Sam Shepard returns to the screen as Butch Cassidy in this thrilling new Western, in cinemas October 7th
Coming to select theaters this Friday, October 7th, is the thrilling new Western Blackthorn, from director Mateo Gil. Living legend Sam Shepard returns to the silver screen as the long-thought dead Butch Cassidy, who has been quietly living out the end of his life under the false name James Blackthorn in a secluded Bolivian village. Hoping to see his family one last time before he dies, Cassidy sets out for the US, but a young criminal derails his plans to break exile, unexpectedly dragging him into one last adventure that will rival his glory days running with the Sundance Kid.
We recently caught up with director Mateo Gil to chat about this throw back to the Westerns of yesteryear. Here is our conversation.
Every year, Hollywood will cry that the Western is dead. And the genre certainly took a hit when Cowboys & Aliens didn't perform as well at the box office as some had hoped. But then your trailer came out of nowhere, and there was a genuine interest in this film and this genre once again. All of a sudden, moviegoers were excited that a true Western was coming to theaters. What are your thoughts on that? Is the Western simply an unstoppable genre?
Mateo Gil: Eh...I don't know. Maybe the Western is really dead. Maybe that's why people want to see this. Because they are missing the Western a lot. It 's not a business anymore. You can see good Westerns, and some make good business. But most don't make good business at all. Me? I miss Westerns. I like them a lot. I enjoy the new ones when they come to the theater. I enjoyed The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford a lot. I enjoyed Appaloosa. There are a lot of them that I enjoy.
Open Range was a great modern day Western...
Mateo Gil: Yes, I enjoyed Open Range.
Do you consider Blackthorn more of a throwback to the Westerns we saw in the Golden Age, or is it more of a modern day Western, which lies in the wake of the genre-changing film Unforgiven?
Mateo Gil: I don't know. When I was preparing the movie, I was thinking about a kind of 70s style. But then, when I started shooting, I felt that the movie was asking me to have a more classic style. At the end, I think it's a mix of the classic style, and the 70s style, through to these new times. I like the style that it has. It is an old fashioned style, if you want...
The appeal of bringing Butch Cassidy back to the screen immediately drew me to the film, and I've gotten that same impression from others. Why do you think that character resonates so strongly with audiences? Is it nostalgia for the iterations of this tale that have come before Blackthorn?
Mateo Gil: You know what I was interested in? Not the old movie, nor the real Butch Cassidy. I like the real Butch Cassidy a lot. I think he was a really good character. But for us, Butch Cassidy was an excuse. He allowed us to talk about certain issues, certain matters, or certain values, that we miss from most cinema, and the old Westerns...Even from old times. The central point, I think, is that difference between the old Butch Cassidy and the young engineer. This difference, this ethical opposition...I think the rest is an instrument to talk about this through. To feel and express this nostalgia that we feel for ancient movies, and ancient Westerns.
Why did you think that Sam Shepard was the only one that could play Butch Cassidy at this point in the character's life?
Mateo Gil: I don't know if I can answer this question very well. But if you see the movie, you will quickly see why Sam Shepard is the perfect man to take on this role, in this particular movie. He shares a lot of things with the role. He is a real cowboy, Sam Shepard. He missed the Western, and these issues of loneliness and friendship. The landscapes. I think there are a lot of common themes within the movie, and his own literature. There were many reasons why I felt that he was perfect for this role. He is also a great writer. It is not very easy to have an actor of his quality that writes so well at the same time. He has this charisma. So grateful, the screen is.
Did he ever offer his opinion on the script, or give you advice on rewriting certain scenes? Of did he primarily stay in his corner as an actor on this project?
Mateo Gil: Yes, he was helpful. But it was surprising to me that he never acted as a writer. He always acted as an actor. He was going straight to his work. The beautiful thing for me is that he was always wanting to make things easy, clear, and straight. Because it is his way of acting. It is a very straight way of acting. He is always trying to make lines of dialogue easy and natural. It was nice. He was just an actor. He was never Sam Shepard. He never talked about his literature, or his past work as an actor. He stayed simple. I like that. I like people that stay concentrated in their work. That is very useful for me.
Sam has such a strong presence on screen, what were the challenges of finding him a sidekick that would bounce off of him, and play to what he was bringing to the screen?
Mateo Gil: For us? It was such a challenge. Because, actually, if I am sincere, we didn't think any American actor was going to even read this script. This is a small production. It is made in Spain, with Spanish money. It is so very small, the production. We thought it was going to be difficult to get a lead actor. We were very lucky, we sent the script to Sam Shepard, and no less than a week later, he said, "Yes!" He didn't ask any questions. He didn't ask who I was, or what my previous work had been. He simply said, "I like this script. I want to do it." Then he flew to Bolivia. That was it. We were very lucky. Then there was another point of luck. Sam Shepard and Stephen Rea share the same American agent. So it was easy to contact Stephen Rea after all that. It became easy to get him involved in the project. So...Double luck! Really!
In this day and age, it is hard to secure funding for any movie, let alone a Western. How did that process come together? And how did you make such a beautiful Western on an indie budget, when most Westerns are quite expensive?
Mateo Gil: Triple luck! I just don't know. I look at it as a miracle. We had to do the movie with half the money that we needed, really. It is a small movie. We had to make a lot of difficult decisions, and we had to take big, big, big risks in Bolivia. We didn't even have insurance. Not in Bolivia. There was not a company there to insure that we could finish this movie. It became a risk every day (laughs). But we decided to take the risk, and get into this adventure. I am so grateful. Nether Sam Shepard nor Stephen Rea had the need to take on this much risk. They really liked the story, and they missed the Western as much as I did.