(August 25th, 2007)


MoviesOnline sat down this week with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale to talk about their new movie at the Los Angeles press day for “3:10 To Yuma.” The film, a modern take on the classic Western by Elmore Leonard from producing/writing/directing team Cathy Konrad and James Mangold, also stars Ben Foster, Gretchen Mol and Peter Fonda.

In Arizona in the late 1800’s, infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) and his vicious gang of thieves and murderers have plagued the Southern Railroad. When Wade is captured, Civil War veteran Dan Evans (Bale), struggling to survive on his drought-plagued ranch, volunteers to deliver him alive to the “3:10 to Yuma,” a train that will take the killer to trial. On the trail, Evans and Wade, each from very different worlds, begin to earn each other’s respect. But with Wade’s outfit on their trail – and dangers at every turn – the mission soon becomes a violent, impossible journey toward each man’s destiny.

Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are terrific actors and we really appreciated their time and sense of humor. Here’s what they had to tell us about their new movie:

Q: You guys have played American roles before and been wonderful at them. Were you surprised to be asked to be in a Western?

Bale: Not for a second, no [Laughs].

Crowe: Yeah, no, didn’t surprise me. I had spent quite a bit of time with James Mangold about six years ago. I was recording an album in the studio at the time and I didn’t realize that he was spending time prepping “Walk the Line,” but we sort of became conversational friends and so when he sent me the script for this I read it and I enjoyed the dynamic between the two characters and that was basically the decision made.

Q: Russell, you’re known as an actor who does a lot of research and prep for period roles. What’s the real level of work that you put into these things?

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.

Q: You have a love of horses too, right?

Crowe: Absolutely.

Q: Did you bring a lot of that passion into a project like this?

Crowe: Yeah, I mean I really enjoyed the thought of the story. The main thing is reading the script and seeing the dynamic of the characters and that looked like it was going to be fun. So that’s why I did it.

Q: What appealed to you about the time period of the movie?

Crowe: That it was a short shoot.

Q: I mean the actual time period where it takes place.

Bale: Oh, that time period.

Crowe: I’ll leave that one to you, Christian.

Bale: I think it’s the appeal of all Westerns, just being a time of the most anarchy compared to nowadays when, you know, a man really does have to be self-sufficient. And I think nowadays we can get away a lot with being very vague about having opinions about things, beliefs in something, you know. You can kind of get away with being vague about it because there’s not much that seems to directly affect our lives but at that time, you had to be a much stronger minded individual in order to survive and I find that appealing to watch people who really have to test their mettle every day.

Q: Russell, how selective are you about what you take on?

Bale: He can’t be too selective because look who he’s working with.

Crowe: The same as it’s always been: what’s the story, what’s the character, you know. That’s my primary focus when I read a script. I don’t think that I’ve become more selective over time. I think I came into it being selective. I just did things that appealed to me. And they’re not always going to be things that the head of a studio thinks will appeal as well.

Q: Are good characters hard to find?

Crowe: Yeah. I think they’ve always been. It’s always been that way, especially in my life in the movies. You get a lot of opportunities that come with a big pay check and all that sort of stuff but don’t necessarily appeal to you, you know. And a lot of people who are absolutely dead set certain that this is something that you would love to do or whatever, and you start reading it and it’s not something that turns you on. I think you’ve got to stay true to yourself in that way. I read a script, if I get goose bumps, if I kind of like what the potential of it is, then that’s the thing that I do.

Q: Jim said “Gladiator” felt like a Western to him in terms of its structure and the idea of vengeance – is that something you agree with?

Crowe: Well I suppose it could be a Western if you were writing your review in Athens. Sorry. I don’t know. That’s probably more of a filmmaking sort of question really, because we didn’t really think about it that way at the time. But, you know, we have common ground in terms of we have horses I suppose.

Q: Was there anything from the last Western that you did, “The Quick and The Dead,” that also applied here? That was a much more stylized Western though.

Crowe: Yeah, but 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.

Q: Jim told us earlier that apparently you’re the quickest draw in terms of the guns. Where does that comfort zone come from?

Bale: Russell always. Russell, yeah that’s true. You see that at the end. And listen, I didn’t even try to compete here. I was a rifle man. I had this crap revolver. It was this old soldier’s conversion thing. I didn’t even bother.

Crowe: It was really when I came over to do “The Quick and the Dead” back in ’93. And because, you know, coming from Australia I didn’t have any experience with a gun culture. So I’d never actually held a handgun until I was on the set of “Quick and the Dead” and what that gave Thell was a complete blank slate so he could sort of put the information in my head that you need to do that sort of thing and over time, and it’s been a long time now that I’ve known Mr. Reed and I’ve probably done half a dozen or more movies with him and he just sort of, you know, keeps giving me the tips. We’ve actually done silly things like, you know, a long time ago gone off and done shooting competitions together as a team and stuff. But that’s a very specific skill. You don’t get to use that very often. So it’s good when a Western comes around and you can use it.

Q: When you talk to actors about why they became actors, they talk about this idea of when they were young wanting to dress up and be in this world of fantasy. Does doing a movie like this reinforce in some ways why you guys became actors in the first place?

Bale: What? That it’s all about dress up?

Q: Doing a Western, cowboy hats, guns.

Crowe: Well that’s pretty good, isn’t it? I mean it’s a good list. Ride horses, play with guns, speak in a funny voice, you know, wear pointy boots. It’s a good list in terms of what you’re talking about. And you would approach something like this probably thinking this is going to be a bit of fun, until I actually looked at it and thought, you know, I spent this time of year in Arizona making a Western back in ’93 or ’94 and that was pleasant. It was, you know, warm during the day, a little cold late at night, nothing much. So I thought this would be fine. And then I realized once I’d gotten there that Santa Fe’s actually 7,500 feet above sea level and it’s now going to be significantly colder.

Q: Can you talk about filming on location and working together?

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

Bale: I was kind of guessing that was going to happen [Laughs]. New Mexico, when I think about it, I don’t have any recollections of Santa Fe particularly, but the 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.

Crowe: It was really cold.

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

Crowe: Just terrifyingly cold.

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

Crowe: 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 sort of movie experiences.

Bale: Right, yeah [Laughs]. And he was just a real bastard to work with.

Crowe: Peter Fonda started something that I think SAG should pick up on. He actually started a scale. One day he made a stand. He said that he couldn’t act on location in period costume at below thirteen degrees. And I think SAG should look into this. And I think there should be a scale done. And I think there should be certain temperatures, you know, for example, that you can wear a cape and stuff and a rubber suit, and there’s …

Bale: I need that, yeah.

Crowe: … certain temperatures where you shouldn’t.

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

Crowe: 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, eight degrees. There should be a whole scale.

Q: Christian, you had just come from shooting “Rescue Dawn” in the jungle. Was that location more uncomfortable than this one or was this one more challenging?

Bale: I kind of like movies where I get to just be dirty and crawling in the mud and 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 and 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. I like getting my hands dirty.

Q: Russell, in terms of your character, did you like the fact that the bad boy had a conscience? Was that appealing to you at all?

Crowe: I didn’t really read it that way.

Q: How did you read it then?

Crowe: He’s just very efficient at surviving whatever situation he’s in. I mean, the end result is an example of that. Obviously, that group of men that he’s gathered together are probably a little dangerous now and so let’s just move on and clean the slate.

Q: In the last scene, your character gets away after whistling for his horse to come. How would you explain that special relationship between a horse and its rider?

Crowe: Well, I’m an absolute horse lover so that’s a very complex and long answer in its full sense, but I’ve always found that, even from the time of being a little kid, that just like people there are some horses that you sort of have a deep connection with immediately and you can work on that over time. I’ve found over the years that for me it’s the antithesis of some other people’s thought processes. The gentler you are and the more constant you are with the horse, the deeper that connection gets. It’s funny though, doing these sort of movies and I’ve done a few with animals because you get really close to them as the working relationship is quite intense working ten or twelve hours a day for a number of months and so it gets hard to say goodbye.

Q: Your character whistled to his horse. Do you have something like that in your personal life that you use with pets or animals?

Crowe: Yeah.

Q: Like what?

Crowe: Well, it would depend on what the situation was, but mainly it’s just a series of mouth clicks. That’s all really.

Q: Russell, can you talk about your character who sort of switches sides and starts to kill his friends?

Crowe: Well, as I was saying, he just responds in the situation to what’s around him in order to survive. He’s just that kind of animal himself.

Q: What makes him like that?

Crowe: Well, there’s a history that’s talked about in the film and whether or not that’s the complete version of his life’s story is a different thing. You sort of assume all the experiences that an abandoned child might have and all the worst, all of those things will add up to where he is. I think one of the important things is that because we had no history of Wade, we don’t know his future, we don’t know if he gets captured and all of that stuff, and so I was always taking the attitude that he was actually very successful at what he did and that was probably the fourth or fifth version of his quote unquote gang and when they become too proficient, the gang members around him and the things that he’s taught them, that’s probably the time to clean the slate and move on and go and get himself another gang. There’s a story in “The Princess Bride” where they talk about the Dread Pirate Roberts changing hands and that would go through my mind in terms of explaining him.

Q: Had you guys met before and what sort of relationship did you forge on this film?

Bale: No, we had never met before. That’s all. 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 an awful lot, and I don’t mean to talk out of school, but a lot of actors sort of complain and winge 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.

Crowe: 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…

Bale: This isn’t going to go away all day.

Crowe: …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.

Bale: I bought him his own special rubber outfit.

Crowe: Which I appreciated greatly.

Bale: You’ll be seeing him in the meat district of Manhattan.

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

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

Crowe: The thing is that it was easy and the thing that I said to him on the last night when we were finishing up, I said to him that he’s all class. On a daily basis he was always ready. He’s got great questions. His choices with his weapons, the way that he approached the horse riding – it’s all good. From my perspective, to know that the guy you’re working with has put the effort in and has switched on and is ready to go regardless of the conditions and the hours and all of that stuff, it just makes you feel like you’re in the right place.

Bale: We were both a number of drinks down the line by that time of course.

Crowe: Which is also a good thing, being able to simply finish a days work and being able to have a regular conversation with a bloke over a beer without it being some big to do and breaking some sort of contemporary taboo like, “We don’t do that in Los Angeles.”

Q: The relationship that you guys have onscreen is like a friendship but it’s a friendship based on hate.

Crowe: So it’s a hateship then? Or a dislikeship.

Q: A dislikeship, very good. Can you talk about how off screen you get that for the movie?

Bale: No, we didn’t do a whole lot of talking about it off screen. I mean I tend to feel like if it’s working, it’s working, you know? And it was working. We didn’t have to sort of sit and dissect the whole thing. It was pretty evident. It was right there. We’re both coming into it with very strong and firm ideas about who we are and the characters and everything and I think it’s all up there. It’s self-evident, you know?

Crowe: It’s unfortunate that he gets topped at the end there because it would have been fun to go and do it again in perhaps a more moderate climate.

Q: Do you think Wade is a rock star of his day in some ways?

Crowe: Yeah but the thing for me really is not fame – because you don’t know what happens to Wade in the future. I always imagine that he was just good at what he did and somewhere after, he must have a hacienda somewhere, which is probably what he’s describing to the barmaid, you know, without fully explaining to her that he’s cashed up. But because we don’t know, I mean just from the information you get in the movie he seems to have gathered an awful large amount of money in a short period of time and we don’t see that he has any real expenses.

Q: Christian, your name is above the title. You’re a superhero.

Bale: I am a superhero?

Q: Do you see yourself as a movie star? Is that the kind of career that you want because you also take these very difficult and outside of mainstream roles as well?

Bale: I don’t look at any difference between movies. A movie’s no different for me about where the finance is coming from, it’s just about the story and do I like the story and that’s the end of it. So whether it’s a studio movie, whether it’s a bigger market end piece, whether it’s a small piece, it doesn’t matter a damn to me. It’s just about the story and what I’m interested in.

Q: Can you talk about working on the new “Batman”?

Bale: 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.

Q: Are you signed on to do “The Justice League” after the “Batman” films?

Bale: No, ‘cause Russell’s really trying to get that one, yeah. I don’t want to tread on his toes.

Crowe: What about the Green Lantern?

Bale: No.

Crowe: Yeah, he was offered Green Lantern but there’s no cape so he said “No f**king way. If I don’t get the cape, I won’t be in your movie.”

Bale: No cape. No go.

Crowe: What about …?

Bale: No.

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

“3:10 to Yuma” opens in theaters on September 7th. Checkout a bunch of action packed clips from the film below.

By Sheila Roberts.