The trailer for “Cowboys & Aliens” premiered last week and, judging by movie-fandom reaction on the Internet, instantly positioned the summer 2011 film as the wild card to watch in a slate jammed with big-franchise sequels, among them “Harry Potter,” “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” If anyone in Hollywood knows what it takes to deliver a blockbuster, it’s the team behind “Cowboys & Aliens” — director Jon Favreau, executive producer Steven Spielberg, producer Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. We caught up with Orci and Kurtzman, the writing team behind “Star Trek” and “Transformers,” to talk about the reaction to the trailer and working with Hollywood icon and “Cowboys” star Harrison Ford.
GB: There’s been a strong response to the trailer, and it seems to have answered some skeptical questions about the tone of the film, questions that were not surprising for a movie with this sort of title. You must have been pleased by all of that.
RO: The reaction so far has been better than we could have expected or hoped for. In terms of our approach, there was a debate early on and suggestions from some quarters that the title should be changed. But we decided the title was too much of its own log line and too much of what made us love the property in the first place. We didn’t want to lose it. At the same time, we knew that the title could be misleading. We wanted to make sure that this trailer made it clear that there was a certain tone to this movie that you might not be able to discern from the title. So aside from people liking the trailer, I think we accomplished the goal of demonstrating that this is a real movie.
AK: Tone is the whole ballgame for this movie. Sort of like “Transformers,” the early questions were, “Is it a cartoon? So is it funny? Is it a comedy?” We very definitively knew that was the opposite of what we wanted to accomplish, and that’s why we were so heartened when Jon Favreau came on board. He innately understood the requirements of both genres. He’s a very good collaborator and a very good compass, and having him wedged between Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, we felt like the team was so right for the movie.
GB: Well I’m just glad you guys ignored my e-mail last year suggesting you go with “3:10 to Yoda” for the title.
RO: [laughter] Well you had the right idea, you wanted to lower expectations.
AK: Yes, low expectations are fantastic, we love lowering expectations.
GB: I know the big movies that both of you grew up loving, and Harrison Ford is in a good number of them. What was it like working with him, and did it meet your expectations?
RO: No it didn’t meet expectations because you expect the worst. So when you actually meet the man and he’s cooler than Han Solo and Indiana Jones put together, it’s kind of shocking. It’s like stepping into one of your dreams, really. I dreamed I met Harrison Ford and I made a movie with him. That’s how it feels. And you know, that’s really Harrison you see riding full tilt on that horse. Just to see him live in genuine action is really priceless.
AK: Harrison carries with him the wisdom of working with the best storytellers in the world. So, aside from getting to work with a childhood hero, he also was extremely helpful in the choices we were making on the script. He really understood the tone. He really understood how to play his character and the emotional arc — when to be gruff and when to let the light in. He was amazing. We spent a month and a half with him and Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde just sitting in a room and talking over scenes again and again and again. That was right before we started shooting. That was like a dream experience on every possible level. Everyone understood the movie we needed to make. Harrison and Daniel were both protective of their characters in the right way but extremely generous about saying, “What does the movie need?” And that allowed us to find the best version of the movie. I hope.
GB: How hard was it to find a cowboy hat that didn’t make him look like Indiana Jones? I was on the set and heard that early on he didn’t want to wear any hat at all because he was worried that it would remind audiences too much of a certain archaeologist. It was Spielberg who was adamant that Ford’s character couldn’t go hatless, correct?
AK: That was a topic of much discussion early on. Spielberg had quite a lot to say about it. We were all very cautious about it because, obviously, we were putting Harrison Ford in a hat, which is only one of the most iconic images of the past 30 years. We needed to make sure that — no pun intended — we tipped a hat to iconography of Harrison Ford and also presented the audience with a very different version. We spent a lot of time thinking about that hat. You would be surprised.
— Geoff Boucher
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