After shooting that earlier scene a number of times, they decided to change the camera angle, which meant that our interview area had to be dismantled, but we used that time to talk with John Gallagher, the newbie of the film, who plays Arnett’s second-in-command Jr. Lieutenant Abbott. (Unfortunately, it just wasn’t as interesting as some of the other interviews; it happens.)
When Will Arnett finally had a chance to come over and talk to us, we were all fairly surprised by how serious and deadpan he was, not even cracking a smile during the interview, let alone showing the clever wit and timing that’s made him famous as one of the funniest men on television and in films. Even though Arnett’s famous for comedies like "Arrested Development" and Will Ferrell’s Blades of Glory, his previous collaboration with Hayward on Horton Hears a Who as a villainous vulture may have been why Hayward thought of him to play the pompous Union soldier in Jonah Hex. Arnett shed some light on his character and his relationship with Hex.
Q: You’re doing a serious, dramatic role here with no humor. There’s humor in the comics, but does that play a role in what you’re doing or not at all?
Will Arnett: Not really. The character I play, if there’s any kind of corporate figure, it would be him. He represents the new U.S. government, the Union, the winning side in the Civil War. He’s really kind of an outsider in this environment, and he’s been sent from Washington with very clear orders to take care of this job and to get Hex to do some stuff for him. So he’s a pretty humorless guy. If there is any humor, it comes out of the fact that he’s pretty humorless.
Q: Were you actively looking for a role that wasn’t comedic?
Arnett: Not necessarily. This was something that kind of came to my attention because of Jimmy Hayward, the director, who was a guy I’d actually worked with before on "Horton." We got along on that really well, we have a lot in common, we’re both Canadian, so he kind of said, when he was putting this thing together that he wanted to meet up and talk about it.
Q: What’s it like working with Josh Brolin, especially as an actor whose covered in prosthetics?
Arnett: Oh, it’s great. To be able to work with such an awesome, really intense, great dramatic actor, one of the best actors alive today. It’s a real treat for me to be able to do something like this. As you guys maybe or maybe don’t know, I’m used to doing a lot of really goofy, not necessarily always very good, stuff. So to be able to do something like this is interesting, and super-rewarding.
Q: Do you have any scenes with Malkovich at all?
Arnett: I don’t. I wish! Everyone in this cast is so great, so any scenes you do have with anybody is amazing.
Q: How are you doing shooting on location? Is there kind of an element to it?
Arnett: Absolutely. I mean, the whole thing, it really kind of helps with getting into the rhythm of the piece. We’re down here and the sets are so incredible and the costumes, it’s pretty amazing.
Q: Is this the first period piece you’ve done?
Arnett: Yeah, other than "Semi-Pro. "
Q: As a comedian, you always have to be on, ready to ad-lib and come up with stuff. Is it hard to turn that off?
Arnett: I think there are probably moments. Even moments like today where Jimmy has to say "All right, let’s just really straighten it out, I want it straighter, I want it harder." But there ARE moments with my character where he’s kind of absurd in a lot of ways. We find the humor in different ways. Of course, I’m always thinking "What’s the joke in this?" but there’s no room for that. But you know, this particular scene starts with my character being shaved by a guy. Originally these guys come into camp and they’re just looking at maps. And I thought well, if this guy’s kind of an absurd guy, it would be kind of funny if everyone’s so dirty and down, and even at a camp, he has a [barber], and he would. Guys like this would, and it’s kind of absurd, and you come in, and here’s dirty Jonah Hex and these guys, and here’s this one [character] who’s kind of ding!
Q: Is that facial hair, is it a stunt moustache or is it real?
Arnett: It’s stunt. Looks good though, right?
Q: Is this a more physical role for you, as far as stunts go? Is there anything you’d done before?
Arnett: You know, the only physical aspect of it is the horseback riding. I hadn’t done that before in a movie. But that’s about it. I’ve done stuff before that had to be a little bit physical, but the horseback riding was a little bit challenging. The first scene that we shot a few weeks ago, John Gallagher and I had to ride into town on horseback, and you just want to try and make it look authentic. You don’t want to look like some Yankee coming in, kind of stumbling around, so we worked pretty hard in trying to do that. It was pretty cool to do. It’s the coolest entrance I’ve ever had in a movie, that’s for sure.
Q: What kind of stuff did you guys shoot on the battleship?
Arnett: Our characters kind of come in on this scene that’s already happening, thinking we’re gong to arrest people and have a big impact, and of course we have very little. We threaten them with arrest, and I sort of ridiculously proclaim through a bullhorn in front of the bow of the ship, like "You’re all in custody of the United States military" and they start launching at us. I run for cover, and kind of cower behind a turret on the boat, and then watch the boat explode. And of course, Jonah has been responsible for all of this, and we kind of walk back out after everything has calmed down. "That’s what they get for messing with the United States military." And then Gallagher’s character says, "Well, there’s Jonah Hex." And I’m like "Oh…"
Q: Is there any kind of respect between your characters or do you just flat out hate the guy?
Arnett: I think that I probably flat out hate him, because – and this is the scene that kind of establishes and distinguishes the differences. Where I have more respect for technology and information, and that all kind of thing. I really think of him as this savage guy who has no respect for laws and all these things that I think are important in civilization, and here he is, this guy who kind of goes by his own rules, if any, and roams.
Q: Is there any kind of rift between you guys because of the war, because he’s ex-Confederate and you’re obviously Union?
Arnett: Yeah, probably doesn’t help, you know? Yeah.
Q: Did you have any familiarity with the comics?
Arnett: I really didn’t before I got involved, I did not, I’m embarrassed to say.
Q: Did you read them prior to filming?
Arnett: You mean since I got (the part)? No, I kind of researched online a little bit, what it was about … I ran into people who, when they found out I was doing it, were psyched. Friends of mine who I didn’t realize were Hex fans, "Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re doing Jonah Hex!"
Q: What was your reaction when Jimmy called you? What was the thing that convinced you to do this?
Arnett: I was excited that he thought about me for something like this. I thought wow, it would be a real kind of challenge to come in … not that I had grand designs to redefine myself or anything, I was just excited that he wanted me to be a part of it, and that he thought potentially that I could do a relatively decent job at it. So yeah, I was really psyched to jump in and do it.
Q: Were you a fan of Westerns at all?
Arnett: Not really. I think I probably watched a healthy dose of it just as much as anyone else, but not particularly, no.
Q: Now that you’ve worn a Civil War uniform, do you see yourself as getting into historical reenactments?
Arnett: I’m going to get into some historical modeling.
Q: You’re part of a fairly distinguished group now – not many people can say they’ve been in a Western. Is there anything you’re going to keep from the experience, a keepsake?
Arnett: Yeah. I’m pretty dumb, but I hope that I learn something while I’m here. Am I going to steal anything? Oh, absolutely. Mostly camera equipment.
Q: If they do a sequel to this, is there potential for your character to return?
Arnett: Well, I’m doing a lot of spin-off stuff. That’s kind of the chatter of the set. "The Grass is Always Greener" is the spin-off. We’re going to shoot three movies at the same time.
Q: Are you interested in franchise potential?
Arnett: Listen, I’m having so much fun that if they ask me to jump off a bridge, I’d probably do it. I wouldn’t, by the way, for the record. I’d be very excited to do whatever they wanted, it’s been such a great experience for me.
Q: Do you have anything lined up after you wrap this?
Arnett: I’m going to work with on this thing with David Cross in London. He’s doing a new series over there, so I’m going over there at the end of this week for a little bit, then Mitch and I are working on a new show.
Q: Are you going to do any more voiceover work?
Arnett: Yeah, I really enjoy doing it. There’s not as much preparation, of course, you can kind of make a 10am appointment and kind of roll in at five after 10, because you always have to be a little late. But you can get a lot done in a couple of hours and move on. Do whatever it is you do.
Click Next for our interview with Josh Brolin.