Lou Diamond Phillips looms large in writer-director Scott Martin’s 2018 western.
Editor's Note: Throughout May, we’re continuing to celebrate Great Westerns of the 21st century — noteworthy movies and TV series with special appeal to C&I readers that have premiered since 2001. Check the Entertainment tab three times a week to see a different recommendation by C&I senior writer Joe Leydon. And be on the lookout for our May/June 2020 print edition, which features our list of the Top 21 Westerns of tghe 21st Century — and a cover-story profile of the great Robert Duvall.
C&I reader favorite Lou Diamond Phillips was fresh from his multi-season run as Henry Standing Bear on Longmire when he managed to steal every scene that wasn’t bolted to the floor with his gleefully fearsome performance as manic gunslinger Johnny Kane in Big Kill, a hugely entertaining and unabashedly old-fashioned western now available for streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, You Tube and other platforms.
The movie, written and directed by costar Scott Martin, tells the story of Philadelphia accountant turned Wild West tenderfoot Jim Andrews (Christoph Sanders), who travels to the Arizona mining town of Big Kill to reunite with his brother, owner of a local saloon. Along the way, he makes the acquaintance of two roguish gamblers — Jake Logan (Martin) and Travis Parker (Clint Hummel) — who, truth to tell, are much more adept at drawing guns than dealing cards. A good thing, too, because Jim needs all the help 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), who takes unseemly delight in doing the Preacher’s dirty work.
Scott Martin admitted to us in 2018 that he often found it difficult to maintain a straight face while acting opposite Phillips during on-location filming in New Mexico: “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,” Martin continued, “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.
“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.”
And what about Jason Patric as The Preacher? “There would be times,” Martin confessed, “when [Patric] 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?’”
“But 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.”