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About The Production
"People do not give it credence that a young girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood, but it did happen.” -- TRUE GRIT, by Charles Portis

In 1968, The Saturday Evening Post published a serial novel that riveted readers with a story that immediately felt like a grand and timeless American legend, and kept them hungering for more. This was Charles Portis' True Grit, the tale of an unusually stalwart young girl seeking to avenge her father's death with the aid of a washed-up, frontier lawman and a forthright Texas Ranger who all set out into Indian Territory to find the killer. Laced with deadpan humor, rife with ruggedly individualistic characters, and cut through with richly American themes, the novel would take on a life of its own.

Like Mattie Ross, it would cross the river into that realm where real life events turn into tall tales and legends, becoming both a bestseller and an enduring literary classic, passed from reader to reader and writer to writer, over the decades. The book was soon being taught in schools, became a 1969 movie starring John Wayne, and the title was woven into the very fabric of the language.

The words "true grit” came to represent the kind of single-minded, cocksure gutsiness that can see a person through incomprehensible circumstances – a concept at the core of the American spirit. But Portis' story was about more than courage. Narrated by the starkly unsentimental spinster that Mattie Ross becomes in the wake of her escapade, it also probed the restlessness of the American character, with its conflicts between the yearning for adventure and the need for home, between the desire to right injustices and the cost of such retribution to body and soul. The characters of Mattie, Rooster Cogburn and LaBoeuf clash in big ways not just with each other and the outlaws they're after, but with their own hearts as they veer between the untamed and the righteous.

What lends the novel its timelessness and transcendent quality most of all is Mattie's voice, which stands apart in literature. Best-selling author George Pelecanos in a 1996 NPR interview, explained: "Mattie's voice, wry and sure, is one of the great creations of modern fiction. I put it up there with Huck Finn's and that is not hyperbole . . . Most importantly, it can be appreciated by readers of various ages, education levels and economic backgrounds. It's an egalitarian work of art.”

Portis ultimately wrote five novels (True Grit was his second, after Norwood), and over the years, readers have fallen in love with his alchemical blend of comic folksiness and bold archetypal themes. Among those who came to admire Portis' works were Joel and Ethan Coen, who themselves have spun some of the most compelling motion picture tales of our times, starting with the noir classic Blood Simple and including Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, the Oscar®-winning Fargo, The Man Who Wasn't There, O Brother Where Art Thou?, the Oscar®-winning No Country For Old Men and A Serious Man.

"We'd read Charles Portis' books but this one seemed especially amenable to have a movie made from it,” says Ethan of their decision to adapt True Grit.

The brothers were drawn to Portis' daring decision to place an irrepressible young girl at the center of a novel rife with brutality, irony and harsh realities, which appealed to their sense of the unusual. Mattie's story is certainly full of the raw humanity and ink black wit that have often characterized the Coens' cinematic vision, but at the same time, True Grit is a departure for them, featuring their most unabashedly literary, emotional and direct storytelling.

"The story is definitely in that weird genre of young persons' adventures,” says Joel.

"It's told by this very self assured 14 year-old girl,” adds Ethan, "which is probably what makes the book so strange and funny. But it's also like Alice in Wonderland because this 14 year-old girl finds herself in an environment that's really, now-a-days, exotic.” Ethan continues: "That's another thing about the book -- the setting is really exotic but obviously Portis knew the period and the place. He made the details of the setting so vividly real that they became surreal.”

The novel is also decidedly a Western, a genre that the Coen brothers wanted to tackle outright for the first time. Although some might want to put No Country for Old Men in that category, for Joel and Ethan that film was a modern thriller. The tones of the two films diverge. "No Country For Old Men was set in Texas,” explains Joel, "but it was a contemporary movie. Nobody rides a horse in it except in the respect that people still ride to get into the backcountry. We never really considered that a Western. That was in our minds something different.”

The screenplay stayed faithful to Portis' construction of the novel, which keeps Mattie at its core and brings her full circle as a tough, old woman searching for Rooster Cogburn in a faded Memphis Wild West Show. Echoing Portis, they aimed to give Mattie's voice – as plain, unflinching and sonorous as an old ballad – its full due on the screen, and to paint the equally mesmerizing Rooster Cogburn and the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf through the light of her recognition –or hope -- that they all might be connected by something gritty and honorable in their spirits.

Jeff Bridges, who was cast in the role of Cogburn, says it was the idea of mixing the book's authentic cadence and rollicking yet moving tone with the Coens' cinematic approach that got him so excited to tackle an iconic character in a fresh way.

"When the Coens first mentioned the idea of making True Grit, I said ‘Gee, didn't they make that movie? Why do you want to do it again?' and they said, ‘We're not remaking the film, we're making a version of the original book by Charles Portis'. So I read the book and I immediately saw what they were talking about. It seemed like the perfect story for the Coens to make into a movie. And since they have never made an actual Western adventure before, it was going to be a surprise.”

Adds Matt Damon, who plays LaBoeuf, "I'd never read the book until the Coens gave it to me, but it's a fantastic American novel that deserves to be recognized as that. Their adaptation was just great. They used so much of the original dialogue and captured Charles Portis' ear for the way people really spoke. I was just floored by it. Yet you always feel the Coens' voice because they're such powerful artists.”

Concludes Barry Pepper, who plays the outlaw Lucky Ned, and works with the Coens for the first time on True Grit: "The dialogue in the novel is like cowboy poetry done by Shakespeare. The Coen brothers got that rhythm, that precise musicality. What's remarkable about their adaptation is how specific and true the language is. The way they have re-interpreted and then visually expanded on what Portis did in his novel is something quite beautiful and special.”

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