For director Antoine Fuqua, remaking the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven was a return to childhood. He tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that the original film reminds him of his grandmother, who used to watch Westerns with him on Sunday afternoons when he was growing up.
"I would sit there with her, and she would make me whatever food I want," Fuqua says. "What I recall about [The Magnificent Seven] was ... listening to her talk about each guy as they were introduced."
As in the original, Fuqua's remake of the film centers on a band of seven men who have volunteered to save a remote village from nefarious forces — in the case of the new film, a greedy industrialist mine owner. The film features Denzel Washington as a warrant officer and a licensed peace officer who's a quick draw and a deadly shot. Fuqua says that casting Washington was his idea.
"We were all just going through who would be the best actor for the lead," he says. "As the conversation kept going maybe for an hour or so, something kept pulling at me and I just said, 'Personally, what would make this an event for me to really want to make this movie is to see Denzel Washington on a horse in all black as a cowboy.' "
On the burial scene in the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven, in which two white characters risk their lives to bury a Native American character
That moment really stuck with me. I remember [my grandmother] being really excited about the fact that they were doing that, her sort of talking to the screen, you know. I didn't realize the impact that scene would have on my life as far as growing up and seeing people be bullied. I just didn't have it in me to stand by and watch that sort of thing happen. ...
There's so many little pieces that make up a person and that was a piece that I realized later in my life when I saw Seven Samurai for the first time when I was in college. ... It was always the idea of the bully and then having someone come to the rescue.
On capturing the essence of the 1954 film Seven Samurai, on which The Magnificent Seven is based
I went back and watched Seven Samurai again and, you know, you go back to the source. I wanted to understand what was [director Akira] Kurosawa trying to say. And of course the word "samurai" means "to serve," and I thought that's the very clear message is that we're all here on this earth to help each other, to be in service of others, for people you don't even know.
I think that's an important message, and that's what ... we all wanted to keep, and we did. And then I watched [director John] Sturges' film [the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven] and he did the exact same thing. He kept the same idea, the essence remained the same — the simple story of [being] in service of others at your own sacrifice and for no monetary gain, really.
On working with horses onscreen
Chris Pratt's horse was from War Horse, that was the one Steven Spielberg used ... so he was used to a certain thing. Denzel's horse, I believe, was in a film before — his was a little more complicated because he was ... wiry, he wanted to fight and run all the time.
A lot of them were stunt horses, but some of them weren't. The ones that were not were a little more complicated. The stunt guys were amazing because they would just take these falls. They did over 800 falls, like, there's no visual effects in that. They're falling off those horses and the horses are running all around them, so I learned quite a bit about horses in this movie and how delicate they are. ...
They're so powerful, they're so beautiful, but they're delicate in the sense that if a horse falls and snaps its ankle, gets hurt, you have to put him down. Luckily none of that happened, but dealing with the trainers, dealing with how skittish they are, how delicate they are with their senses. They could feel when an actor is not in control or their rider is not in control; they could feel the tension around them. ... When you got 60, 70 of them riding down a hill with guys screaming and guns going off and all that kind of stuff, it's dangerous.
On what made him consider becoming a filmmaker
When I look at it now, I don't know what in the world made me think I could become a director. I really don't. I was an athlete, I was artistic and I love drawing and I love movies and I love music. But I didn't think about that until I really saw Seven Samurai and I saw that ... Kurosawa's storyboards were paintings. ... I thought, "Wow, that's pretty cool, motion pictures."
The idea [to] draw something ... was a seed that was in my head. ... "That's pretty cool. How do you do that?" That's where it started for me.