Photography: New Line Cinema

Ed Harris directed and starred in the 2008 western based on Robert B. Parker's novel.

It’s 1882, and the folks in Appaloosa, a wide-open New Mexico Territory mining town, need some outside help to stop renegade rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) and his violent cronies from terrorizing the citizenry. Enter Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), veteran peacekeepers who quickly establish law and order by doling out some rough justice. But when a bold and beguiling widow named Allison French (Renée Zellweger) steps off the train one day, Cole is seriously distracted, Hitch is immediately suspicious —and loyalties are sorely tested.

Welcome to Appaloosa, the terrific 2008 western now available on HBO Now, iTunes, Google Play and other streaming platforms. It was a labor of love for Ed Harris, who, in addition to playing Cole, served as director and co-wrote (with Robert Knott) the screenplay based on Robert B. Parker’s novel of the same title.

When we spoke with Harris about his well-received movie back in 2008, he told us that, right from the start, he wanted Viggo Mortensen — with whom he’d previously worked in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence  (2005)— to play Hitch. Despite his firm commitments to several other projects at the time, Mortensen — an avid fan of westerns — accepted Harris’ offer.

“One of the many things I love about Viggo,” Harris said, “is that he’s a man of his word. Even though he was busy up until two days before we started filming, he came prepared, ready to work. He really knew what he wanted to do and who this guy was that he wanted to play. And he did it. I’m really proud of him.”

Here are some other highlights of our 2008 conversation with Harris (who’s expected to return to Westworld for Season 2 next year on HBO).

C&I: Why did you want to make Appaloosa?

Harris: It’s really the relationship between these two guys, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, that drew me into it. Because, you know, if you have a really good buddy, you have this way of talking to each other — you have a certain shorthand, your own sense of humor.

C&I: Your character, Virgil Cole, is fascinatingly complex. He’s a steely-eyed gunman. But he likes to read transcendentalist essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. And he’s always trying to improve his vocabulary.

Harris: Yeah, and I really liked that aspect of the character. It gives the movie a little humor, and it really helps with the relationship between Cole and Hitch. This guy is a very efficient killer — he’s obviously been doing this a long time, and he’s still alive — but he’s got this part of him that wants to be an intelligent individual. And Emerson is a pretty interesting guy for someone in his position to be reading.

C&I: What inspired you to cast a British actor, Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons, as Randall Bragg, the villain of the story?

Harris: I didn’t want Bragg to be like a thug. I didn’t want him to be somebody you look at and go, “He’s the heavy.” Jeremy’s a very intelligent guy. He’s got a certain sophistication about him. I really thought that would be kind of a nice contrast with Virgil especially, and Everett to some degree. He totally got into what he was wearing and the guns he carried. And he’s good on a horse — he rides in England and Ireland.

C&I: What about his accent?

Harris: In his head, I think Jeremy was playing Bragg like he was an educated guy from the East. As far as I was concerned, hell, he was from England. There were tons of immigrants filling up the country at that point, right? But, look, as long as it was consistent, I didn’t really care what he was doing.

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