Why did director Antoine Fuqua decide to remake the legendary 1960 western The Magnificent Seven? “I wanted to see Denzel Washington on a horse,” he jokes.
The story of seven men who come together to protect a town from a vicious robber baron looks back further than the 1960 film to the 1954 epic Japanese historical drama Seven Samurai. Often cited as one of the greatest films ever made, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai provided what Fuqua described as the DNA of his film, but he also noted, “Westerns change with the time we’re in, so we made our film based on the world we are living in.”
To that end he has assembled the most diverse cast for a western ever. In addition to top billed stars Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio the seven magnificent leading actors include South Korean star Lee Byung-hun, the Mexican born Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier, an American actor of Tlingit, Koyukon-Athabascan and Irish descent.
“You can’t do the same thing every era,” says Fuqua. “Westerns change all the time. If we were sticking to just one way of doing something then all westerns would be all white guys looking like John Wayne in a John Ford movie.”
“My idea was, if Denzel walks into a room, the room stops,” he says. “If Clint Eastwood walks into a room, the room stops. Is it because he’s a gunslinger or is it because of the colour of his skin? We’ll let the audience decide.”
When asked if The Magnificent Seven is proof that Hollywood is becoming more diverse the director says, “You have to give the studio credit when they do something like this. This becomes the new definition of what a western is.”
Chris Pratt, who plays gunslinger Josh Faraday says despite the film’s title The Magnificent Seven has more to do with another well known western.
“I don’t know how many movies there are in the world,” he said at the TIFF opening night press conference. “What would you guess, several hundred thousand? Millions? Eventually you just run out of names. If I have a son and name him Chad, is he a remake of somebody else who was named Chad? No. We could have called this The Cowboys or something, but [The Magnificent Seven title] has reach,” he continued, “it gets people engaged. But [this movie] is probably more Wild Bunch than it is [1960’s] The Magnificent Seven. We use the title, we use the story. It’s a bunch of guys. There are seven of us. And we’re all [bleeping] magnificent. We’ve got that going for us, but let that movie be that movie. This is a different movie.”
Star Denzel Washington says he’s never seen the 1960 film. “I didn’t keep away from it,” he says. “I just didn’t know how it would help me. I had never seen it as a kid or whatever. People say, ‘You’re the so and so character,’ I don’t even know who that is. I think it allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do instead of trying to not do what someone else did.”
Why did he sign on? “Well, Antoine asked me. It’s as simple as that. Obviously, it’s a good story and a good script but most importantly it was Antoine.”