By Piya Sinha-Roy
TORONTO (Reuters) - A merry band of outlaws and hired hands kicks off the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday in "The Magnificent Seven," leading a slew of action films and intimate true stories vying for early buzz leading into Hollywood's annual awards season.
While the cast of Sony Pictures' remake of its 1960 namesake is far more ethnically diverse than the original, director Antoine Fuqua said he was not trying to make a statement on diversity when casting for the film.
"I just wanted to see Denzel Washington on a horse," he said at a news conference. "We just made our film based on the world we live in right now."
Washington also deflected questions about race, saying that "what people get from it depends on what they bring to it."
The film once again pairs Washington with Fuqua after working on 2001's "Training Day," for which Washington won a best actor Oscar, and 2014's "The Equalizer."
"Obviously it was a good story and a good script. But most importantly it was Antoine," Washington said, on what drew him to the project.
The tale follows a band of outlaws who come together to defend a gold mining town from murderous baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) after a widowed young woman vows revenge for her dead husband.
The film is led by Washington's bounty hunter Sam Chisholm, who brings together alcoholic gambler Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his knife-throwing comrade Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee).
They are joined by bear-like tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Native American warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
The 10-day Toronto International Film Festival, now in its 41st year, has often been the launching pad for awards films such as "12 Years a Slave," "The King's Speech" and last year's "Spotlight" all gaining critical praise and momentum at the event before going on to win the Academy Award for best picture.
Other awards contenders at TIFF this year include historical slavery drama "The Birth of a Nation," "Hidden Figure" about three female black mathematicians who help NASA in the space race, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi drama "Arrival" and "Queen of Katwe," based on the true story of Ugandan chess champion Phiona Mutesi.
"The Magnificent Seven" will be in theaters on Sept. 22.
(Additional reporting and writing by Alastair Sharp; editing by Alan Crosby and Diane Craft)