Horizon : An American Saga – Chapter One – Behind The Scenes

Kevin Costner knows his way around a Western. From his Oscar-winning Dances with Wolves to his award-winning performance in the hit television show Yellowstone, cowboys are in his blood. This week, he returns to cinemas with Horizon: An American Saga Chapter 1.     This sprawling odyssey, Costner’s fourth directorial outing, is the first of a saga comprising four films, each telling a crucial part of the American West’s story from 1859 until after the US Civil War.

It has taken four decades for Costner to bring this saga to the big screen, finally investing his own money to help make his vision come true. The main aim of most of the characters is to reach the town of Horizon, a beacon on the new frontier. For the First Nations people, it is about surviving the onslaught of white settlers who are determined to build new towns and lives, destroying the native way of life.

We were lucky enough to take part in the global press conference attended by Costner and several cast members, including Sienna Miller, Luke Wilson, Tatanka Means, and Jena Malone. A global press conference offers film reporters from around the world the opportunity to ask questions, and we were lucky enough to get first dibs on Costner. We asked the filmmaker if the story has changed much from the early days of inception to what we see in Chapter 1. He says it didn’t exactly change, instead, it grew.

“In 1988, it was a single movie, and when I wasn’t able to make that one, I decided I would make four. The logic of that is purely American.  I re-engineered that first story, which starts with a town, which is how most Westerns are; they start with a town. When a stake went into the ground, out came the ants. The first image that we have in Horizon is a stake going in the ground [and the ants come out]. It was a metaphor for the chaos that we started.”

Costner explained how he began to think about the foundation of American towns and realised this was a much bigger story than he could tell in one film.

“I took the characters in that original story and re-engineered eight or nine of them, so there’s a fifth story. Don’t get me going. There’s a fifth story that, maybe someday, I’ll make. But it led me to a greater story. It led me to a better adventure.”


The film is shown from two perspectives: the white settlers and the First Nations. It is very much an American story, but Costner says it has global appeal and that while languages and customs may differ, people remain the same.

“There’s not much difference between people. The same things make us laugh. They make us cry. We weep for what we’ve lost. We yearn for what we like. If you invest in behaviour, it doesn’t matter what century or decade you choose to make a movie, you can find yourself, and that’s an obligation of a movie, that you are able to look up there and recognise yourself.”

He also explains how America is a melting point of people who came from around the world to settle in a new land, initially not realising that America already had its own people.

“We started to get news about America about 400 years ago. It was doing quite nicely without us, and America was settled by Europeans and people from around the world. They started to understand that there was a promise out here, that there was a land so big. What they didn’t realise was that there were people here who had been flourishing for 15,000 years. These two ideas came into conflict, and our story deals with that.”

Casting First Nation actors is essential to telling their stories authentically. Wase Chief who plays Liluye says it was important to represent the Apache people as truthfully as possible.  “To do the Apache nation justice, we all wanted to make sure we learned the language correctly and made it sound good. It was a lot of pressure, making sure that we’re representing our people in a good way”.

Tatanka Means plays Taklishim, an Apache warrior, uncertain whether to fight against the white settlers or follow the advice of his elders who worry what the consequence of fighting will be.

Means spoke about the importance of representation and how Hollywood has overlooked native actors for decades. He says he was proud to hear the Lakota language spoken fluently in Dances with Wolves and knows how important it is that native actors keep getting opportunities.   “I’m thankful to Kevin for casting us because many of our roles have been taken by people claiming some Indigenous blood or ancestry. To have this blessing to portray the Apache people and work with them one-on-one was important to us. When we see our people on screen being represented, we want that authenticity. We want to hear our language spoken correctly and not butchered. It brings pride to all indigenous native people in North America to see and hear your language on the big screen.”

Costner says it is only possible to tell the story of the American West by telling the story of the indigenous people.  “You can’t have the Western story unless you have the First People story. We threw their way of life into chaos, and they never recovered. I’m aware of that, but I’m also aware of the people that came across this country and the resourcefulness that it required to carve out a life. It threw these two cultures into chaos, and it was a one-sided fight. It wasn’t fair, and I’m not looking to reinvent history or set the record straight, but I can’t make a movie on the American West unless the indigenous are involved.”

Sienna Miller plays Frances, a character with remarkable resilience who is forced to survive despite tragic circumstances. Miller says it was important for the film to show not just cowboys, but the women who made difficult journeys west with their families.”To tell a story about the inception of America as we know it today that doesn’t include women is really disingenuous. Kevin crafted these incredible characters and follows their contribution to the settlement of America and their personal internal struggles.

Mine is incredibly brave, courageous, and forward-thinking. She’s a survivor; she had to be. If Kevin Costner calls you and says, “Will you come to do a Western? You run, you grab a horse or a wagon.”

Jena Malone, who plays a woman trying to escape her past, says shooting on location elevated all of their performances.   “It took two hours to get to base camp and another 45 minutes to get to the set. This was such a beautiful [experience] of getting to really experience that energy of optimism, hope, and curiosity, no matter the stakes or the terrain. Kevin gifted us this opportunity of the terrain becoming part of another character.”

Luke Wilson stars as the leader of wagon train making the arduous journey through difficult terrain. Hesays the film allowed him to see an America he often thought about but never thought he would get to experience. “It gave me more respect than I already had, I had a good deal for those who lived in those times. I’m from Texas, and whenever I’ve flown back and forth between Texas and California, I always look out the window and think, how did people make it across there? If I got put down right there, could I make it out on my own? Getting to be at one of those spots that I looked at from a plane was a great experience.”

Costner is filming all four films back-to-back regardless of how the first part is received. He says it was always his intention to make all four and now wait for the response to continue.  “My idea was not to wait to see if the first one was successful. I believe in telling this story; the only way this is successful, in my mind, is that it’s complete. We’re all given crayons in school, and we each make a picture, and it looks different, and there’s different directors. I do it a little differently, and that’s just the way it goes.”

We can’t wait to see what he does with his crayons in Chapter Two.

Words – Cara O’Doherty

Horizon : An American Saga – Chapter One is at cinemas from June 28th