an actor, we realized there are some lines he didn’t actually need — he could just do it with his eyes and with his body. It’s storytelling like that which tended to fit the Western a little more.
MTV: I read that Steven Spielberg sat a few of you down for a screening session early on in the process, showing you “The Searchers” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” as prime examples of the two genres …
Orci: Yes, he got a brand new print of “The Searchers” and he sat me and Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Jon Favreau down in a theater and, as we watched it, he had a running commentary. He was like, “Now look at where the horizon line is in this shot. Why do you think John Ford did that?” It was insane. It was unreal. I mean, I would’ve paid for that class.
MTV: This summer is pretty crowded with comic book movies, but as we’ve discussed, “Cowboys & Aliens” is a little different from the rest. In your words, how does this film differ from the rest of 2011’s big blockbusters? What sets it apart?
Orci: Its originality. It’s not a superhero movie and it’s not a sequel or a prequel or whatever. That’s mostly what you’re seeing this summer. In terms of seeing something you haven’t seen before, that’s “Cowboys & Aliens.” I also think it’s going to have a broader appeal. It’s a great ensemble cast, so there’s a representative of everyone in the audience up there on screen going through this. We’re all a little jaded by how much we’ve seen as moviegoers, so the idea of people in the 18th century who don’t even have electricity yet seeing lights in the sky and aliens and how they process that … It gives it a fresh feeling and a kind of newness that I think is going to translate.
Head over to MTV Splash page for more from Orci about the film’s comic book source material, the as-yet-unseen aliens and more!
It’s Summer Movie Preview Week, and MTV News will be bringing you exclusive interviews, clips and photos for the most anticipated films of the coming months. Get ready to gorge on inside looks at “Captain America,” “The Hangover Part II,” “X-Men: First Class,” “Cowboys & Aliens” and more.