Last year Bloody Disgusting’s Jeff Otto took a trip down to Louisiana to witness the filming of Jimmy Hayward’s Jonah Hex, Warner Bros. Pictures’ live-action adaptation of the DC comic Western. Inside you can read all about his experience, what he saw, and hear what stars Josh Brolin and John Malkovich had to say about this wild-west genre film arriving in theaters June 18. Unfortunately, much like on the set of Jennifer’s Body, Megan Fox was nowhere to be seen (freakin’ lame).
“This is Turnbull’s boat and he’s going to take it to Washington to blow up the White House,” an enthusiastic Hayward tells a group of press.
Bloody-Disgusting was invited to tour the elaborate sets of JONAH HEX last June. Joining Malkovich as Turnbull are Josh Brolin as the titular Jonah Hex and Megan Fox as Hex’s gal, a hooker named Leila. Will Arnett and John Gallagher Jr. also play supporting roles.
For those unfamiliar with the obscure comic character, here’s the lowdown: Jonah Hex is a DC Comics character created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga in 1972. He’s had numerous incarnations and origins over the years as he’s passed through the ink and pens of various writers and artists. For the purposes of the film, Hex is a gunslinging bounty hunter that has returned from the dead. His face is horribly scarred on one side and he wears a cowboy hat. He’s usually packing more than one form of heat and he rarely misses his target. Turnbull is his arch-nemesis, the man responsible for his scarring. Turnbull also blames Hex for the death of his son.
Hayward, who worked as a Pixar animator before directing HORTON, may seem like a surprising choice for the dark, live action HEX. But the director says he is a longtime comic fan and has followed the JONAH HEX comics for many years. “This is a book that I always loved,” Hayward tells press. “When I came into the meeting with Warner Brothers I had a Western Tales digest with me. It was one of my favorite ones when I was a kid.”
For leading man Josh Brolin, HEX isn’t exactly the first genre role he’s been offered, but it is the first one he felt a connection to. “TERMINATOR was really dark and cool and interesting, but then I knew they could go this way with it or that way,” says the actor. “With [HEX], wherever they went it was still going to be absurd, the anti-hero. What I love about this is you don’t really get into the supernatural elements. You’ve got this guy who refuses to die for some reason…so you can do anything. You can kill off anybody and you can still bring them back because he’s kind of half there and half in reality, you know? What it reminded me of was Javier in NO COUNTRY.”
One of the biggest considerations for Brolin in deciding whether or not to take the role was the necessary patience to endure the grueling hours of makeup each day. “It sucks man,” Brolin admits with a smirk out of the half of his face that is still mobile. We didn’t want to do the CGI thing. I said we have to go practical with this. I have this thing behind my ear so it pulls my face back, then we put a facial prosthetic on, then we put teeth in with wires. It’s a lot of work.”
Once Brolin came aboard, he brought in his friend John Malkovich to play the villain, much to the delight of Heyward and Warner Bros. “[Brolin] sent me the script and I read it and [we] met,” says Malkovich. “Then I met Jimmy out in California on another trip and said, ‘Yeah, great.’ ”
Watching the great Malkovich perform on set is thrilling. The actor quickly snaps in and out of character to conduct an interview between takes. In mere seconds, Malkovich goes from the icy cold, rageful Turnbull, yelling to his troups with vains bulging and face beat red, to the soft-spoken, contemplative and thoughtful actor off-camera.
Malkovich on his character: “Turnbull was a Southern plantation owner, very wealthy and very powerful. He feels Jonah has caused his son to be killed, so there’s a big sort of revenge factor there. Turnbull also leads a group of kind of marauders, former confederate soldiers. Eventually he hopes to overthrow the government.”
Unlike Brolin, Malkovich says he doesn’t really mind the makeup, although the transformation into Turnbull is certainly less intensive. “I just sit there,” says Malkovich calmly. “It’s probably an hour and a half or so.”
In between interviews, we walk through the massive, detailed sets. Turnbull’s boat is worth the price of admission itself, a full scale 150 foot-long reproduction of the USS Merrimack with a few creative licenses taken to accommodate the story line. Built in just three weeks, the ship is 50 feet tall. The hull of the massive ship is constructed out of styrofoam, which the set designer tells us will be recycled at the conclusion of production. Another ship recreation, the 100 foot-long Monitor, drifts along through the swamp in the distance.
HEX is a unique project, especially for a comic movie, because it blends so many genres while playing down the usual razzle dazzle special effects of a comic film. “There’s lots of action, lots of sort of seventies-feeling western stuff,” explains Hayward. “There’s a lot of really traditional stuff. And the supernatural pops up; it comes in there. The undead show Jonah Hex his destiny. I’ll leave it at that.”
Brolin is less restrained. “I don’t want to insult anybody, but I’ve been watching these westerns recently and they don’t have any cojones anymore,” says a confident Brolin. “[Hex is] going to bring back sort of this hybrid of the spaghetti western genre, you know the balls of westerns.”
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know one thing HEX will have plenty of is firepower, including those nifty machine guns on the side of his horse, the crossbow gun and some heavily modified revolvers and shotguns. Additional artillery includes period authentic Howitzers and cannon reproductions.
One piece of set decoration we hoped to check out on set was Megan Fox, whose leaked shots in period garb last summer drew rapt appreciation. Unfortunately, she wasn’t around to model the outfits in person. “I asked her, `Can you breathe?’” laughs Hayward. “She’s [actually] fine in that thing [and] she even fights in it. She wears like four or five different outfits. She was a trouper.”
Fans of the comics were less than enthused to learn that HEX was being shot for a PG-13, but Hayward promises the rating hasn’t changed the way he’s shooting the movie one bit. “To me storytelling has nothing to do with the MPAA,” says Hayward. “If it’s the choice between showing a character’s eyes while something’s happening or showing brain matter flying out of a person’s head and landing on a wall, I’m more interested in looking at somebody’s eyes.”
“I know that that’s a debate out there for fans,” continues Hayward. “I’m certainly not writing or directing anything for the MPAA. To me it’s more important nailing down JONAH HEX and getting his character right and his feud with Turnbull. I think we’re doing the comic book justice.”
JONAH HEX opens in theaters nationwide June 18th, 2010.