Actor Bill Pullman talks about his leading role in the action-packed Western “The Ballad of Lefty Brown.”
Cowboys & Indians: What drew you to playing the title character in The Ballad of Lefty Brown?
Bill Pullman: Well, the funny thing is, I got a call out of the blue from my agent. The movie hadn’t been set up or anything, and agents can get a little jaded. But my agent knew I would be interested in something like this. So I read the script. And I met [writer-director Jared Moshe], and it just felt like it would really be a great project to work with him on, to really go deep with the character. Frankly, I wasn’t looking to do a revisionist thing. There’s a lot of good westerns made that I like. But my favorites are the ones that are made in the classic sense. And this was one of those. It doesn’t have a little parody, it doesn’t have irony, it doesn’t look like it’s trying to be hip.
C&I: There is a novel twist to it — Lefty Brown, the character you play, is a lifelong sidekick who must become a hero to avenge his murdered friend. But in every other way, the movie is very much a traditional western.
Bill: That’s right. It just tells a tale. And I thought, Well, that’s kind of brave to be that simple. You’ve got to really deliver with the story, and you’ve got to have something where people care about the people in that story. And that’s enough. You don’t need all the style and panache and bravura and all of that to get people into it.
C&I: You’ve spent a lot of time on horseback, both on the screen and at your family ranch near Whitehall, Montana. Did you enjoy the opportunity to get back in the saddle?
Bill: Oh yeah. Working with horses and shooting a western is always interesting. [Laughs.] Of course, when you’re on location, you get a certain amount of testosterone flaring all around you, because everybody wants to look good on a horse. It’s the same on our ranch, really. We move our cows up to the mountain in June, and then bring them back before October 1. And we have to move them between pastures about three times in the summertime. So a lot of neighbors will come and help — and everybody wants to look good if they happen to be glanced at, you know?
C&I: Yeah. And when you know you’re being filmed, you’re probably even more self-conscious about how you look.
Bill: Sure. You want to have good form. You want to be sure the horse is safe. And you want to have people around you feel comfortable that you know what you’re doing, you know? But when you’re making a western, well, sometimes you’ll get somebody on a horse and they immediately want to giddyup, or they want the horse to do exactly what they want. And sometimes the horse doesn’t want to do that, you know? You’ve got to have a heightened alertness when you deal with a horse.
C&I: Did you have a good horse for The Ballad of Lefty Brown?
Bill: I had a really good-looking horse named Will. A good-tempered horse. But I have to tell you: Will didn’t really have a top gear. Everything else was damn good. But there would be times when Jared would say, “OK, Bill, this is the scene where you get to really just turn on the heat and ride out.” Well, you can only do what the horse will do. But I think we worked around it. He looked so mighty in other shots. And he could climb a hill faster than anybody, even a quick horse. So he was really good company on this picture.
C&I: It must have been great shooting on a Montana location that was just a 20-minute drive from your ranch.
Bill: And I got to spend a lot of time with friends and neighbors who worked on the film. You remember the hanging scene? Well, when I looked out at the crowd, I was looking at a lot of faces of people that I had known all through my life. Because they were all extras. Like, the guy I’d taught with at Montana State University, the parents of my nephew’s wife, and my own wife and daughter — they were out there. Guys I’d ridden with, the son of the local vet, all these folks. It’s the kind of moment I haven’t often had on a movie. And that added a layer of intensity to the whole thing. It was wonderful.
FOR YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE: The Ballad of Lefty Brown is now available on DVD and Blu-ray and can be rented or purchased on digital platforms.
From the April 2018 issue.