James Ransone is not the type of interview subject you grill with questions. The actor (“Generation Kill,” “Sinister,” “Tangerine”) is a talker. Sitting at an outdoor cafe in the East Village, we talk a little bit about his role in the new Western “In a Valley of Violence.” Ransone admits the role was fun — he gets to square off against Ethan Hawke and bicker with his screen father, played by John Travolta. But it was also a little too like his most famous role: Ziggy on “The Wire” — “a schmuck with daddy issues,” as he puts it. “I think I’m just over those types of characters. I just got bored.”
But the conversation quickly veers to bigger subjects: how we’re all angry all the time, how we may need to think outside of republics and democracies, how we think we’re free but really conditioned by society to fulfil certain needs.
I’m really happy there are Westerns again, because I love the genre. But I can’t help but think it’s also not a good sign. Because the Western is about loners fighting to survive in an inhospitable world. Maybe these films, like "The Hateful Eight," "The Magnificent Seven" and "In a Valley of Violence," are tapping into something about how miserable the world is right now.
It’s probably a couple of things. I think it’s clear that we are peaking in terms of our relationship to the ideals of ourselves as being autonomous individuals thrust into this chaotic world. That makes no sense to us anymore. You see people looking to an old form of American mythology to make sense of why we all feel so isolated in this chaotic world. What better mythological totem than the solitary man on a horse?
Or the solitary man, like Leonard DiCaprio in “The Revenant,” crawling his way back to society, but only so he can kill a man.
I heard they shoe-horned in the half-breed revenge story as a studio note. [Ed. This is true. It is not in the original story.] The movie would have been so much better if it was “my friends left me for dead, so now I’m going to kill them all.” That would actually feel shockingly relevant. [Laughs] Tom Hardy’s like, “Look, f— him, we’ve gotta move on or else we’re all going to die.” And Leo’s like, “But it’s ME.” And that’s how everyone drives in L.A.: “But it’s me.” Until you can let go of that mentality and realize your own consciousness is intimately connected with everything else, that you are just one bee in a hive, we’re f—ed. It’s just going to keep going the way it is.
Instead we’re all angry at each other, or we form these militant tribes that fight everyone else.
That’s what really scares me: There’s this undercurrent of anger people have with one another. They’re so steadfast in their convictions that they stop listening to one another. That troubles me more than anything else. It’s the day-to-day level of how much aggression there is between people at all times. I live in Los Angeles and you’d think it’d be more mellow than New York. But it’s the same.
Really? Even Los Angelinos are angry?
You see it more on people’s cars. People are like, “I’m here, f— you.” But you can’t run a society if everyone thinks they’re the main character in the movie of their mind. At a certain point you have to say we’re all in this together.