Crime drama “Hell or High Water” premiered at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar on Monday, July 25. The film follows two Texas brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who try to save their family from foreclosure by robbing banks, only to be pursued by two Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham).
Stars Bridges, Pine, Foster and Birmingham, as well as screenwriter Taylor Sheridan and director David Mackenzie, attended the red carpet premiere. The Daily Texan spoke with a few of them about their inspirations, getting in character and the behind-the-scenes of “Hell or High Water.”
DT: Taylor Sheridan’s script has received high praise. It has a tough and gritty side, but there’s also an emotional facet to it. How did you approach tapping into your character with Sheridan’s writing?
CP: You know, the job of the actor is really easy sometimes, and Taylor writes really beautiful language, and you don’t really often get that. In the 1970s, the guys who made “Network” had Paddy Chayefsky’s script — it was like, “That’s a Paddy Chayefsky screenplay!” Somehow in the past 30–35 years, the role of the screenwriter has kind of become seconded to all the rest of [the crew]. Taylor is of a new American generation of writers that writes beautiful dialogue that you really only see on stage, and now we finally have it on screen.
DT: Who would win in a fight, you or Jeff Bridges?
CP: You know, the great thing about Jeff and I is we wouldn’t fight. I think we’d smoke a joint, play guitar and have a giggle.
DT: You’re written work is primarily related to crime. What draws you to those kinds of stories?
TS: As a storyteller, you want to put yourself in situation that lends itself to the most dramatic moment that you can. The moments we find ourselves in that are the most shocking, conflict-generating are crimes. So there are writers that can create that same tension with a much more subtle nuance, but I’m not one of them.
DT: The film takes place during a time of economic downturn and focuses on how poverty forces people to make desperate judgments. What informed your portrayal of its barren Texas setting?
TS: The truth. West Texas has always been a boom-or-bust region dictated largely by the price of oil, magnified in the mid-2000s by predatory loans. All these things created a perfect storm, and in when we had the drought in 2012, there were ways of life that had been maintained for 100 years that were destroyed. The truth motivated the story.
DT: Your character and Jeff Bridges’ character spend a lot of time together on screen. How was your bond offscreen?
GB: When I met him, he had already given me a couple of his CDs, and I’d already listened to some of his music. To be able to sit with him and jam in that kind of special medium in conjunction with our acting, both being creative expression, it made [our relationship] even more perfect.
DT: Onscreen, your characters aren’t so friendly, though. Bridges’ character hurls a lot of racial epithets at your Native American Texas Ranger. Could you tell us how you approached a character who is verbally abused all the time without making him look weak?
GB: As I understood, the stage of life [Bridges’ character] was in, he had lost his wife just a couple years prior, and he was now forced to retire from an occupation he identified himself with, and what was he going to do? And I think amongst family members we kind of tease that way. It can be a little hard, a little cruel, so I think that was my approach to it, and I really had an understanding and compassion for [Bridges’ character].
“Hell or High Water” will be released in theaters on Aug. 12.