That’s a bit different from those Leone Westerns, with all of their anachronisms.
I remember when the movie Silverado came out when I was growing up, and people were calling it a “quiche Western”, which was funny. That was what they would call it in Oklahoma because it had a bunch of movie stars in it, who weren’t known for being in Westerns. It was the Sergio Leone crowd calling it that. I went and saw it, wondering, “Well, if it’s a quiche Western, then why is everybody talking about it?” I saw it, and I loved it. Those folks putting it down like that were wrong. It’s actually a straightforward, hard-boiled, hardcore unapologetic Western. You don’t like some of the movie stars in it, but get over it. The reason that movie works is because it’s straight-ahead and well-told, and I think that movie holds up.
Old Henry is the same kind of animal. It’s more in the tradition of Sergio Leone—or, actually, I would say more in the tradition of Unforgiven. That was a big influence on Potsy.
Unforgiven was marvelous in the way it demystified that old black hat/white hat mentality of Westerns, opening up a more multi-dimensional understanding. You’re no stranger to that. A series like Watchmen takes that approach with superheroes, who in a sense hold the position now that Western heroes used to hold culturally. Do you find there’s more of a demand these days to challenge those archetypes who used to be put on pedestals—be they superheroes, cowboys, police—and provide a deeper analysis?
Absolutely, yes. At the same time, I think the demystified Western hero goes back to John Wayne in The Searchers. I think it really started with that character, one of the greatest characters ever in a Western. There’s One-Eyed Jacks, with Marlon Brando, which was made just after The Searchers, and again embracing this concept of an extremely complicated man. I don’t think you get the Sergio Leone movies without that.
I always think of McCabe & Mrs. Miller as a Western that was doing something totally different than anything I had seen before.
That’s another one, with that final image with the character smoking opium, going into oblivion after the demise of Warren Beatty’s very flawed character, after you’ve watched what it has taken to really build that town. You have a director, Robert Altman, making the deliberate choice to shoot in order so that they can build the town while they’re shooting the movie, and you really get the cost of it. I think there’s a lot of history to get to a place where a movie like Unforgiven can happen. Then Clint comes along and, as he often does, moves it forward even more.