Here come cowboys

Sep 5, 2007 at 12:00 am

The original 3:10 to Yuma, released back in 1957, is one of those Westerns that, on a lazy Sunday, you might catch on AMC while flipping channels, get sucked into, and, at the end of it, wonder, "How the hell haven't I heard of this movie? It should be a classic like High Noon!"

You'd be right, because the original (adapted from an Elmore Leonard story) is that good and that forgotten by the public — but director James Mangold (Walk the Line, Identity) remade the title with Russell Crowe as the murderous outlaw and Christian Bale as the poor rancher who agrees to transport him to the titular 3:10 train to Yuma, Arizona.

The two actors recently spent the day at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, pimping their efforts, and Metro Times was one of the first to sit down with them. Both were tired, and both mumbled. Crowe, who showed up in some sort of winter vest, was entirely sedate and spoke in his slow, barely excited Australian drawl while Bale — who would be jibed throughout the interview for his secret identity in Batman Begins — spent most of the proceedings sitting next to his new pal wearing a kind of perpetual shit-eating grin, and it never changed — it was as if he was impersonating Christian Slater impersonating Jack Nicholson (complete with the raised eyebrows that never moved). It freaked us out. We could only wonder if he's like that every day.

In fact, it was the weirdest interview this writer has done since Nick Nolte. Crowe and Bale eschewed insight into 3:10, preferring instead to entertain with odd, back-and-forth asides and a chummy patter earned from spending weeks together on a movie set.

Metro Times: Russell, you're known as an actor who loves to research and prepare for period roles. What sort of work went into 3:10 to Yuma for you?

Russell Crowe: Well, I think that we should decide not to talk about preparation just this once because then it all just becomes about preparation and not about the movie. The thing is that I was working on another movie right up to this and then promoting another film in Europe, and so I didn't really do that much preparation. But, as you might know, I have a working farm and so there were a lot of things on this movie that are just part of my day to day.

MT: Was there anything from the last Western that you did, the stylized The Quick and The Dead, that applied here?

RC: Yeah, I had the good fortune of working with a guy called Thell Reed who was an armorer at a point in my life where I'd never even touched a handgun before. He sort of utilized that and put a lot of information in my head because he didn't have to get past things that my dad had taught me incorrectly, or my uncles had taught me badly as he finds with a lot of American actors when he works with period guns. So it was just a matter of taking that same information, refreshing it in my mind, and then changing the style of how this particular guy killed people.

MT: Every male actor wants to star in a Western, to play the cowboy. What was the experience like for you two?

RC: You've been silent for a while, Batman. I'm going to do that all day, man.

Christian Bale: [Laughing] I was kind of guessing that was going to happen. Canyons and being out in the high desert, that was nice. Just being out riding your horses and shooting your guns, that's a lot of fun.

RC: It was really cold.

CB: It got to be bloody freezing, especially some of the night shoots.

RC: Just terrifyingly cold.

CB: Then we had like the worst winter storm in recorded history come in.

RC: We were surrounded by four and a half feet of snow doing scenes where we're talking about the drought. It was one of those movie experiences. Peter Fonda started something that I think that SAG [the Screen Actors Guild] should pick up on. One day he actually said that he couldn't act in period costume on location below 13 degrees.

CB: Which is superb. I'm having that put in my contracts from now on.

RC: Yeah. I reckon that SAG should work on it because I reckon that you shouldn't do Shakespeare in a drafty hall in tights below, say, 8 degrees. There should be a whole scale.

MT: Christian, that means you followed up a jungle shoot for the Vietnam War-focused Rescue Dawn with an equally hellish shoot. Do you enjoy abusing yourself?

CB: I kind of like movies where I get to just be dirty and crawling in the mud. With Rescue Dawn, it was all that primordial stuff, and with this one it was all about wearing the same clothes day after day and getting sweaty and dirty exposure to the sun. It's meant to be like that. Westerns are meant to be dirty. They shouldn't be all nice and clean.

MT: Had you two met before, and what sort of relationship did you forge on this film?

CB: No, we had never met before. Whenever people ask me what I was doing next and I said that I was going to be working with Russell, they would kind of look at me and go, 'Oh, right, you're going to be in for a tough ride with him.' It was absolutely true. [Laughs] No. You find that an awful lot — and I don't mean to talk out of school — but a lot of actors sort of complain and wince and do everything to avoid actually getting on with the work, so it's nice when you're working with someone like Russell when you can just get to the point and you can have blunt conversations about the scenes and it just makes it easy. Obviously, he doesn't have to be told what to do because he's a bloody good actor and it's a pleasure to work with someone as good as that.

RC: Right from the first time that we did a reading, I could see that he had a sense of humor and was very balanced about what the job is and all that sort of stuff. Once you've worn the cape it must be hard ...

CB: This isn't going to go away all day, is it?

RC: Keeping your feet on the ground. You can tell that there's a lot of base jealousy coming from me about the fact that he gets to wear the cape.

CB: I bought him his own special rubber outfit.

RC: Which I appreciated greatly.

CB: You'll be seeing him in the meat district of Manhattan.

RC: We found it very easy to get on. And some of the days, I mean we talked about Peter pulling up at 13 degrees, but actually some of the days were minus 15. So it's really nice to have an easy repartee when you're trying to do complicated things in rough conditions.

CB: Even though your jaw can't move because it's too cold to talk.

MT: Christian, can you talk about the new Batman movie?

CB: Russell is actually going to be in the new Batman movie, which is a big surprise that I want to reveal to everyone right now.

MT: Rumor has it you've signed on to do the Justice League after the Batman movies?

CB: No.

RC: What about the Green Lantern?

CB: No.

RC: What about—

CB: No!

RC: Come on, you look so good in a cape.

3:10 To Yuma
opens Friday, Sept. 7.

Cole Haddon is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes