LOS ANGELES — After first grabbing attention in Saving Private Ryan
12 years ago, Canadian actor Barry Pepper has quietly cultivated a
career of guys’ movies, including We Were Soldiers, Flags of Our
Fathers and his latest, the Coen brothers’ take on True Grit. But he
swears the testosterone-heavy resume wasn’t by design. Pepper sat down
with Metro to talk about honour among thieves, turning 40 with the Dude
and getting his mouth around that Coen brothers dialogue.
You seem to do a lot of westerns and war films, movies with male
camaraderie at the core. Is that intentional?
No, there’s no conscious
sort of rhyme or reason to it. This time, it was just, “Would you like
the opportunity to work with the Coen brothers?” Yeah, absolutely. Just recently my agent called and said, “Terrence Malick would like you
to be in his next movie.” It’s like, “Great. Where do I send the cheque?”
There are certain legendary directors like that — and the Coen
brothers are in that pantheon — that you just would do anything for
and. They’re in everyone’s sort of top 10, on every actor’s wish list
of must-work-with filmmakers.
Your character, Lucky Ned Pepper, is one of the film’s bad guys, but
he’s sort of an honorable villain.
He has sort of this fair-play sense
of justice. I think back then it was a simpler Old Testament,
eye-for-an-eye world, and there was a simpler sort of code, you know?
Westerns tend to overemphasize the ruthlessness of the Old West, but
many people were sort of raised and schooled on the King James bible.
And that’s also why they talked the way they did, I think. They had
this sort of almost American Shakespearean vernacular. It’s got this
wonderful musicality to it.
A lot of the dialogue comes straight from the novel, but it feels like
something the Coen brothers could have written it, doesn’t it?
does, because a lot of their films really have that quality, don’t
they? They really create their own world with the language that they
use. And you go, “Wow, that’s really an oddball choice of words.” And
yet somehow it works for them. It’s like music.
How was working with Jeff Bridges?
For me he’ll always and forever be
the Dude because that’s who he is. He brings a joy to a film set — or
really everywhere he goes. People just enjoy being around him. I
remember I spent my 40th birthday there in Santa Fe on True Grit, and
he has a bad back, so he has this sort of ergonomically correct
recliner chair that he takes with him everywhere — it’s more like a
fully reclining lawn chair that’s kind of spring-loaded. And he bought
me one. So there we are in the big pasture doing the shoot-out scene,
in our recliner chairs, waiting for them to set up.
Are you taking the chair with you on other jobs now?
I actually shipped
it back home with me. I love it. I’ve got it beside my pool. He carries
his everywhere he goes. It’s not a bad idea.