Seraphim Falls is first-time writer/director David Von Ancken’s deceptively simple story of one man, a former Confederate Army Colonel named Carver (Liam Neeson), and his relentless pursuit of the deadly Gideon (Pierce Brosnan). Much of the story is showing the chase between these two men, with Brosnan’s character not uttering a single word during the first half-hour as he desperately tries to evade Neeson’s posse of killers who are after him.
The film’s two leading men sat down with ComingSoon.net in New York recently to talk about the making of this exciting movie, which harkens back to many other classic westerns including The Searchers and Jeremiah Johnson.
ComingSoon.net: What drew you two to the idea of making a bona fide western?
Pierce Brosnan: I was brought up on a stable of the westerns, I just thought this had an elegance to it. I thought David Von Ancken had an assuredness to him, very erudite and passionate about film, he didn’t seem to be some egotistical flapper. He made one other film called “Bullet in the Brain” and I really enjoyed it. It was a 12-minute haiku of a film that had the same kind of lyricism that this one does, especially in the third act. So much is just sensing and intuition. I try not to intellectualize it too much. Does it feel right, does it make you feel happy, does it make you feel good? Go do it.
Liam Neeson: Like Pierce I was kind of steeped in western mythology, growing up in Ireland. I was a kin and country boy, a lot of times around horses. It just was kind of in my blood! All our ancestors in Ireland left in the middle of the 19th century and basically came to these shores, helped build canals and railroads and helped shoot buffalo and kill Indians and die in the civil war. The western was a genre I was very familiar with.
CS: What was it like shooting on location in New Mexico, almost entirely outdoors?
Neeson: We shot all over New Mexico. We were always fighting light because we shot in the wintertime, started on October 17th, 2005, so the sun came up at like 8:15 or something but it dropped at like 4:15, literally just somebody switching the light out, you know? So we always had to be ready, there was no sitting in your trailer waiting to be called, you always had to be on set. The horses had to be ready and saddled up and stuff. David Von Ancken just kept the momentum going. Sometimes on these movies you have all this downtime which just saps all the energy out of the performance.
Brosnan: I read up on the Civil War and it was a wonderful education on what happened at that time in history, so that kind of permeated the work. A certain religion came upon the playing of the character, or spiritualism, without sounding grandiose or abstract. It was just the landscape was so mighty. Someone asked me who my leading lady was and I said “New Mexico.” That landscape was such a character, so you get a lot of it for nothing and it’s really just trusting yourself and trusting the camera’s in the right place, the right angle in telling the story. I didn’t really find it overwhelmingly challenging.
Neeson: We shot in these pueblos that are now private ranches, but there were areas we were in that no one had stood in for hundreds of years. There were pottery shards lying around that were like a thousand years old from Native American tribes who had been there. There was a sense of the holiness of this land, and we had a lot of respect for it, daren’t leave a coffee cup lying around, that would have been like spitting on someone’s grave or something. There was a sacredness to it that informed us all.
CS: Pierce, you have a particularly memorable scene where you hide in the dead carcass of a horse in order to ambush your pursuers. What was shooting that like?
Brosnan: I was slimed, it was a bit like “Ghost Busters”. Wardrobe department came up with this concoction of vomit and slime and eggs and stuff like that. And the old horse was just a fake horse, it was a Hollywood horse that they spent half the budget on. I never thought it was gonna fly to tell you the truth when I saw it on the day, it looked so fake and rubbery but the angle and the magic of film editing I hope it’s real. They dug a hole and I stood in the hole, it was kind of Pythonesque. That was the humorous side of the day.
CS: You have another scene where you have to remove a bullet from your arm with a searing hot knife. You looked like you were genuinely going to freeze to death during that scene.
Brosnan: It was freezing cold, it was 10 below or something like that, I don’t know what it was, but it was up in the thin air of Taos. You look at the photographs of the desperate deaths of boys and men who died on the battlefield you’ll find that their clothes are pulled off and that’s from the fact that they’re about to die and they’re looking for the bullet that found them. Most of them would search, just pulling their clothes off and just die. My character is a man who’s lost sons, and I almost lost a son in a terrible accident and this man’s lost two sons at the battle of Antietam. He’s also by this point in the story wondering why he’s being hunted, and the savagery and humiliation of being hunted, and wishing for his own death, but not having the courage to plug himself in the head. Just the terror that is in you when you’re hunted, he’s dying there before your eyes. You just think about all that stuff and then just let yourself go with it. There was no acting required in the sense that I was really freezing.
CS: Liam, your character is monomaniacal in his quest to capture his prey. We don’t even know why you’re chasing him till close to the end of the film, but we can tell it’s something very personal that drives him.
Neeson: He’s very driven, I liken him to Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. He’s totally governed by this idea of revenge. He’s privately lost his humanity. You don’t even see him eating. There was a scene once where there was a bit of rest time and some of the posse are eating and I felt he doesn’t even bother with that. He might have a bit of meat jerky and that sustains him.
CS: What do you think the film says about the nature of revenge?
Neeson: I’ve ruminated a lot, meditated a lot on revenge because I’m from the North of Ireland and a child of the ’60s and ’70s there and was surrounded by violence most of my adult life. I wasn’t involved in it, thank sweet God, but I knew men who were and the idea of revenge or trying to right a wrong that was done 400 years ago just seemed anathema to me. Yet I respected these people’s passion for what they’re committed to. The idea of dying for your country the hardest thing to do and the bravest thing to do is to live for your country, which I wanted to do. I’m very proud to be Irish but I certainly wasn’t going to pick up a gun and kill a fellow Irishman or anyone else to prove my love for my country. I ruminated on a lot of that while preparing for this, and without giving anything away, we live in an era where revenge is the flavor, and no one ever talks of forgiveness. I think this movie does end in an act of forgiveness.
CS: This is your first onscreen pairing with Liam. What was it like working with him?
Brosnan: Liam is a huge reason why I wanted to do this film. I think he’s such a magnificent actor, he has such a dignity and presence like no other. He’s a fellow Irishman, I thought the sweet irony was Liam is from the North, I’m from the South, the roles get reversed here. I thought we would be a good compliment to each other. We’ve become good friends and certainly would strike out again on some other cinematic adventure.
Seraphim Falls opens in limited release today.