Visiting the Set of Jonah Hex

As soon as we arrived on set, director Jimmy Hayward came over to talk to us with a diet coke in hand – yes, he was already getting caffeinated at 9:30 in the morning. The energetic filmmaker previously co-directed the animated Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who, so he was following the likes of Andrew Adamson, Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird into the realm of live action filmmaking.

Q: You come from the world of animation and you’re not just directing a big live-action film but also one shot primarily on location, so why did you decide to do that?
Jimmy Hayward: This is the type of film I’ve always loved. I loved animation. I got into animation by accident. I’d always intended to go to film school. I just never got there. By the time I was in my early 20′s I was already animating (films) like "Toy Story," so it really seemed like it made sense. And then I just kind of stayed there and stayed there and stayed there for a really long time. I got my way here through writing, but it’s something I always wanted to do. I think all filmmakers experiment with animation, and I just wound up doing it. I didn’t go to film school or anything like that. I went to film school at Pixar for 10 years, and I wound up here. It makes a lot of sense to me. People ask me that question a lot, fair enough, but it makes perfect sense to me. Almost everything in this movie is practical, too. There’s not digital stuff. We just blew up a battleship the other day. Blew it up. Helicopters and seven cameras and crash-cams and stuff. No digital.

Q: What was the draw for you with Jonah Hex and what was your vision for this?
Hayward: I’ve always been a fan of Jonah Hex, and when I found out they were making this movie, (that) it was in development, I was like, "Damn, I wish I’d thought of that!" Then when I got an opportunity to come on it, develop it, write on it and then direct it, it was great for me because I actually came into my first meeting at Warner Bros., I had a small "Weird Western Tales" digest that I’d had since 1978 with me. I’d been reading the comic when I was a kid and I always loved Jonah Hex because he was an anti-hero. Everybody else had like big packages and spandex pants and capes and stuff, and Jonah Hex was just a triple badass. I always had an iron sense of humor and I really loved that about him when I was a kid. And so Josh and I are trying to maintain that in the film.

Q: So what are you making here? Would you call it an origin story?
Hayward: Yeah. It’s an origin story set amongst other origins. It’s kind of like the legend of Jonah Hex and how he got the scar on his face and the whole back story to who he is, and telling the story in reverse, starting with a murderous, scarred bounty hunter and finding out how he got that way. (It’s) tearing off the layers and exposing who Jonah Hex really is and why.

Q: Do you have a favorite Jonah Hex run?
Hayward: You know, I don’t. I love Albano and DeZuniga, all that old ’70s stuff. Jimmy Palmiotti has become a friend. Justin (Gray)… those guys are great guys. Love those guys. They actually came to visit us not too long ago. Actually, when they showed up, Jimmy was like, "Dude, wow!" because I had the cover from one of their issues with Jonah Hex strapped in a big X in his front yard, on fire. I didn’t have the Confederate diapers on that they had, but it was him strapped to the X with even the same rivets and stuff. They were like, "It’s the cover." I was like, "Yeah, dude, that’s what we’re doing." So he was very stoked. Jimmy is a great guy. We’re pals with those guys, so I love the new stuff, too. It’s really cool. I love the way they constantly evolve with different artists. It all works for me.

Q: Some of the stories are pretty much straightforward Westerns and much of the newer material pushes the fantasy element. Which way are you going?
Hayward: There’s traditional elements and there’s a little bit of supernatural. There’s not a ton. But the dead show Jonah Hex his destiny. There are elements where he doesn’t know really quite what he’s looking at, but for the most part we play it traditional, and then, when you least expect it… There’s a battleship in the movie, so…

Q: What about the Joe R. Lansdale stuff? That went into straight horror. Are you trying to do some of that?
Hayward: No, I don’t know. There’s a fine line there, but this isn’t a horror movie. We’re not making a horror movie. We’re making a Western. We’re making an action picture, and hopefully a thrilling picture. I think it hops genres, that’s what’s cool about it, but it’s not a horror picture, even though I love horror movies. Tobe Hooper’s "Texas Chainsaw" is one of my favorite movies from when I was a little kid. I watched that over and over.

Q: There was some controversy after you took over from Neveldine and Taylor. Was that daunting?
Hayward: No, we loved it, we thought it was great. Josh was like, "Dude, if you know this guy you’d be more surprised that he directed ‘Horton Hears a Who,’ not ‘Jonah Hex.’" If you know me as a person, as an individual, you’re surprised that I directed "Horton Hears a Who" and not this. People out there are like, "He directed that and he worked at Pixar and that’s all he’s capable of. He sees everything in cotton-candy colors and only does talking animals." Like I have friends that are unicorns. I actually rode here on one. My only friends are talking animals. You get painted with that brush. At Pixar, we were a bunch of young dudes that are making movies that make us laugh. We had these big, four-quadrant, huge, successful movies, but we’re all just normal people. Most of my taste, if you look through my film collection, you’ll find Disney films with wrapping on them and a whole bunch of other crazy stuff from all over the world that I’m totally into. I just happened to wind up doing (animated films).

Q: It’s hard to picture you and Steve Martino in a room making a movie together…
Hayward: Steve Martino and I? Oh my God. Steve’s a great friend of mine and a wonderful guy, but, yeah, it’s like (he makes a buzzing sound). It balances it all out. He’s like, "As a parent, I don’t know if that’s appropriate." I’m like, "What are you talking about, dude? This is going to be amazing!" He’s like, "Hmmmmm, I don’t know." He’s like my PTA.

Q: Neveldine and Taylor wrote the original script. Did you keep any of that?
Hayward: Yeah. They wrote a good script. They wrote a cool script. I did rewrites on it, but they wrote a cool script. I based the movie off the original script and then I rewrote a bunch of stuff, but I kept a bunch of stuff.

Q: Did you keep any of their visual sense?
Hayward: I mean, visuals I know, obviously. There was a lot of like "Look at the bone snapping in half!" or ‘"Watch the eyeball." There was a lot of that stuff that I’m just not interested in that as much as a filmmaker. I know people are like, "Well, what’s the rating going to be?" Who knows what it’s going to be? We’ll see what’s successful or what’s not by the time this comes out. There’s a lot of intense action in this movie. A lot of people die in this movie, a lot of people get killed. I’ve got John Malkovich. He puts a gun to somebody’s back. Do I want to watch John Malkovich’s murderous face as he pulls the trigger or do I want to the blood fly out of the guy’s heart? I want to watch Malkovich’s eyes. For me, that’s kind of where I’m going with this movie. Where it lands, I don’t know.

Q: What’s Josh bringing to the table as Jonah?
Hayward: Josh Brolin? Not very much. He’s talentless. No, Josh is amazing. Josh totally gets this character inside out and backwards. He does all the research he needs to do. Obviously, we had a totally shared feeling for who this character was and who he should be, and when to turn him up and down. He’s become a good friend and he’s been just amazing to develop this character with and to put this together with. He’s a great guy. He embodies this guy.

Q: How does his voice sound with the makeup covering his mouth? Is it difficult for him to get lines out?
Hayward: Like all new superheroes he talks (puts on a deep voice) like this all the time. He practiced. Christien Tinsley (the make-up supervisor) is amazing. Christien built this crazy thing that hooks his face back so he can put rope up. One of the things that I really fought for was keeping the rope over his mouth. I really fought to make that happen because, to me, even when Jonah Hex was wearing a leather-studded codpiece in the future, he still had that one thing. It was the one thing that survived every incarnation of him. That’s probably the only Hex that doesn’t have a part in this movie. Even when I was adapting a Dr. Seuss movie I looked at that entire body of his work to be able to inform (the movie), because it always felt false to me when I went and saw other ones where I didn’t feel like it had embodied his world. I didn’t feel like I’d stepped into that world. So I think with Jonah Hex, it’s really important to embody that. When you do anything that has a core fanbase, you can’t please everybody all the time, but you need to try and embody the whole realm of that character rather than being like, "This is specifically going to be Jonah Hex from 1976." To me, that would get the 1976 guys stoked and everybody else would be like, "Dude?" And it’s not trying to please everybody all the time, but it’s trying to find unity in the work. That’s one of the things we’ve really tried to do with this movie, with (production designer) Tom Meyer and (cinematographer) Mitch (Amundsen) and everybody.

Q: How are you doing the make-up?
Hayward: All practical.

Q: Can you talk about how it compares with Two-Face from "The Dark Knight" which used digital enhancements?
Hayward: Three-Face? You know what? First we talked about that and I just feel like that it doesn’t really even matter. That was so digital, so alive. To us, we’re doing it practical, old school. We don’t want it to feel like it stepped out of 2010.

Q: What can you tell us about Megan Fox’s character?
Hayward: She plays Jonah Hex’s girlfriend.

Q: She’s a prostitute?
Hayward: Yeah, but Jonah is the guy who gets to stay all night and doesn’t have to pay.

Q: What are you doing in this particular scene?
Hayward: This? I have no idea. The U.S. government is pushing out into the new frontiers of technology. Will Arnett plays Lt. Grass, who is sort of like the new face of the United States. He’s corporate, like, "Technology, this is the future." They’re wiring telegraph wires to set up this communications network all across the country. He’s basically telling Hex that he’s going to be a thing of the past, and they’re interrogating one of Quentin Turnbull’s guys that Quentin Turnbull left for dead when he was robbing an armory. So it’s just Hex interrogating a dead guy.

Q: So this takes place in 1866?
Hayward: 1870s. Six years after the Civil War.

Q: Any flak about using the Confederate elements?
Hayward: Not yet. (Laughter). And I won’t apologize later. I think it’s one of those where this is a guy who redeems himself for his acts in the Civil War. He didn’t believe in what he was fighting for. That’s why he took a French leave. That’s why he quit. And I think that his war is not over in his head. So he kind of wears that jacket until he kind of squares that up.

Q: This scene you’re shooting now, where in the movie does it fit?
Hayward: It’s like the middle of the movie, kind of midway through.

Q: Has there been one particular sequence that’s been the most challenging to shoot so far?
Hayward: I’d say the battleship we just shot, with this huge action and flamethrowers and cannons and boats.

Q: Is this battleship sequence something specific? Do you get into Gettysburg?
Hayward: No, they talk about some of the battles. This movie is entertainingly correct, not historically-accurate. That’s a term that I’ve used for a long time, just in terms of authenticity, because I want I want this world to be believed in, but if you want to see beard-growing, Gettysburg-style battle plan movies, go watch "Gettysburg" for four or five hours.

Q: Anything on a sound stage or is it all outside?
Hayward: A little bit. Ninety percent of it is out in the open.

Q: How important is that to you?
Hayward: Huge. Massive.

Q: In what ways?
Hayward: The authenticity of it, just being out on the dirt. We just shot a sequence of guys fighting in this red clay for days, just beating the hell out of each other. Just rolling around in the dirt is always more interesting. Digital stuff looks digital. There’s people doing it incredibly and beautifully, and we’ll do a little bit of it, for sure, but it just felt authentic to this movie (to do it out on location). I love that feeling, like early ‘70s a little bit.

Q: Did you go to Civil War reenactment camps to get these guys we’re seeing or are they all extras?
Hayward: Some of these guys are reenactors and some of them are extras. And then (costume designer) Michael Wilkinson… I don’t know if you guys know who he is, but he’s amazing. He makes it so that I can’t tell the difference. He puts his own spin on everything.

Q: Weather gives you authenticity, but how about its unpredictability, where you can plan to shoot something one day and then you can’t because of the elements…
Hayward: You plan as much as you can with cover sets and stuff, but at the end of the day, that’s genius of it, right? That’s the thing, is adapting on the day.

Q: Have the elements ruined a day?
Hayward: They’ve made it interesting, but we’ve always figured out a way to blend it into the story. That’s the whole deal. It’s a business of change. That’s one thing you don’t get in animation.

Q: So going back to what you said earlier, will this be PG-13 or R?
Hayward: I’m not sure yet. I’m not making this for the MPAA, but we’ll find out.

Q: The later comics had more black comedy…
Hayward: Yeah, I think we’ll keep the ironic frontier justice aspect of it alive. I like the kind of thing that Jonah Hex looks at the world with an ironic sort of a twist, just in terms of when people get it. But it in terms of it being a blood and gore fest, that’s not my intention. To me, that doesn’t drive story, really. I think that’s one of the changes that I brought. I just changed the tone of his sense of humor a little bit. To me, watching brains fly out of someone’s head is less interesting than watching someone’s eyes. I think it’s because I come from Pixar. Not because of a G-rated thing, but just that story drives everything. Story should drive every decision you make. I don’t know how much story you can tell watching exit wounds and brain matter splatter all over stuff. So I’d rather do more pulls and wraps and things like that and less squibs, you know what I mean.

Q: Isn’t more than two "f*cks" an R?
Hayward: They didn’t say ‘f*ck’ back then. It’s one of the first things that Brolin said. "Jimmy, I’m not into all the f*cking cuss language." Josh and I talk like Marines, but back then… he said it feels false when you say. It’s like in "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," when they used tons of foul language. Does that really make sense? I don’t know if that’s our perception of it or not.

Q: Are there some favorite Westerns in the back of your mind, inspiring you as you make this movie?
Hayward: Yeah, sure, totally. I think we’re all inspired… I love really early, early Peckinpah, that era stuff. I love Corbucci, those movies are totally crazy, Communist, anti-American movies where they’ll try and crack the safe through the whole movie and at the end the Mexican revolutionary opens the safe and the prize inside is a sheath of wheat and a sickle, which is just ridiculous. But just the style of those movies, there’s always a lot of ridiculous characters in them that I really like. There’s a lot of great camerawork and staging that I really love. There’s so many bad oaters and so many good Westerns. We were talking yesterday; some magazine just put out a list of the top 100 Westerns. I’m like, "Yeah, the top 100 Westerns are my favorite 100 Westerns." Like, who calls that? There are so many millions of them. I’m inspired by a litany of them. There are obscure ones. There’s Fuller, Corbucci, Peckinpah. I love all those dudes. And Leone. The silly Leone movies, I love so much. Those movies are great. I loved it when I was a little kid. To me, the Spaghetti Westerns stopped and then Westerns kind of died for me. Then there was this "Unforgiven" era of intelligent, grown-up Westerns that are cool, but less fun for me. Those movies were like comic books to me. They had crazy SuperScope. We’re shooting this movie anamorphic. It’s expensive, but it’s totally worth it.

Q: What’s the risk factor here? It’s a popular title to people who love the comic, but it’s not Spider-man. How much do you worry about the commerciality of the final product?
Hayward: You know, it’s funny… No, not really. Let’s just go make a cool story with really great characters and tell a good story and make it badass, and hopefully people will come. At the end of the day, Josh is amazing. The cast is great. The cast is amazing. It’s such a cool character. And it’s kind of time for a Western that people can attach themselves to, that’s not old dudes riding around on their horses, talking about their wives or redemption or whatever. It’s blowing sh*t up and cool stories about people having a love that can never be and wrapping it up in something cool with Megan and Josh and John and Will Arnett and all these other crazy people we’ve put together.

Q: What part does music play in the film?
Hayward: A huge part.

Q: Any musicians in the film playing musicians?
Hayward: Not really. People have actually asked to be in the movie, but we said no because we didn’t want recognizable people to just pop you out of the film.

Q: So no Ry Cooder, no Jack White…
Hayward: No. Definitely people expressed interest in doing it. We just didn’t feel like it. I’m getting John Powell to score it. And he’s going to get some help from some secret squirrel friends that are friends of mine.

Q: If this one is a huge hit, what’s the next story from this world that you’d like to tell?
Hayward: I’m not telling you that! I mentioned to Jackie Earle Haley… I don’t know where everybody got the idea that Malkovich was playing a guy trying to stop an army of the dead. I don’t know where they got that from. I remember, everybody flipped out. Jimmy Palmiotti called me and was like, "Dude, is this real?" I was like, "Totally, dude. It’s going to be a huge zombie army. Amazing." He was like, "What?" I was like, "Oh, yeah, totally."

Q: So, is Haley in this?
Hayward: No. I was just talking to him about playing a part, but yeah, there’s no army of zombies or anything like that.

Q: But to the sequel question. What other stories interest you?
Hayward: There’s a lot, but having had an opportunity to work on a sequel in the past, to me, it’s like you’ve got to get to the other side of it and see how it’s responded to, see what works and doesn’t work, to be able to dive into the next side. To me, the character has to evolve and go somewhere. He can only evolve so far, but to me, when they blew up the Death Star, the movie was over. You know what I mean? There was a finality in that. And the genius is, "We’re rebuilding it and we can come back later!" That’s what I mean. I want this movie to end. I feel like sometimes, you know when you go and see the first part of a trilogy or a sequology or whatever the f*ck they’re called, I just feel so ripped off. I feel ripped off when there’s no ending. So to this movie, we just ended it, and we’ll pick that up if it’s a success. I can’t look that far (ahead). I’m looking at the end of today’s scene. Then after that I’m going to go to my set for the Civil War scene for tomorrow. I’m going to walk my set and I’m going to think through that day. That’s how I have to do it, because we’re doing so much for this movie. Our schedule is so packed and so crazy. I just finished six nights on a battleship. Our second unit just finished throwing flaming men off the side of it and we blew up. Six nights of that and we were straight into yesterday.

Q: Any other cool characters from the comics, like El Papagayo, that we might see in the movie?
Hayward: There’s plenty of room for that later.

Click Next for our interview with producer Andrew Lazar.