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A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST

Outlaws and Townsfolk: Casting the Comedy
As the writers crafted their story, they imagined their Albert being played by one of their own. Although MacFarlane has spent much time behind the camera and is familiar as the voice of animated characters from Peter Griffin to Ted, this would mark his first go of it as a live-action leading man. He was game for a new challenge. Commends Stuber: "Instead of just continuing to do what he was doing, Seth said, 'I'm going to try something different. I want to do a comedy in the Old West, and I'm going to act in it.' He continually challenges himself, and I find that fantastic. He has to be fearless in order to do those things, and he's got such a tonal understanding and command of who he is as an entertainer."

With MacFarlane on board in his first live-action feature role, the team set about searching for their female lead, Anna. In our story, Albert and Anna don't remotely fall in love at first sight. Instead, they bond over their shared hatred of the Old West and the myriad ways in which it will eventually kill you. The kindred smartasses connect as Anna helps Albert discover his strength, and Albert helps Anna find her vulnerability.

Clark explains the relationship between our star-crossed lovers: "After he's dumped, Albert is trying to figure out what to do next when this mysterious woman comes to town. They meet in unexpected circumstances, and they bond over the fact that they are both unhappy living in the unbelievably deadly West. He begins to question who she is and where she came from, and doesn't realize that he is falling in love with her. By the third act, her past catches up with her and we have this great collision of their worlds coming together in the small town of Old Stump."

For their leading lady, MacFarlane and his team loved the idea of having Charlize Theron take on the role of Anna. From the director's first meeting with her, he knew she was the perfect fit. He states: "I love it when an actor comes in with a very strong pre-existing point of view about what they want, and it shows on screen. With Charlize, from the first time we discussed the role, she got what this was. It's like she was wired into my brain. She has a great presence, and I knew that she would bring this character to life in a powerful way."

While Theron has been more recognized for her dramatic work, the Oscar-winning actress had been eyeing a new genre to push herself as a performer. She shares: "I've been interested in comedy for a while, but it's been tricky because audiences know me so well doing something very different. In fact, what also interests me is odd comedy. Those are very rare. The combination of this script and Seth directing was a slam dunk for me. I started begging instantly...I closed the script and started begging."

Theron explains the reason she felt a kinship with Anna: "She is the character that I have fallen in love with the fastest. We have a lot of similar traits, and I felt like I understood her straight from the beginning. Even though she hates the West, she is not jaded or cynical."

Working with MacFarlane felt like a breath of fresh air to Theron. She commends: "Seth makes it odd, because that's just his thing. It feels original, and it doesn't feel regurgitated. Actors say that all the time, but I really feel like this is something unique. There is something about the film that feels like a throwback to the '70s."

In fact, as both Theron and MacFarlane were stepping out of their professional comfort zones, they were initially a little nervous to work together. Clark explains: "Charlize joined us for this read-through. Seth was incredibly nervous because Charlize is an Academy Award-winning actress. She came in and was as nervous working with him because comedy is something that she hasn't had a lot of experience with. That instantly brought a terrific chemistry to the relationship."

Stuber knew from the moment he watched them interact that Theron had nailed it. He offers: "Charlize is obviously beautiful and an immensely talented actor who's proven herself in dramatic roles. So when we heard she wanted to try her hand at comedy, we jumped at the chance to cast her. Luckily for us, she does comedy just as well as drama, if not better. People will really be blown away by her."

In assembling the remainder of the core cast, MacFarlane felt it was important not simply to choose comedians for the sake of casting comedians in a comedy. He explains: "The more I do this, the more I find that if you're doing your job as a comedy writer, if the jokes are there, then you want actors as opposed to comedians. The story has to have some believability, and you have to care about what's going on because, at the core, it's a dramatic story with a ton of jokes."

With Theron signed on to play Anna, the team went in search of their Louise, the woman who would break Albert's heart at the beginning of our tale. They wanted to find an actress who was right in the "Goldilocks" zone-someone who could express that artful balance between a woman whom you don't really want the guy to end up with because she's not the nicest person, but a character who still has enough redeeming qualities that you don't think the guy is an idiot for pining after her. Someone "just right."

MacFarlane found everything the team wanted in accomplished actress Amanda Seyfried. He explains: "Amanda is a great example of someone who is perfectly cast. There was the scene on the log where she's talking to Albert and is about to dump him, and I remember thinking, 'God, she is nailing it. She's either the world's greatest actress, or she's cut down a bunch of guys like this.' Amanda is very sweet, so I quickly learned it wasn't the latter; she's just extremely good."

Much like Theron, Seyfried was initially surprised at her casting. She advises: "Most of my projects haven't been comedy." Discussing her character, the performer shares: "Louise is a selfish young lady who dumps Albert in such a blunt, insensitive way because he's not getting it. She is enamored of Foy and how awesome she thinks he is that she can't quite see who he really is. Foy's very charismatic and he's got balls, while Albert has no balls at all... figuratively speaking of course. Foy's attractive to her because he has confidence and sex appeal, and his moustache is really hot."

Although Theron's and Seyfried's characters were at odds, that's where the similarities between the actresses ended. Theron explains that she struggled with the biting dialogue that was directed toward her on-screen nemesis: "I found myself constantly looking at Seth and saying, 'I can't say that. It's Amanda, come on.' There is a line where I have to tell her she looks bad in this dress. I was thinking that I am just not that good of an actor. I mean, look at her! She's like a little doll."

Thoughtful logic also went into the choosing of the actor who would portray the film's moustache-twirling ladies' man, Foy. For MacFarlane, Foy was the most difficult character to cast because he had to be slightly heightened, just a bit bigger than the rest of his world. Audiences had to believe that he was a genuine threat to Albert, while still being grounded. After a great deal of thought, MacFarlane and the team hit on the idea of Neil Patrick Harris.

MacFarlane explains: "As you know, Neil can act, sing and dance; he does it all beautifully. But there's a scene where his character is literally shitting in a hat. It's a crude joke, but you watch Neil and he somehow manages to take this and turn it into something that you could see in a classic silent movie. With the physicality and the subtleties that he incorporates into the character, I started to see how truly colossally talented he is and how formidable he is as a performer."

Harris is the first to admit that getting him on board was the easy part. The actor shares: "I have only met Seth a few times prior to this movie. A couple of us from How I Met Your Mother lent our voices to a Family Guy episode in which we were openly mocked. And then this movie came along, and it fit into my hiatus between seasons of the show. I got a call from the one and only Seth MacFarlane in his own voice, which is rare. That's like Wendy Williams without the wig. He said that no one else can play this part, and that I'm the only guy for it. So here we are."

The actor supplies some background on Foy, Albert's newly formed arch-nemesis: "Foy is the wealthiest man in town, without question, and he likes to showcase it. He dresses finer than anyone. He prides himself on his facial hair and honors others who have facial hair." Harris adopted different mannerisms to make Foy anything but a stereotype. He shares: "I don't quite know why I came up with it, but every time Foy is around, I put my arm oddly in front of me like I'm parading around."

Tasked with finding an actor to play Clinch Leatherwood, notorious outlaw and Anna's jealous husband, the filmmakers turned to undisputed blockbuster action star Liam Neeson. Stuber recalls how the casting came about: "For our ultimate foil, we sat around like little kids saying, 'I hope we can get someone like Liam Neeson. Wouldn't that be amazing?'" Turns out that they didn't have to dream. "I've been lucky enough to have worked with him before, and he was a fan of Seth's, so it was a terrific get."

MacFarlane knew that Clinch was pivotal to A Million Ways to Die in the West because the character had to be believable. He explains that Neeson was the man for the job: "Clinch is a character that has to seem like he is in a drama for everything to work. He is a bad guy who has to be dealt with: a real situation. That's an anchor that you have to have in a comedy like this. You have to believe that the bad guy's a legitimate threat, and Liam did that masterfully."

Prior to meeting with Neeson, MacFarlane had an idea of what kind of accent he wanted Clinch to possess. The Irish-born actor had similar thoughts. MacFarlane says: "I love Liam's speaking voice, so when he came in I thought, 'God, I hope he doesn't do a Western accent.' He just has such a resonant, powerful speaking voice. The guy can read the phone book, and you sit up and take a listen."

Recalling his rationale for playing Clinch as a Northern Irishman, Neeson offers: "A few years ago, my kids came home from school and said, 'Dad, you're on Family Guy!' So I watch, and Seth lampooned me as Liam Neeson doing a Western, strangely enough, and what my accent would be like. So, when we agreed to do this, I said, 'I'll only do it, Seth, if I can play it in my Northern Irish accent...as homage to Family Guy.' So he agreed."

Neeson discusses how he brought his background to the story: "Clinch is a classic baddie in the Western tradition; he's a gunslinger. I'm from the north of Ireland originally, and I've made him very pure and broad Northern Irish. I imagine his real name was probably Trevor McBraid, but he changed his name to Clinch Leatherwood when he came to the Wild West."

The performer found working with MacFarlane to be an enjoyable experience, commending: "Seth's quite a remarkable Renaissance young man. He's always up and breezy, and open to suggestions and ideas. If he doesn't like them, he'll say so, and if he does then he'll incorporate them. He's very acute at giving you a note. If a beat isn't working in a scene, he'll change a line or suggest something for you to try."

Giovanni Ribisi, who worked with the production team on Ted, was cast as Edward, Albert's best friend. Sarah Silverman, a longtime favorite of the group, was brought on to portray Ruth, Edward's long-term girlfriend. A simple man like Albert, Edward owns the town's shoe repair shop, while Ruth is Old Stump's most popular prostitute. Although Edward and Ruth are both saving themselves for marriage, they see no irony in the fact that her entire career is based upon servicing 10 to 15 men a day.

Ribisi explains why he got involved with the comedy: "I believe that it's the script and the director, and the company that you keep. When I read the script, I thought it was like nothing I'd ever read. It was insane and smart and a great story. And, of course, working with Seth is always great." Describing his character, Ribisi says: "Edward is someone who believes in values. He's very religious and wants to wait. He's a virgin who has been with Ruth for six years, and they're waiting for their wedding night."

Clark praises the actor for his versatility: "Giovanni is a genius. I've seen him do everything, including playing a comedic villain in Ted. He has great timing and is a wonderful collaborator. He brings so much, and he made us laugh every day."

While her day job might suggest otherwise, Ruth has a special place in her heart for Edward, which is why she won't have sex with him until they are wed. MacFarlane explains: "This is still the American frontier in the 1800s. It's a very puritanical time, and she does not want to have sex before marriage. Edward doesn't care that she's up there banging a whole bunch of guys, because he knows that he's the one guy special enough for her not to have sex with." Discussing casting, the director says, "Ruth was a character that was, right down to her cadences, written with the idea that Sarah would play her."

Silverman jokes about her casting: "Yes, they wrote this with me in mind. But the table read was my audition. I heard there were some people not totally sold on this Jew playing a sweet Christian girl." Even though Ruth is a prostitute, Silverman finds the silver lining in her character. "I think Ruth likes her job because she's a people pleaser. She's not a nymphomaniac. She's just a pleaser, which is a nice quality."

Of the on-screen chemistry between Ribisi and Silverman, MacFarlane commends: "Giovanni and Sarah were a dynamic that you knew was going to work. He's primarily a dramatic actor who is gifted at comedy, and she is an incredibly gifted comedian who has proven to be adept at dramatic acting as well. These were just two people who were so perfect for these roles that it was a matter of lighting the shot, turning the camera on and letting them do what they do."

Rounding out the top-notch cast, the filmmakers played around with some recognizable faces as residents of Old Stump. In addition to its multiple surprising cameos, the film features a lineup of seasoned actors including WES STUDI (Avatar) as Cochise, the Native American who guides Albert down the drug-fueled path of realization, JOHN AYLWARD (Showtime's House of Lies) as the shockingly ruthless Pastor Wilson and JAY PATTERSON (TV's Law & Order) as Dr. Harper, the town's extremely unqualified physician.

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