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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