About The Production
How do you tell the story that takes place in 1892 in the United States but
could just as
easily be Kandahar or Baghdad? In Scott Cooper's frontier epic, violence is
indiscriminate and the line between enemy and ally and victor and victim is
beyond recognition. In this universe, a disparate group of people, some
opposed to the existence of the other, are forced together to fight external
are bent on their destruction.
Cooper had been sent an early manuscript written by the late screenwriter
Stewart, (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger),
was taken with the depth of the story. "I've always wanted to make a Western,"
says, "but I wanted to make it on my terms and I wanted it to have real
relevance as to
what's happening in America today with race and culture. We all know what
maltreatment we afforded Native Americans and you can see that currently with
of color. You can see it happening with the LGBTQ community. It was speaking to
issues that are universal."
He wrote the script for Christian Bale, a close friend who also starred in
his film Out of
the Furnace. When Bale first read the piece he was struck by the enduring human
elements of the story and some details resonated quite deeply. "It could have
happened anywhere in American history," he says. "I viewed Fort Berringer like
Abu Ghraib. The conditions were inhumane for the prisoners and the jailers were
trained to be prison guards. They were trained for combat."
Cooper used Stewart's original draft as a blueprint, working diligently for
shape the story so it would reflect a timeless ethos. He studiously avoided the
a period piece by staying away from the well-used tropes of a traditional
He also collaborated with his Black Mass producer John Lesher to bring the
script to life.
"We talked a lot about what it was really about and how much we wanted to try to
the story in this milieu," Lesher remembers. "Scott is the perfect person to do
it too. He
has a deep understanding of the locale and the history of the era. He's also a
bit of a
Renaissance man in his own right, which allowed him to create these fully
According to Lesher, a significant step toward getting Hostiles made was by
forces with producer Ken Kao. "My reaction when I read the script was how
was and how relevant it was to today's social and political climate," marvels
this world we are very much separated from one another, so in some ways this is
Kao supported the team's vision, enabling them to get the resources they
make the film in the most authentic way possible, which included shooting on
in New Mexico and Colorado and working with a dream team of consultants to
the cultural and historical integrity of the film.
An Accurate Portrayal of Native People
To achieve a truthfulness and depth in the representation of the Native
characters, Cooper worked with acclaimed filmmaker Chris Eyre, (Smoke Signals,
Skins), and the academic Dr. Joely Proudfit. Their organization, The Native
connects creatives from film and television with resources that foster accuracy
depiction of Native and Indigenous peoples.
The extent of the cultural support made an indelible impression on Cooper.
consultants on this film have been extraordinary and have taught me things that
research never could have," he says. "They were on set every day to help the
with language, with gestures, with rituals. Their work was of the utmost
and it was deeply gratifying for all of us."
A significant amount of Hostiles' dialogue is spoken in the rarely heard
Cheyenne dialect. Eyre was tasked with finding sources that not only spoke
could also teach the language, and have knowledge of how native speakers would
sounded at the end of the 19th century.
"The biggest request that Scott and Christian had is that we, as Cheyenne
get it right," says Eyre. "Just because you're a native person doesn't mean
all things native. I was able to bring Chief Phillip Whiteman and Donald
to the project. To hear the language spoken in the right dialect and in a
by Christian and Wes and Rosamund, is something great to see on screen. It's
victory that millions of people will get to hear this rare language."
Chief Phillip Whiteman, Cheyenne consultant, worked closely with Bale, who at
struggled mightily to get the words out. "It's bloody difficult," Bale laughs,
wonderful. Speaking the language correctly is also allowing me to understand a
the Cheyenne belief system. I've been so surprised because it seems impossible
there's such a natural flow to it."
Cooper is also mindful in his interpretation of the renegade Comanche
slaughter Rosalee Quaid's family and stalk Blocker's party. He teases out a bit
history to give us a greater sense of this group's violent acts. While the film
in 1892, by 1872 nearly all Comanche had been forcibly relocated and registered
name by the U.S. military. The warriors shown in Hostiles were one of several
known bands who managed to remain free for two more decades. They wrought
vengeance across the plains of the Southwest straight through 1890s, when they
William Voelker, the film's Comanche consultant, is impressed with the way
filmmakers honor and give careful consideration to the behavior, language, dress
horsemanship of these controversial characters. By having a sense of their
wrongs done them reverberate even as they lay waste. "There's never been much
attention given to those Comanche who never acquiesced and submitted to the
government," he says. "And while I'm proud of everyone's willingness and
make every effort to get things accurate, the one thing that I found a little
funny in the
beginning, was that Scott was apologetic about the Comanche being perceived as
ruthless. We don't try to candy-coat our history. The people were bloodthirsty.
everything, and we were very angry at losing our freedom."
The Look of 1892
The filmmakers selected locations in New Mexico and Colorado for their rough
and evocative visual grammar. This is a world in flux between modernity and the
West. It still has wild spaces but is on the verge of disappearing forever.
set out to explore the push/pull of that dynamic and how it relates to the
evolution of his characters. He brought together a like-minded team that
cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (Silver Linings Playbook, Black Mass),
Award-winning production designer Donald Graham Burt (Gone Girl, The Curious
of Benjamin Button), and costume designer Jenny Eagan (Beasts Of No Nation, Our
Brand Is Crisis).
After three films together, Masanobu Takayanagi and Cooper work in shorthand.
and I discussed the language of the film, and it's really such a joy because
work with someone as closely as I do Masa," says Cooper. "We share sensibilities
can evoke this world because we both have the same story in mind."
Takayanagi creates intensity by using the extreme, sumptuous contrasts of the
Mexican light and is able to frame critical moments that signal the difficulty
In concert with Takayanagi, Donald Graham established a color palette that
that contrasting light. Burt eschews most color, retaining a near black and
esthetic that's accented with warm sepia tones. "He cares so much about
says Cooper. "It was very important that the palette conjure the era but also
of how simple yet difficult life was. The period details resonate but then
recede as the
characters come to the fore."
Burt's meticulous research is never more evident than in his differentiation
military forts that Blocker traverses from New Mexico to Montana. Each stop is
step forward in the turning of the century. Fort Berringer, a place that
frontier in retreat, is deliberately rundown and is constructed out of 70,000
bricks, while Fort Winslow is nearly a suburb, with places to shop and a
commander's quarters that came complete with a living room and dining room.
Burt is also deeply also sensitive to character building, which manifests in
the way he
considers each set. Blocker's rough-hewn apartment at Fort Berringer is dark,
and stark, clearly mirroring the character's mindset at the start of the film,
Quaid homestead, warm and cheery on the inside, is surrounded by desolate
foreshadowing of what's to come and a message that they're not welcome on the
Costume designer Jenny Eagan helped create the era and provide clues to the
characters' inner lives through the clothes she sourced and designed. "What she
so well is not only evoke a certain era," enthuses Cooper, "but she understands
costumes come through character and that clothing affects their development
throughout the story. She really knows how to fit each actor so they can move
All these characters have in one way or another been stripped of their
cavalry men are limited by regulations, status and income; the Cheyenne are at
mercy of their military captors; and Rosalee Quaid is beholden to her rescuers.
result, Eagan has to build clues into each outfit that convey who the wearer
The cavalry uniforms pose a unique challenge. "What was interesting in terms
uniforms," Eagan adds, "is you can find Civil War uniforms but nobody's really
story of this time period. There were military regulations but the pieces don't
have to make them all from the ground up and then make sure they each give a
of the character's background and follow their story arc."
Most fascinating and difficult to parse is the Cheyenne clothing of the era,
because it's no longer traditional, nor is it completely Westernized. While it
accurate to show the cultures converging, it's also true that the military
Cheyenne way of life. "They just wanted to strip them of their identity more or
westernize them as much as possible," Eagan says, mentioning a moment in the
where Yellow Hawk and his family are dressed in traditional finery for a photo
then forced to take it off when the camera is gone.
Eagan also creates a specific color palette for Rosalee Quaid. For the very
she's seen at her homestead, she and her children are bathed in gentle pinks.
all-consuming grief is later illustrated by her purchase of a maroon suit. "The
becomes maroon, and it's almost like the maroon is a bruise," reflects Eagan,
"as if it's
an injury to the pink of her heart."
Captain Joseph Blocker, Chief Yellow Hawk and Rosalee Quaid
Scott Cooper and Christian Bale worked together to build Captain Joseph
took him from a blueprint and each and every day enriched him and gave him life
blood," enthuses Cooper. "Christian really inhabited this character with the
coarseness and toughness that one might expect of a man who has been shaped by
Bale develops a rich emotional landscape for Blocker, a man who's absorbed
of decades of battle and is now warped by it. As a result, the character's
a darkness that is likely PTSD, is palpable. "He's had this rock-solid
conviction in the
righteousness of what he's doing and then everything is pulled out from under
says Bale. "How does someone like that turn around and start to question
that he's believed in?"
Blocker recognizes that he's a pawn in a game, and he's tired of playing.
confronted with escorting Yellow Hawk, the man responsible for killing many of
men, he balks, only to be threatened with a court martial and the loss of his
he doesn't conform. This is how he's repaid for a lifetime of slaughter in the
As the journey becomes increasingly fraught, Blocker discovers that the
akin to his own men: It doesn't matter if they like or dislike one another; they
trust each other if they're going to live. It's a realization that sparks his
"It's so difficult for him to stop the fight," Bale observes. "Especially
when he's lost so
many loved ones. But at the same time, he's beginning to understand that the
Cheyenne have lost everything. Yellow Hawk has no tribe. Blocker is able to edge
way back to civilization because he discovers his humanity."
Cooper wrote the character of Yellow Hawk with Wes Studi in mind, and Lesher
Kao were also determined to cast him. "Wes is one of our great actors,"
Cooper, "and if we didn't have him, I don't know if I'd have made the movie. He
that important to telling this story. I think he's remarkable in the role. He
the tremendous power and pathos that Yellow Hawk requires."
Yellow Hawk's trajectory is tragic. His people have been slaughtered or
when we first meet him, he's spent seven years of his life, along with his wife,
daughter-in-law and grandson, chained in a cell at Fort Berringer. His release
joyful. He's dying of cancer and the way home is dangerous. If they do make it
Cheyenne burial ground in Montana, there's even more loss. Blocker's orders are
take the surviving family members to the reservation - not give them their
Studi, an actor of remarkable emotional range, creates a thoughtful character
not defined by historical suffering. His Yellow Hawk may be pragmatic, but he's
deeply soulful and retains his dignity in the face of near constant humiliation.
Determined to have the end of his choosing - at home and with his family -
Hawk realizes he has to reconcile with a man he reviles. "The political ploy
this actually serves Yellow Hawk's purpose but his relationship with Blocker is
complicated" says Studi. "They had fought for years, the U.S. Army and the
over land and resources, much as we see soldiers fighting over corporate
this day. The change comes when he and Blocker realize that what they've been
has not been of their own volition. It's all been to the advantage of someone
somewhere else. That said, they're not going to bond," he continues. "It's not
of world, but they will fight together to survive."
The filmmakers searched for an actress who would be able to create a nuanced
of Rosalee Quaid, a woman who, according to Lesher, "could portray this
manifest destiny, someone who embodies the dream of bringing civilization west."
Cooper, Lesher and Kao found their pioneer in acclaimed British actress,
Pike. "She has such a high emotional IQ," Cooper raves. She's the actress who
wants to take the character from one stage to something completely unexpected.
thinking at every moment of how she'll relate to something that's six, eight or
minutes down the narrative."
The film begins at the Quaid homestead, where Rosalee and her family appear
and safe. Their idle is interrupted by a Comanche war party and the woman who
represents the taming of the West, becomes the sole survivor of a massacre.
When the cavalry and Cheyenne find her, Pike's Rosalee is nearly catatonic, her
are torn apart and she's unable to relinquish the dead infant in her arms. In a
of small moments, each member of the rescue party participates in clothing the
burying her family and convincing her to move on with them. It's their first
act and she becomes the linchpin in the developing relationship between the
Hawk's family, Blocker and his men.
When Pike read the script, she was taken with Cooper's vivid description of
journey. "I didn't think of this as a genre film," she says. "This is very much
existential movie for me. The story is quite simple and yet there's so much. The
landscape of it is vast. There's tremendous interplay between these characters.
all seen such darkness and it's affected them in different ways."
The Supporting Cast
Surrounding the triangle of Bale, Studi and Pike in Hostiles is a supporting
featuring veteran and rising actors. Yellow Hawk's family includes Adam Beach as
son, Black Hawk; Q'orianka Kilcher as his daughter-in-law, Elk Woman; Xavier
Horsechief as grandson, Little Bear; and Tanaya Beatty as his wife, Living
Blocker's men include Jonathan Majors as Corp. Henry Woodson, a Buffalo Soldier
whose father fought with Blocker during the Civil War; Rory Cochrane as Master
Thomas Metz, a longtime cohort of the Captain; Jesse Plemons as Lt. Rudy Kidder,
by-the-book West Point grad; and Timothee Chalamet as Pvt. Phillipe Dejardin, a
teenage recruit and recent immigrant from France.
Blocker later collects Sgt. Charles Wills, who's played by Ben Foster, for
one prison fort to another. Wills is Blocker's sinister doppelganger, a veteran
cavalryman who's gone over the edge but instead of containing his rage, a la
he's casually murdered a family of imprisoned Native women and children - a
he's likely to hang for. To help keep Wills contained, Blocker is joined by
Thomas, played by Paul Anderson and Sgt. Paul Malloy, who's played by the
Two of the key roles are the well-known actors Adam Beach, (Suicide Squad,
Our Fathers), and Ben Foster, (3:10 to Yuma, Hell or High Water).
Beach says that one of reasons he took the part was because it was an
tell the story of native people's journey across America. "There's such a
romanticism about America when it was growing into what it is now," he says,
reality is different." He feels the character of Black Hawk personifies the idea
can remain open and free under the most difficult circumstances. "Somebody
screws it up," Beach continues, "but continuing to find the way to where you
and coexisting with different kinds of people happens and it's an ongoing
Cooper had long wanted to work with Foster. "In writing the part, I could see
bringing this very troubled man to life," he says, "and it's something to behold
the role has so many traps. He could have been a maniac, but Ben takes the
tact. He makes him a mirror image of Blocker and shows there's a very fine line
between someone who's enacted a great deal of cruelty as part of the job and
who continues to do so of his own volition."
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