We got an early look at director Antoine Fuqua’s new take on the classic western ensemble
This September, The Magnificent Seven ride again as director Antoine Fuqua takes the reins for an updated take on the 1960 John Sturges western classic (which was, in turn, based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, released six years prior). Sitting in an edit bay on the Sony Pictures lot, Antoine Fuqua admits to a small group of journalists that his magnificent cast (which includes Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-Hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier) may have a bit more in common with Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 The Wild Bunch. He’s aiming for a blend of his all-time favorites, though, and says he also wants to bring in some of humor of George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the scope and scale of any one of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western epics.
“I shot on film and I shot anamorphic,” Antoine Fuqua explains. “I tried to make sure it had scope and focused on the characters. Instill wholesome values without trying to make a western with western speak and all the cliches that you can fall into.
Fantastically, The Magnificent Seven has already earned a place in cinema history. It will bring to the big screen the last score from legendary composer James Horner, who was tragically killed in a plane crash last year. Not only did he secretly prepare a score for the film before his death, James Horner is the name Antoine Fuqua credits with making The Magnificent Seven happen in the first place.
“James, I always say, is the reason I wound up doing the movie,” Antoine Fuqua explains. “I went to his house. Before we even went inside, we stood outside in this garden area and I was just f—ing complaining, to be frank. I couldn’t get the money. You need seven actors. They have to be movie stars. The whole Hollywood system sometimes is tough. You have to have a certain level of actor to make a western because of this and that and other s—t. I just wasn’t feeling the love at that moment… He started telling me about Calabasas. Right out of the blue he said, ‘They used to ride horses in Calabasas! There used to be a horse trail.’ He started telling me all that stuff. He’s a very slight guy and soft-spoken. He kind of looked at me and said, ‘You have to do it. Antoine, you’ll make history. Denzel and Chris? Don’t worry about money. I’ll do it for whatever. But you’ve got to make that movie. You’ll probably never get to make another western in your lifetime. You’ve got to do it.'”
Antoine Fuqua recalls that, not long after getting the tragic news, he was contacted by a small group of people who had been working alongside James Horner for decades. They told him that, before he died, Horner had left something for him.
“They came down and they said that James had written most of the score already,” says Antoine Fuqua. “He was going to surprise me. How could he do that, man? I wondered how it was going to sound and they played it for me. It just blew me away. It was glorious. The guy was a genius. He was trying to be ahead of it. We had discussed him doing it, but I didn’t know that he was going to actually write it. That he was actually going to have an orchestra do it. How did he know he was going to pass away? I don’t think he knew that, but that’s the weird feeling that someone could write music your script and give it to you after he’s gone.”
James Horner wasn’t the only one excited by the promise of a new big screen western, either. The very first person to join the cast was Ethan Hawke, who hunted down his Training Day director and made his position clear.
“I was shooting ‘The Equalizer’ in New York,” Antoine Fuqua laughs. “He literally grabbed me by the collar and said, ‘If you do this f—ing movie, I’m in it. I don’t care who I’m playing!'”
It was likewise an easy sell to a certain Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World star.
“For the Steve McQueen role, I really wanted Chris Pratt,” Antoine Fuqua continues, “but he was looking at some other stuff… [but] I got Chris on the phone and he was already singing ‘Oh Shenandoah.’ I said, ‘You like westerns, huh?’ He said, ‘That’s all I watch. I always wanted to be in a western.'”
Of course, the new film also gave Antoine Fuqua the chance for a third teaming with Denzel Washington, who previously starred in both Training Day and The Equalizer. The two-time Academy Award winner steps into the role of Sam Chisolm, the film’s take on Yul Brynner’s Chris Adams from the original. The diverse cast also includes South Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee and Native American newcomer Martin Sensmeier .
“It takes all sorts of people to come together to fight tyranny,” explains Antoine Fuqua. “It’s not about one race anymore. You can’t make that movie anymore. You can’t make that movie with the white guys on horses who save the day. The world has changed and it seems like it takes all of us to come together to fight tyranny.”
Featuring a screenplay by True Detective scribe Nic Pizzolatto and The Equalizer‘s Richard Wenk, The Magnificent Seven also stars Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer, Billy Slaughter and Vinnie Jones. Look for it in theaters on September 23, 2016.