After overcoming casting and financial obstacles, the little western movie that could gets its release.
It is rare today to have a high-profile western film both starring and co-produced by a woman — especially a 33-year old Academy Award-winning actress such as Natalie Portman who seems to have no ties to the western world. However, on January 29 audiences are going to be treated to just that when Natalie Portman stars as Jane Hammond, a woman whose outlaw husband returns home riddled with bullets and barely alive, in Jane Got a Gun.
When Jane’s husband’s gang eventually tracks him down him down to finish the job, Jane is forced to reach out to an ex-lover she hasn’t seem in years, to help save her children and defend the family farm.
Jane Got a Gun also stars Ewan McGregor, best known for August: Osage County, The Impossible, Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons, and Star Wars, as villainous Colin McCann, head of the outlaw gang; Joel Edgerton (pictured above), who recently starred in the Ridley Scott’s holiday blockbuster Exodus: Gods and Kings, as Dan Frost, Jane’s ex-lover; and Noah Emmerich, Super 8 star, as her seriously wounded husband, Bill Hammond.
McGregor and Portman have worked together in the past, starring in Star Wars prequel trilogy as Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi and senator Padmé Amidala, the mother of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa. “That innate charisma and charm that has always defined McGregor’s onscreen appeal is just being channeled in a new direction,” Portman says. “I think effortless charm is a perfect quality for a villain. The people who can hurt you most usually do so by charming you and then letting you down,” she told Nylon magazine. “Ewan has a real dark side underneath, which we saw so well, even back in Trainspotting. He can really play any character from leading man to villain — and do it well.”
Jane Got a Gun is truly the little movie that “could,” having overcome great odds to get made and released. The talk of the Cannes Film Festival in May, 2013, even though the film was still in script form, filmmaker Lynn Ramsey, who had recently helmed the indie darling We Need To Talk About Kevin, was developing the project, which was expected to secure financing and a pre-sale deal shortly after the end of the Festival. Then the film fell apart. Originally developed by Ramsey for Portman and Jude Law (Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Homes franchise), the director didn’t show up on the set for the first day of shooting, and Law soon followed her out the door. Next cast was Bradley Cooper, who had to soon bow out due to a scheduling conflict on American Hustle. Director Gavin O’Connor of Miracle fame and known for emotional, gritty dramas stepped in. McGregor came on board as McCann, the role that both Law and Cooper were going to play.
Relativity Media decided to release the movie in early 2015, moved the release date to September, and filed for bankruptcy in August. Picked up by The Weinstein Group, Jane will finally be released this week, once again making headlines when the now canceled Paris premiere was scheduled for two days after the Paris bombing. “It was very challenging,” Portman explained diplomatically to the magazine Marie Claire. “Everyone came together, but it was hard emotionally.”
The decidedly urban and urbane cast and crew took up residence at San Cristobal, one of New Mexico’s most historic ranches near Santa Fe, for several months to create to look and feel of the film. Part of the series of family-owned Singleton Ranches, which includes vast land holdings in New Mexico and California, family patriarch Dr. Henry Singleton, a co-founder of electronics giant Teledyne Industries, bought San Cristobal, located in the Galisteo Basin in 1985. More than 24 acquisitions later, Singleton Ranches total 1.1 million acres of deeded land. In addition to breeding and raising cows and horses, it was important to Singleton to preserve the ranching heritage brought to New Mexico over 400 years ago.
Because of his vision, San Cristobal is the only ranch that is used as a location for the television and film industry. Such classic movies as The Cowboys starring John Wayne were filmed at the ranch, as were more recent ones including the new Lone Ranger and True Grit, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, the sci-fi flick Cowboys & Aliens, and now Jane Got A Gun; calling the ranch their movie home for several weeks or months.
Ranch caretaker Wesley Layman started working for Henry Singleton at another New Mexico ranch in 1991 and then moved to San Cristobal several years later where he also supervises the movie shoots. “At first we thought the whole production was not going to happen,” Layman explains about Jane. “Financing was very touchy after the first director [Lynn Ramsey] suddenly left the project. The ranch hadn’t been paid and I was afraid we were going to have to literally lock our gates.”
After a slow start, financing was finalized and set building started in earnest. The first to go up was the cabin where Jane lives. “They did a great job building a little homestead,” Layman says. “It took over a month to build the cabin, trapping shed, and wooden fence, next to an arroyo with views of the entire Galesteo Basin. The walls were removable and one was wired for explosives and another one was riddled with gun shot holes.”
While this is Portman’s first western, it is not her first time on horseback. As a matter of fact, Portman has been riding horses for more than a decade. “Most of the horses the actors rode were trailered in from California,” Layman says. “Natalie rode really well around the ranch, and even trotted out with the toddler who played her young daughter, on her lap in front of the saddle.”
Although Layman didn’t spend much time with the cast, he recalls a lovely Natalie Portman story with his then 10-year-old granddaughter cast as an extra in the film. “When they were filming during the summer the temperature was over 100 degrees,” he says, “and my granddaughter Melia was dressed up in full western garb but she never complained about the heat and was so excited to be a part of this scene that included many children. The scene was shot on her birthday and when she was finished we were walking back to my truck, Natalie stopped us, and wished Melia a ‘ very happy birthday.’ It was a real big deal for her.”
“We had a great time on location,” Noah Emmerich, who plays Jane’s husband, Bill, told The Huffington Post. “It’s a really good old-fashioned Western with a female protagonist. I made my first film with Natalie, called Beautiful Girls, when she was just thirteen-years-old and now I play her husband in this nineteenth century Western. It’s not how I imagined reuniting with her but when you see the film you’ll understand. It’s been a really great experience. It was an incredibly great time strapping on those six-guns, saddling up, and riding off into the desert.”
Check your local movie theater for availability and showtimes.