We chatted with the gorgeous Ruth Wilson about her role in the new Disney epic; THE LONE RANGER
THE LONE RANGER finally reaches Irish shores this week, and actress Ruth Wilson was in Dublin for the film’s premiere at the Savoy Cinema. While she was here, Movies.ie caught up with the LUTHER actress for a chat about Westerns, dresses and where dust gets when you’re caught in a dust storm…
THE LONE RANGER is a cultural phenomenon that we are all aware of in some way, whether we have seen the TV show or not. How did it feel to be part of a project with so much history behind it?
Ruth Wilson: I had never seen the TV show or listened to the radio show, and I suppose, in a way, that keeps you removed from it. You know the mask, The William Tell Overture, ‘Hi-Ho Silver’ but I didn’t feel the burden of the expectation because I had never seen it. We were creating something that was very different. This is a very different version of THE LONE RANGER, it’s not the same piece. It’s got similar characters and everything else, but it’s the origin story, it puts the Native American at the forefront. It’s a completely different film; it is THE LONE RANGER, but it’s a revisionist version of…
Do you think it helped that you are English, and you came at it from a different perspective?
RW: Perhaps. The Western means something else to the Brits than it does to the Americans, I’m not sure. I certainly loved how subversive it is, and how it deals with American history; the greed of the white man and some of the slaughters and the massacres that happened. That is the dark side to it; essentially, it is a really fun movie, but it is dealing with themes and issues. As a Brit, I thought that was really important to talk about and to reference in the film. I love all the quirky humour, but maybe because the Western is not a huge part of my life or my heritage it didn’t matter so much, so I came with fresh eyes.
There have not been many Westerns released recently, was this part of the draw of THE LONE RANGER for you?
RW: As a Brit getting the opportunity to be in a Western… I watched a lot of Westerns as a kid and to be part of that, I felt quite cheeky, but also, it’s a part of movie making history; the Western and the genre of the Western. As you said, not many have been made recently, so I took every opportunity to be involved. Also, working with Johnny [Depp] and working with Gore [Verbinski] and Jerry Bruckheimer, it’s a dream team. So there were many reasons to decide to do the job.
You asked for Rebecca Reid, your character, to be toughened up slightly…
RW: Yeah, she wasn’t completely wet [laughs]. Certainly in the first part of the story there was lots about her relationship with the boys and the men in her life, and how complicated that was, and she could have opportunities to have a different life. Her life is tough; she’s on the frontier and she’s a single mum, pretty much and has to do a man’s job on the farm. There is the opportunity of Cole, who can give her everything in terms of money, and then there’s John Reid, who really is the love of her life. So there are all of these complications, which I really love playing and being able to play that and find little nuance. It was in the second section of the film, it was a big chase sequence and it was just about carrying on that toughness with her throughout that, and to the end, the very final scene. The writer and director both responded to it and thought ‘Yes, definitely’.
How did you find your way into playing Rebecca, and understanding her?
RW: I think there are lots of references. Obviously, in the Western world, the female is often the damsel in distress, who is stuck on the train tracks or tied to them and I think what was essential for me was finding the relationship with the men in it, whether it’s her son or Dan and John… Really using that as the essence of her character and the drive through of that role. There are references in some of those scenes to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST or THE SEARCHERS; those classic shots of the women on the frontier, left at home. Those were filtered in, but it was really about working out the relationship with all those different characters in the piece, and being a mother and protecting her son. I created that from feeling how you might feel in that situation.
You did some of your own stunts. What was that like; terrifying? Exhilarating?
RW: A bit of both; you start of terrified, and then exhilarated, then you want to do it again and again and again. I really enjoyed doing them; the stunt team were so brilliant. You always felt safe. The first moment is always the scariest and you do it once, then you just have fun. I loved them. I always looked forward to a day that had stunts in it. Gore wanted real reactions, so he wanted real stunts. I prefer that, because I don’t have to act, I am just in the moment and he will get the shot. I don’t have to think about it. I am a bit of a thrill seeker, so I was up for doing anything; standing on top of trains… When I didn’t do my own stunts, I was a bit miffed, because I wanted to do it [laughs], but there weren’t many that I didn’t do so it was my choice.
A lot of the effects in the film were practical; the trains and sets were built for the film. Did that help you as an actress?
RW: Yeah, of course. Any point that you don’t have to act is when you’re going to do your best work. I always like acting outside because you’ve got everything around you; you’ve got nature and all the elements that make everything very real. When you are acting in a studio with lights and everything else, it suddenly feels like you are on a set. So that was very easy to be in those landscapes, on those trains, in those outfits…
Years ago, film makers didn’t want to use Monument Valley in their films as it was so synonymous with John Ford that they were afraid of being accused of plagiarism. What was it like to film in a landscape that is so strongly associated with Westerns?
RW: It was amazing; being part of that movie history was a complete honour, and being in that environment. Those landscapes are stunning! They are relatively untouched and it gives such an epic quality to the film, and it is real, it’s not CGI. You can see that on screen, and I think it makes such a difference. We are bombarded with CGI all the time these days and it’s really nice to see real trains, real stunts, real horse chases, real landscapes and it’s beautiful, the light is so beautiful. It’s a joy to see something that is attempting to make film in the way that it used to be made.
We’ve mentioned that you did your own stunts and worked in Monument Valley, but I can imagine that one of the biggest challenges would be wearing those huge dresses in desert heat.
RW: That wasn’t really a challenge; I’ve worn lots of dresses like that. Pretty much my whole career is wearing corsets and dresses. It was hot, but it is not really my lasting impression of the film. I had to deal with the heat, but it wasn’t that bad. Really, the dust was worse than the heat. We had a lot of dust storms, in Albuquerque especially, and it would get everywhere; inside your ears and inside your knickers… You would just be covered in the stuff. We had ice and we had snow, but really it was the wind and the sand that was the worst. The heat came, but we were never in it that long.
So you’re a trooper! Was there anything that you found particularly challenging?
RW: It was probably the length of time away. I hadn’t done a job that long before, so being away from home was quite hard.
It’s a rather alien landscape as well; the American desert doesn’t look like England!
RW: Exactly, it’s not lush and green. We got to Colorado and there was a sense of relief from everyone. We had been in Albuquerque for about three and a half months, in the dust, then you get to this lush, green, fresh Colorado. We were all in heaven! [laughs]
You have another Disney film coming out soon; SAVING MR. BANKS. Can you tell us about this?
RW: It’s about the making of Mary Poppins into a movie from the books. Originally they were a series written by P.L. Travers and Walt Disney persued her for about 20 years to make it into a film and she kept refusing. Eventually she did accept and it’s about the inspiration behind those books. Part of the movie is about making the film; about English and American culture clash, also writer and producer culture clash and creative clashes. Also, you keep flashing back to her growing up with her parents and the inspiration behind Mary Poppins, and the character of this nanny who comes in to save the day. I play her mother, and Colin Farrell plays her father. That’s the heart of the movie and the heart of her inspiration for the books. It’s a brilliant film; it was the best script I read last year. I have seen the film, I think it’s amazing. I am really proud of it.
Are you a fan of MARY POPPINS?
RW: I think that’s probably the film I watched the most as a kid. Every Christmas we watched MARY POPPINS, and I know it inside out and all the songs. P.L. Travers didn’t want it to be a musical, she didn’t want the animation in it. She was dead against all of that stuff, so it’s fascinating. You’ll never watch MARY POPPINS in the same way.
You also have A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, with Liam Neeson and SUITE FRANCAISE with Michelle Williams coming out soon. Did you have a day off recently?
RW: No! [laughs] I need a holiday. No rest for the wicked, I can’t complain, but it’s time for a holiday!
THE LONE RANGER is released in Irish cinemas on August 9th
Words: Brogen Hayes