Cowboys & Aliens: Bond Meets Solo

While action star Daniel Craig, our new, cool James Bond, may not be the first person one considers when the words “American cowboy” come to mind, Jon Favreau, who transformed Robert Downey Jr. into a superhero in Iron Man, has a knack for inspired casting.

Daniel Craig

Favreau saw something both familiar and iconic in the British native that would fit the character of Jake Lonergan, the lone, amnesiac stranger who wanders into the former boomtown of Absolution just in time to save it from total annihilation. “He was the first cast member we brought on,” explains the director. “I realized in talking with him and looking at him that he has this gruff, handsome, Steve McQueen-type quality.”

Rugged good looks notwithstanding, Craig has a gift for conveying much with few words. “The language of the Western is about action, not dialogue,” says Favreau. “I usually have a fire hose of dialogue to use in my films, but here you have to make the action the dialogue, whether it’s the gunfights or hand-to-hand combat. That’s all part of Jake’s personality, and Daniel is able to carry that off really well. He says a lot with his actions. You see when his wheels are turning and he’s up against everything.”

Clint Eastwood’s Silence

A longtime fan of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as well as Alien and Blade Runner, Craig didn’t feel as if it would be a big leap to bring these genres together. Admitting that he “based his character very much on the silence of Clint Eastwood,” Craig prepared for the part by seeing as many Westerns as he could.

The actor says, “I watched a lot of John Wayne Westerns, but my favorite ones are the ones from the 1970s—movies like Little Big Man and those so-called dirty Westerns where there’s a little more reality.” When it came time to get into character, Craig offers that it was much easier to become Jake Lonergan than other roles that he tackled.

Craig says, “The cowboy just comes out. We are in a desert, and I’m wearing chaps. I’m wearing a gun around my waist, I’ve got cowboy boots on and a hat and I’m riding a horse. I rode on a horse every day and I got paid to do it, so I couldn’t have been happier.” Is the situation feasible? Craig believes that 19th-century settlers and Indians would be hardy enough to handle creatures from another world.

He notes: “The idea is that survival kicks in. These people are very tough. They’re frontier people, and we’ve got American Indian tribesmen who are a tough breed who have survived the outside world and all that Mother Nature has to throw at them.”

Harrison Ford

One of the final roles to be cast was Harrison Ford’s character, Woodrow Dolarhyde, Absolution’s cattle-rancher benefactor and the only man keeping the decaying town and its inhabitants from financial ruin.

A Civil War colonel whose bitterness calcified after the bloody battle at Antietam, Dolarhyde is a brutal and cold-hearted tyrant, and he has it out for the man he thinks stole his gold: Jake Lonergan. As Orci explains, “If it weren’t for the aliens, he’d be the bad guy in the film.” Though Spielberg and Ford have a long working relationship, it wasn’t a given that the man who is inextricably linked with Indiana Jones and Han Solo would come aboard the project. Favreau discusses how he managed to find a distinct identity for the iconic actor: “For my generation, he’s like John Wayne. When people sit in their seats, they’re bringing everything that has come before to their experience of watching a movie. You can’t separate the actor from his work.

I remember seeing Harrison for the first time as Bob Falfa in American Graffiti, and then of course in Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. He has a roguish quality. He’s always charming but with unpredictability; you never knew what he was going to do. There is a danger to him that we thought fit this role.” While he was initially intrigued by the project, Ford was also skeptical.

Favreau recalls: “He became interested after I showed him the concept art and explained that our approach was serious in tone; we weren’t going to play this as a joke. Our goal was to juxtapose these two classic forms to create something new and exciting.” Admittedly, Ford’s primary interest in the film fell on the cowboy side of the story. He says: “What’s interesting is that these people back in 1875 in the Old West didn’t have our experience of space travel and planetary understanding. When the invasion happens, they have no context in which to understand what was occurring. The only possible context is the one that was given to them by the preacher in town. The aliens were possibly demons and remained demons throughout the telling of the story.”

A history buff, Ford shares a bit about how his character came to be: “The Western depends on the reality that it’s every man for himself. They were on the edge of the frontier and had to depend on their own resources. The strong will and the strong man did prevail. Dolarhyde is an old rancher, the richest guy in town, who disdains the Indians. He’s a hard man who has a son who is not the best person, because of the advantages that his father accrued for him. The result of his dominant personality is expressed through this son who is a bully and a weak hand.”