Visiting the Set of Jonah Hex

After our lengthy interview, Hayward went back to the work over on the set for what ended up being a fairly straightforward dialogue sequence of what he described. Will Arnett’s Lieutenant Grass greets Hex to the camp and proudly shows off the latest wonders of modern technology as they walk through the field. Arnett had his hair slicked back and had seemingly grown a mustache for the role of Grass, but we were more interested in seeing Brolin’s make-up and how it added to his performance. Because they were walking with the left unscarred side of Brolin’s face toward us, we wouldn’t really be able to tell how he looked until much later.

"Let me show you something," Arnett says to Brolin as they walk through the field showing the telegraph wires being strung up. "This is the future." As they walk past, one of the soldiers stringing telegraph wires screams and falls backwards into an airbag conveniently below him. In the background, two soldiers are surveying the land for where to put the next telegraph pole. 

As they continued to walk, Grass continues his speech, "When this is strung up, we’ll be able to send men wherever we need them. We’ll be able to stop men like Turnbull and their second-rate attacks." They finally arrive at a wagon cart with bars on it in which one of Turnbull’s men has been imprisoned, laying motionless. What we only learned much later from watching the trailer was that this man was dead but that Hex has powers to get information on Turnbull’s whereabouts by communicating with that corpse.

We then had a few brief moments to talk with producer Andrew Lazar, a long-time producer with Warner Bros. who worked on movies like Get Smart, Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys and Cats & Dogs, which gets a sequel later this summer. As they were shooting only ten to twenty feet away, we couldn’t talk very loudly, and unconveniently, this was at a point when the wind started blowing a little more violently obscuring at least one of Lazar’s answers.

Q: How did you first get involved with this?
Andrew Lazar: I’ve actually been involved with this as a producer for a really long time. I think my first deal at Warner Bros. was in 1995, after I produced "Assassins" with them. I’m a movie person, I love movies, I kind of live and breathe movies. Every now and again, people who like movies watch TV, and there was a show growing up I loved "Wild Wild West," it was a TV series. Another TV series as an adult I watched–it was very funny because I don’t watch a lot of television–was "The X-Files." I loved the way they were kind of able to mix the FBI and that kind of procedural show with the supernatural and how there’s all those sort of personal stories about what was going on with his sister. Was she abducted? Was she not? I knew about the (Jonah Hex) comic but it wasn’t until I was at Warner Bros. and I read the comic and I realized it was a DC property that I was like, "Oh my God this is the perfect, perfect movie to make!" First of all, he’s an iconic character, but you are able to do a Western–which I did grow up loving like the Spaghetti Westerns–they’re so bold. And I love the John Ford westerns. Being a fan of that genre, being able to take something you’ve always loved and be able to turn it on its ear so to speak and to breathe some new life into it, because you have this ability to have the underpinnings of the supernatural. I just never got the script right. What happens when you’re developing a movie is you cook your baby until it’s ready to be born. I developed several drafts. Matter of fact, there was even a brief go-around that I was gonna do Jonah Hex as a TV series, and we never really got a script. We got good scripts but we never got a great script and then Neveldine and Taylor came in and pitched me. They asked me what I was doing. In fact, I actually saw and loved "Crank" and had them in for a general (meeting), and they asked me what I was doing. I said, "You know, something I’ve always wanted to crack as a property was Jonah Hex." Brian Taylor particularly was a total fan of the comic, knew it inside and out, was a fan when he was eight years old, and within two weeks, they came back in and pitched me their version of Jonah Hex, which was, in broad strokes the beginning of the script. And they truly wrote a really, really good script right out of the gate.

Q: Can you comment on why they left?
Lazar: You know, they had a lot on their plate. They were in post on "Crank 2" they were in post on "Gamer," and it was just kind of proverbial creative differences. We all still wanted to make the movie. They’re involved with the movie, they wrote the script. Josh talks to those guys, I talk to them, but it just… you know, we moved on.

Q: Can you talk about the commercial prospects? "Jonah Hex" is a fairly obscure title and not that widely-known though there are people who love it. Is the plan just to try and make a good movie and hope for the best in terms of getting the non-fans to see it?
Lazar: Unless it’s… I don’t even know… are there are any sure fire (things)? Like with "Get Smart." When I did that movie, we did not take for granted that there are big generations of people who did not know "Get Smart." I knew that series and you could see what age group was seeing it on Nick at Night, from 32 to 37, there’s a lot of people who don’t know it, and then it recycles itself. We want to make a really good movie, and we want to make a really exciting action movie, and the movie should work because it’s a really good movie. The fact that there will be fans of Jonah Hex I think are great. I think that the script and Jimmy’s vision for it is really represented. I think there are certain cornerstones of our film that are gonna really appeal to the fanbase but it’s a horror-western that has a very simple but elegant revenge plot so I think and hope the people that went to see "Taken" will like the movie. It’s a really exciting action movie that on the one hand feels like a Western but on the other hand feels a little heightened, a little stylized. It came from a comic, but I don’t think you need to know the source material to enjoy the movie.

Q: We’ve heard that there’s some sort of supernatural aspects to the story, like maybe the are vampires involved?
Lazar: No, no…. the truth is that the logline that sometimes is used is not actual. It connotates a very different movie. I think that the supernatural is there, but it’s more subtext and it’s kind of an underpinning. It’s not overtly – it’s not "From Dusk Till Dawn." This is like an origin tale, and I think there’s a subtlety with the use of the supernatural, that’s not to say that as the character evolves… Hopefully, the first movie is as good as we all want it to be and a franchise is born so we can explore other areas of the supernatural, but it is definitely a subtle use in this one, because it’s a character piece. It’s Jonah Hex first and foremost, and you’ve gotta be careful that we don’t want the trappings of the supernatural to overtake what’s really important, which is introducing who this character is and what makes him special. It’s got really big scope, it’s got really big set pieces and the US Military is involved and all that stuff, but I think it’s important that it’s a very personal tale, you learning who Jonah Hex is and how he got to be where he is. What’s nice about the story is that Jonah is hired to find Quentin Turnbull, who allegedly is not alive. That big story dovetails into (at this point, a big wind blows making the rest of Lazar’s answer undiscernable)

Q: Is Quentin Turnbull not being alive where the supernatural element comes in?
Lazar:Turnbull’s here and he’s alive. People are saying that Turnbull has an army of undead – that’s not the case.

Q: Do you see it as the start of a franchise?
Lazar: You know, that’s funny because even Josh, who is undeniably the greatest Jonah Hex…. I mean, I’m glad I got a good script for many, many years because he is so perfect for the movie. I think we all would like the first movie to be really good and if it is than we’re up for making more, but we’ve first gotta make this one as good as it can be. You can’t say that, because it’s presumptuous to say anything other. Making a movie is so hard. Making a good movie is so hard. I mean, you know that because you guys are all fans of films; you know how hard it is to make a good movie. So for us to go out of the gate and say this is going to be a franchise and the greatest thing since sliced bread is really arrogant.

Q: If it did get into sequels, do you see more supernatural elements coming into it, like a "Pirates of the Caribbean" in the Old West kind of thing?
Lazar: There’s an underpinning that has to do with Jonah’s mythology that he has one foot in the grave and one foot here on Earth, so that will always be relevant for the character, but I do see opportunities to explore different areas of the supernatural. But, again, we want to be careful not to let that overshadow what’s great about the movie.

Unfortunately, Lazar had to head off while they started shooting again and we didn’t get to see him for the rest of the shoot because this was conveniently also the day that other big-wig Warner Bros. executives were visiting the set. (Apparently, they weren’t going to be out in the swamps of Louisiana facing crocodiles and mosquitoes either.)

Click Next for our interview with Will Arnett.