The fall movie season starts with a bang with director Antoine Fuqua's Louisiana-shot remake of "The Magnificent Seven."
Vincent D’Onofrio plays one of the off-the-grid heroes in film. He sees the story about outsiders helping a God-fearing farming community battle a gold-hungry robber baron as almost mythological.
“These bad people get together to do good,” D’Onofrio said of the seven titular characters who defend the small western town of Rose Creek. “The story has been told in many other films, but it’s very strong when done well.”
In the 1960 version of “The Magnificent Seven,” starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Eli Wallach, seven gunfighters protect a Mexican village from a gang of roaming bandits.
In the Fuqua-directed remake, opening Friday, a diverse band of vigilantes fights a powerful industrialist’s battalion of thugs.
The new "Magnificent Seven" cast is full of known names, with Denzel Washington as bounty hunter Sam Chisolm; Ethan Hawke is Goodnight Robicheaux, a troubled ex-Confederate; Peter Sarsgaard plays the villain Bartholomew Bogue; D’Onofrio co-stars as bearish mountain man Jack Horne; and Chris Pratt is gambler and gunslinger Josh Faraday. Pratt and D’Onofrio have been friends since they shot “Jurassic World” in New Orleans.
The 1960 version of “The Magnificent Seven” is based on Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic, “Seven Samurai.” Both films have honored places in D’Onofrio’s home video collection.
“ ‘The Magnificent Seven’ because I’m a huge Steve McQueen fan,” D'Onofrio said. “It’s one of the coolest parts he played. And ‘Seven Samurai’ because I have all of Kurosawa’s films.”
D’Onofrio’s three decades of film and TV acting also includes Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” Robert Altman’s “The Player” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”
For D’Onofrio and Sarsgaard, it’s a treat to be in one of the few westerns produced in recent years. A good speaking role in a western is scarcer still, D’Onofrio said. “The Magnificent Seven” is the exception, a true ensemble piece, all the way down to small roles for local actors.
“Even though the story is simple, structured in a certain way and action-based, the work behind it is specific,” “D’Onofrio said. “It’s an awesome film because of that.”
“The Magnificent Seven” filmed primarily in the East Feliciana Parish town of Jackson, where production designer Derek Hill created the town of Rose Creek. Shooting also took place in St. Francisville, Greensburg and Nottoway Plantation.
The production benefitted from a talented pool of local actors, Sarsgaard said.
“There are so many characters in this movie, small parts played by jobbing actors in Louisiana,” he said. ”All of them have opportunities in the movie.”
D’Onofrio and Sarsgaard both grew up watching western movies and TV shows. D’Onofrio counts his 1998 film, “The Newton Boys” — a bank robber story set in the early 20th century — as his only previous western. Sarsgaard makes his western debut in “The Magnificent Seven.”
“When I was a kid, I always played western games with my friends,” Sarsgaard said. “I played the guy in the black hat. I think it was a matter of always being new to a place, because I moved around quite a bit. So I was considered someone who wasn’t from there. That makes you the guy in the black hat.”
As an adult, Sarsgaard developed an appreciation for the western as a genre.
“Westerns have always been a good description of a certain part of the American unconsciousness,” he said. “The idea that, because you live in a place where you can see from horizon to horizon, you know that the law is not coming. Things don’t get worked out by calling the police. Who are your protectors? Who are your enemies? That’s a depiction of an American fantasy.”
Sarsgaard’s earlier films include “Boys Don’t Cry” and two Louisiana projects, “Green Lantern” (shot in New Orleans and Madisonville) and “The Skeleton Key” (shot in New Orleans, Vacherie and Bayou Gauche).
The husband of actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sarsgaard asked his brother-in-law, Jake Gyllenhaal, for a heads up about working with “Magnificent Seven” director Antoine Fuqua. Gyllenhaal played the lead in Fuqua’s 2015 boxing drama, “Southpaw.”
“Jake was thrilled that we were working together,” Sarsgaard said. “A lot of the times you’re just hoping for freedom of expression. That’s what Antoine gives you. He’s like, ‘Show me what you got.’ ”
D’Onofrio enjoyed that autonomy, too.
“Antoine let me invent,” D’Onofrio said. “That’s what I love doing the most. He gave me the freedom to take Jack Horne off the page and turn him into something. I was thrilled to be there and do it.”
D’Onofrio and Sarsgaard have always liked making movies in Louisiana, even through the summer heat they endured during “The Magnificent Seven” shoot.
“The best thing about it is the people,” D’Onofrio said. “Everybody from the local crew hired for the transportation department and up. But the heat was a little harsh for all of us. We all wore a lot of clothes in the extreme heat. I wore a fur. Crazy. But the people there made up for it.”