The premise is the same as the 1960 film that starred Steve McQueen -- seven gunslingers unite to defend a small town from a ruthless land baron.
Fuqua sat down with Moviefone to discuss his take on the iconic western, Ethan Hawke's unique (and intense) way he went after a role, and why no character throws racial slurs at Denzel in this movie.
Moviefone: How did you get involved with the remake?
Antoine Fuqua: MGM decided to remake it and they had heard I loved westerns. They asked me if I'd do it and, at first, I was hesitant because remaking a classic film like that is tricky. When I read the script, I said, "Yes, this could be good."
The DNA of the story remains the same, the same as "Seven Samurai'" (the original version of the story.) As long as it stays true to essence of the story of people coming together to fight against tyranny. And self-sacrifice is an important story to continue to tell, as human beings, to do for others that might not be able to do for themselves. I think that basic story is always worth telling.Can you talk about assembling the cast? Did you always have Denzel in mind for the lead?
I wanted to have the right level of actors to make it an event. Akira Kurosawa told the story and John Sturges repeated the story, but his movie was cool because of the actors that were in it -- Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner. So I asked, "Today, who are those guys?" And once I got the actors involved -- Denzel and Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onfrio -- then I said, "Okay, I'm gonna do it."
I understand Ethan Hawke heard about it and asked to be part of the movie.
Something like that. I was in New York for "The Equalizer," and he pretty much cornered me and roughed up my nice suit and said, "I'm in that movie, no matter what. It's 'Magnificent Seven," and Denzel's one of them so there are six other roles. And I'm one of them!" I said, "Of course you are!"
It was an opportunity for us to have some fun, we love working together, and to get him and Denzel together again in a movie like this, I just felt it was the right thing ... He really wanted to do it and I'm happy he did.His character, the alcoholic sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux, has the equivalent of PTSD from the Civil War and you've said that choice was partly inspired by Christopher Walken's character in "The Deer Hunter."
Yeah, we played around with some of that idea of PTSD in that sort of world, what would that be like? Because that was their Vietnam -- that was a very violent, ugly war. And a lot of people didn't even know what that was back then. We used to watch movies every Friday night and talk about the characters.
What movies did you watch?
Mainly westerns. "The Wild Bunch," "Duel in the Sun," "The Good The Bad and the Ugly." And "The Deer Hunter." It was just for fun, but it was bonding, too. We'd just sit around and watch great movies. Just reminds us how much fun it is and how blessed we are to make movies. And it's a good reminder of why we're making "Magnificent Seven."
In the movie, there's some acknowledgement of racial prejudices against the Asian and Native-American characters, but no one says anything against Sam Chisolm (Denzel) being black. Was that a conscious decision?
It was. It was a conscious decision. I've always been that way, especially when working with Denzel. The lesson you learn is, just being in the business for a while, is that people bring so much to the theater themselves. We're all aware of what prejudice exists and sometimes it's good to challenge the audience. Denzel walks into a bar and the bar stops. Everybody gets quiet. Is it because he's a gunslinger and duly sworn warrant officer that people know about? Or is it because he's black?
Clint Eastwood walks into a bar, the bar stops. Is it because he's a gunslinger or is it because he's white? So people just bring whatever they bring to the theater. And I don't need to say it or hit them over the head with anything. Let them interpret the looks and the attitude toward people based on what they see. I didn't want to make a big deal about any of them. I figured they're all rough, tough gunslingers, and they're all dirty and rough around the edges, so they all get the same look when they walk in a room. [Laughs]At one point, Matt Damon and Tom Cruise were mentioned to be in the film and that didn't pan out.
I wasn't involved with the film then. Tom was interested at one point, I guess, and the schedule with "Mission" and all that stuff didn't work out. Matt Damon, I don't know anything about that. I never spoke to him. I would love to work with either of them, of course, but it wasn't part of the conversation.
The famous "Magnificent Seven" theme music by Elmer Bernstein wasn't really used in the film until the end credits. Why was that?
You're waiting for that anyway [hums theme]. The pacing and the rhythm of the film is different [from the 1960 version] because we're in a different time now. They were a little more innocent as far as cinema goes back then. You have those long dissolves of those guys riding -- you couldn't get away with that now. You have to play the whole song to let it evolve and let it really play out. In order to do the song justice, you have to let it play out and as I tried to use it in certain places... for a young audience that doesn't know that score, it would feel a bit abrupt, and people who love it and remember it, it would feel a bit abrupt.
It would just feel like it just cut off. As I started to move it around in the film in different places, it just made sense that it was a big, nice bow in respect to that score and the audience can just enjoy it without me having to edit it and change the tone of the film.What was the most challenging action sequence?
The final battle. I didn't think I'd ever get back home. [Laughs] We shot all that in Baton Rouge. We built that town. So between the rain and the weather and all that -- we were getting hit with lightning and rain storms and 110 degrees -- you name it. It was a lot of stop and go. And we had to do all that stuff with the guys running and shooting in that heat. And the horses, it was just taxing on everyone.
Of course you can't have a big western battle without a Gatling Gun. Do any of those still exist or was that a replica?
No, that exists! Yeah, they're still around. I think one of them was an original and one was a replica. We had two because, you know, they jam. But they're a beautiful piece of art. I mean, as far as weapons go. You're not going to just have a Gatling Gun sitting around. [Laughs]