Antoine Fuqua learned about Westerns through his grandmother. She used to watch all the biggies: “Shane,” “Duel in the Sun,” John Ford’s legendary oaters, like “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers.” The genre was long dead by the time Fuqua became a director. That’s why it’s taken him 11 films — including “Training Day,” “Olympus Has Fallen” and “The Equalizer” — for him to make his own. When he did, he got to redo one of the classics: His version of “The Magnificent Seven” stars Denzel Washington as the leader of a diverse pack of rogues who agree to save a town from a devilish land-grabber (Peter Sarsgaard). It’s also the nicest film he’s ever made, sort of: It’s the first PG-13 for a director who likes his movies a gritty R. Not that there isn’t tons of gunplay and (mostly bloodless) deaths.
Fuqua talks to us about how making the movie made him feel like a kid again, not wanting to make this one an R and, of course, horse poop.
Tell me about growing up with Westerns.
I was just a kid who loved Westerns. I still do. I even love the sound of Westerns: the boots on the wood, the wind blowing. I love all that open space and the idea of the frontier — nothing to hide behind, except who you are.
Back in the old days, Hollywood actors were used to getting in cowboy gear. Now it’s very rare. How did your cast take to it?
They loved it. They don’t get to do it that often, to put on that costume: the cowboy hat, the boots, the guns on your side. You could see the kid coming out in everyone. They’d sit on the porch some days as the sun was going down. They were big kids all of a sudden. They were laughing, having a good time — except for me, the director. I’m trying to figure out how to beat the sun before it goes down.
It can’t be easy directing horses.
Yeah, they don’t know they’re in a movie. [Laughs] And they don’t care. They do what they want to do. Anything’s the bathroom for them. They lift their tail and they’re like, ‘Eff this.’ You’re like, ‘OK, can we get someone to clean that up?’ [Laughs] But they’re tough. We’d have explosions and shooting, and that wasn’t good for them at all. They wanted to go the other direction.
Even as a director you must have had fun recreating all those old Western tropes.
You try to make it your own, [and] at the same time, the kid has to come out. You get to make one of those moments that make you smile, like where the guy stops outside the saloon and the swinging doors creak, the sounds of his footsteps, the piano player. Those iconic images make you nostalgic for those films. And it’s fun to do them. I had to pinch myself and say, 'I’m making a Western.' You have to remind yourself not to take yourself so seriously, to have a good time. You’ll probably never have a chance to do it again.