Lou Diamond Phillips co-stars in writer-director Scott Martin’s entertaining western.
If you’re in Albuquerque, Austin, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Antonio, Tucson, or the Dallas/Fort Worth area this weekend, you’re in luck: You’re in the first wave of cities selected for the theatrical release of Big Kill, a hugely entertaining and unabashedly old-fashioned western written, directed and co-produced by native Texan Scott Martin — and co-starring C&I reader favorite Lou Diamond Phillips.
Christoph Sanders of TV’s Last Man Standing and Ghost Whisperer stars as Jim Andrews, a Philadelphia accountant turned Wild West tenderfoot. While on his way to the mining town of Big Kill, Arizona, where he believes his brother owns and operates a popular saloon, Jim makes the acquaintance of two roguish gamblers — Jake Logan (played by Martin) and Travis Parker (Clint Hummel) — who, fortunately for all parties concerned, are much more adept at drawing guns than dealing cards. A good thing, too, because Jim needs all the friends he can get when, after arriving in Big Kill with his new buddies, he discovers the town is controlled by The Preacher (Jason Patric), a soft-spoken sociopath who solemnly delivers last rites to his victims, and Johnny Kane (Phillips), a flamboyantly attired hired gun who takes ungodly delight in doing The Preacher’s dirty work.
Danny Trejo and Michael Pare appear briefly but memorably in the supporting cast of Big Kill, which was filmed on location in New Mexico. Martin called us a few days ago to talk about his movie, and here are some highlights from our conversation.
Cowboys & Indians: To start with the obvious question: What made you decide to go against the current conventional wisdom regarding the commercial prospects for westerns?
Scott Martin: You know that’s a good question. Look, I’ve been a fan of westerns for most of my life, and it’s been a dream of mine to make one. I wrote this script, Big Kill, about 12 years ago. Thought we were going to make it then — but we didn’t, and we kind of set it aside. And as my career progressed, I finally had the chance to make it, and so I took it. I actually see a lot of the westerns that are out there. I do love the genre, so I watch all different kinds, and enjoy all different kinds. But I just felt like a classic, old-style western was missing right now. And that’s the story I wanted to tell.
C&I: Some filmmakers have claimed it’s difficult to make westerns these days because so few contemporary actors have the skill set necessary to ride horses. But, really, hasn’t that always been a problem for anyone making westerns?
Martin: Yeah, that’s kind of the story of Jack Palance and Shane, right? Here was this New York guy and he got offered the role in Shane, and they asked if he knew how to ride a horse. And of course he says he does, even though he’s never rode a horse in his life. And when he gets out there, he can’t ride a horse — so the shot is of him walking the horse. [Laughs] So yeah, since the beginning of making movie westerns, that’s always been an interesting dilemma.
The thing about this movie is, a lot of it takes place inside the town, and it’s all about the town and the people, and folks walking around. All the horse riding is cross country, and it’s mainly with the three main actors. So we got out there early, and got the training with the wranglers and whatnot, so we were reasonably comfortable on the horses. And of course, one of the characters, Jim, is not supposed to be great on a horse, and so that part worked. That was helpful.
And the good thing about filming in New Mexico is, you have a lot of local actors who do ride horses. They actually are cowboys — they do that. So when we were doing scenes with other characters who really needed to ride, well, we got actors that could ride.
C&I: Where did you film in New Mexico?
Martin: The main town was Bonanza Creek Ranch, just outside of Santa Fe. It was great, just wonderful. And I kid you not, the woman who runs it, Imogene Hughes, is the nicest person. We went out there for a location scout ahead of filming. So she invites us into her place after location scouting, gives us coffee, offers us this amazing apple pie that she just baked — and then tells us, “Make sure you have permits for when you go on some parts of the ranch. Because if my cowboys don’t know you’re supposed to be there, they’re going to shoot you.” And I’m like, “This is perfect, this is where we need to be. She gives us apple pie and warns us where we can be shot, all in one sitting.”
C&I: Isn’t it illegal in four or five states for any actor to be enjoying himself as much as Lou Diamond Phillips obviously enjoys himself in Big Kill?
Martin: [Laughs] You know, the role of Johnny Kane was a tough one to cast, because he’s a sociopathic gunfighter who is also very charming. There aren’t a lot of actors who can fill that kind of role. But, you know, when you look at the filmography of Lou Diamond Phillips, you see he’s played all different kinds of characters, and he’s had that charisma that just jumped off the screen. I thought, “Man, if we could get him, that would be amazing.” And when he read the script, liked the role, and said yes – I was just kind of beside myself. I couldn't believe it.
But really, we were fortunate with all the casting. Like Christoph Sanders, whom I’ve known for many years, and a lot of people have seen him on Last Man Standing. He’s the perfect Jim, because just in general, in real life, he’s such a nice guy. But nobody has really been able to see him do a turn like he does with Jim.
C&I: Did the actors ever surprise you with their unique delivery of dialogue from your script?
Martin: Definitely. Lou Diamond Phillips — every one of these line reads he came out with, he did them with such fun and this, like, twinkle in his eye. I’d be sitting there, and there were a couple of times when we’d be in the middle of a scene, shooting, and I have to say: I caught myself being an audience, and just watching him. He was so funny. I’d tell myself, “OK, you’ve got to stay in character, you’ve got to stay in it.” But… OK, I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a big shootout outside, and he comes walking back in and looks at us, points his finger, and goes “Boom!” And then walks back out. And I just started dying laughing, I was like, “You gotta be kidding me!” And that smile — I was not expecting that smile all the time. It was just creepy, in all the best ways.
Same thing with Jason Patric, the way he played The Preacher. There would be times when he was delivering some lines — and just standing opposite him was really uncomfortable. It’s like, “This guy is bizarre. This guy is scary. What’s wrong with this creature?” That’s the great thing about doing a movie like this, when you bring in actors who are not only experienced and strong actors, but they are committed. They’re coming in, and they have their point of view, and are really into it. They start coming up with these line readings that surprise you. You think, “That’s not how I heard it in my head when I wrote it. But it’s better.” And that’s when you kind of just sit there and enjoy it.