Monday, December 6, 2010
RIDING WITH ROOSTER COGBURN & COWBOYS & ALIENS
(Updated Wednesday 12/8/2010 -- see SCREENING: RED AND WHITE)
Soon you’ll be seeing Cody Jones in TRUE GRIT and COWBOYS & ALIENS, but he jokes that you may have to look real quick. The stuntman and actor is an Eastern Shoshone tribal member of the Wind River Indian Reservation. He first rode across the TV screen in The History Channel’s CARSON AND CODY: THE HUNTER HEROES. Many American Indians have strong feelings about Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill. When I asked Cody if he did, he laughed. “Well, actually I’m named after Buffalo Bill Cody. I think it’s pretty cool. Buffalo Bill first incorporated Indians into the Wild West Show, and I think overall it was a good opportunity for those Indian guys back then. I know at one point he was considered an Indian fighter, when he was a scout. But from what I know, Buffalo Bill tried to be a friend of the Indian. I look on it as an honor to be named after him.
“Originally I’m from Wyoming, Fort Laramie Wyoming. And I also grew up in Texas, once my folks divorced. My dad went back to Texas, and my mom stayed in Wyoming. I ended up graduating from high school in Texas. I used to rodeo. I was down in Weatherford College, riding bulls for a little stretch of time. It’s something that I wanted to try when I was in high school, but I was playing a lot of other sports, and my parents were kind of discouraging me from doing it. I’d ridden a few bulls in high school, got real serious about it afterwards. I did that for a while, went pretty good at the start, then I went through a stretch when I wasn’t covering my bulls, wasn’t making a full ride, and then ended up being hurt. Got sort of banged up. So I took some time off, went back up to my grandpa’s place in Wyoming, stayed at the ranch.
“I was training horses on our family ranch, breaking them for other people to ride. It’s what we call ‘starting colts,’ getting the horse started. When they’re three, three and a half, you’re getting on them, riding them for the first time. Normally you put on sixty to ninety days, depending on who it’s for. If it’s for someone who’s pretty experienced I might only put thirty to sixty days on a horse, and they’ll take them from that point. If it’s somebody living in town who’s not very experienced, I might keep them ninety days, or even longer than that, get them really lined out and going good. At that point they can get on and usually handle the horse pretty well. And while I was working on our family ranch I did some college, at Eastern Wyoming College.”
(Photos - from top, Cody Jones, Cody Jones on horseback, DEADLIEST WARRIORS break for lunch, Will Rogers, William S. Hart, Red and White poster)
His work with horses is what eventually led him to the screen. “I was at home in Wyoming, in the summer of ’02, and I got a call from my cousin, Nobby Brown, who’d done stunts in a lot of movies – he’d done DANCES WITH WOLVES, GERONIMO – and he said, ‘Come down to Oklahoma to do this thing for The History Channel.’ It was CARSON AND CODY: THE HUNTER HEROES. They had a wagon we chased. They had us riding across a big wide-open prairie. They’d just tell us to ride from one point to another. I was just one of the guys in there, riding. I did that, and the next summer I toured in some Wild West shows. It was patterned after how Buffalo Bill did his show. They had their Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill. That took us into the Midwest. The biggest one we did was a ten day show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Lot of fun – two performances a day, and on the tenth day we road through downtown Milwaukee in a big parade. They wanted to keep it going every summer. But it was that time when oil prices were steadily rising. The cost of getting the horses and all of the guys to each location was too much, and the show folded.
“The next year, Steven Speilberg was doing a miniseries for TNT called INTO THE WEST, so I worked stunts in that. They hired a bunch of Indian guys to do stunt riding, especially episodes 4 and 5. Episode 4 was the one where they had the most riding – it was called HELL ON WHEELS.”
Steve Reevis, from the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, an actor with a long string of credits, is a good friend and mentor to Cody, and convinced him to move to Los Angeles. His first job in L.A. was a film called THE HIRED GUN, which sounds like a Western, but isn’t. “It was a modern-day crime movie. That was fun; that was the first thing I worked on. I knew a stunt guy by the name of Kerry Wallum, down in Texas, and he was coming here around the same time that I was, to work on that movie. He got me on that, maybe two weeks after I came out to California, so I thought, ‘Alright – two weeks and I’m already on a film set.’ (laughs) I spent the rest of the year working at Home Depot in Burbank.
“Mostly on HIRED GUN I was doing a lot of driving. It was my first chance to do something besides riding horses – they had a lot of hard driving scenes in there. I had a scene where I had a fight with a couple of cops. They ended up giving me some lines, but they got cut from the movie: when I went to the premiere, they weren’t in there.” He’s also done some modeling. “I was in the Native American Men’s Calendar for 2009.” I asked him what month. “It was actually May and December. (laughs) Yeah, I got two months out of that one. They called me for this year’s, but I’ve been gone so much I missed out on being in the 2011 one.
“When I came out here I just wanted to be a stuntman, that was my big thing, but you know they’re just not making enough westerns these days. And being labeled an ‘Indian stuntman’ can make it even tougher, because then you’re afraid they’re only going to call you if they need Indian guys who can ride or whatever. I’ve done six different things this year, and every one has been Indian-related. I realize that’s my look, how people see me. I can change my hair, but I can’t grow much facial hair. I came out looking just to be a stuntman, but Steve pointed out, you can act a lot longer than you can be a stuntman, so I’ve been giving acting a try. I started acting classes about a year ago, and I’ve really switched my focus to acting. It’s kind of half and half right now.”
I asked him about TRUE GRIT. “I was actually working on another set when I got the phone call, on a show called DEADLIEST WARRIOR: AZTEC JAGUAR VS. ZANDE WARRIOR, for Spike TV. I played the main Aztec warrior in that episode. I was supposed to work background stunts that day, but I got there, and they ended up making me the main guy, so that was pretty cool. So I was on the set, and I got the call, the lady said the Coen Brothers were down in Austin, going through (pictures) picking out people they’re going to use in Texas. And they like me, and a friend of mine, Picarni Reevis, Steve’s son. They were picking six Indian men and six Indian women. I was told there’d be horse riding, a scene in a Wild West show. When we got there, they had changed their minds, and we wouldn’t be riding. So we’re just standing around in this area where they do the Wild West show. That’s the scene. The other four guys were hired local, from the Austin area. They were going to just use Texans, but the Coen brothers like our looks, so they brought us in from California. At one point they had us six guys and the six women lined up, and the camera goes by us. Then there were shots of us mixed in with the cowboys and Annie Oakley. So now I don’t know what you’re going to see in that scene – and if you see any of us, it’s going to be kind of quick, I’m afraid. But Pikuni and I were there, and we got introduced to the Coen brothers. They were asking, ‘How’s your father, Steve?’ Because they’d used Steve in FARGO back in ’93.”
I asked him if he’d seen the original TRUE GRIT, with John Wayne. “Yeah, I actually saw it for the first time in May, when we were in Texas. My mother is living in Texas now, and when I was visiting with her, we watched it. I liked it. I didn’t know I was going to see a young Robert Duvall – I didn’t know he was in the original. And Dennis Hopper – he got killed early.” Did he like westerns before he started working in them?
“Yeah, I really did. For me, growing up, I really remember YOUNG GUNS. GERONIMO, of course DANCES WITH WOLVES. I’ve always loved those movies. I want to eventually make my own western, and I hope to do it on my grandpa’s place. He ranches on a little over ten thousand acres, so he’s got some pretty scenic-looking areas, places where you could have a camera and not see any modern stuff. I’ve got one I’m writing right now, and I’d like to take a shot at directing it. But if I could find someone who’s experienced, and saw my same vision, I’d be willing to let them direct it, as long as we could get the thing made.”
I asked him about COWBOYS & ALIENS. “That’s one that a guy named Rod Rondeau brought me on. He’s from the Crow Reservation in Montana. He knew me from when we did INTO THE WEST. He did a lot of stunts in it, and he had a big acting role, as Roman Nose. In episode four we had horses, we’re laying down, then we jump up, ride them up next to this wagon, and a guy jumps from his horse to the wagon, throws a couple of guys off, and then he jumps from the seat to some of the horses – that was Rod. Rod called me back in April, said he was putting together a group of guys to go to New Mexico. I rode with him most of the summer, and he said, ‘You’re going to be one of my guys I go to New Mexico with.’
“In COWBOYS & ALIENS I was one of the Apaches riding in the group, where the Apaches and the cowboys get together to fight off the alien invasion, in the town of Absolution. It’s supposed to be set in Arizona, but they shot it in New Mexico. A lot of hard horse-riding. They had us shooting down arrows at aliens that weren’t there, that they’ll add later. There was also some wiring going on, where someone would be pulled back out of their saddle or up into the air, supposedly by aliens. I’d see Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig or director Jon Favreau in passing. I got to meet Olivia Wilde, our female lead, and she was very nice. But a lot of the stuff we were doing was stunts, was 2nd unit. Terry Leonard was 2nd unit director, and I did get to meet and talk with him several times, which is very cool because he’s kind of a legend, because he started out doing stunts in Westerns, and now he’s 2nd unit director. He doubled for a lot of the western stars – he’s our Yakima Canutt.”
What else is in the works? “WUSS is a film we made in Dallas, Texas this summer, and we’re supposed to hear pretty soon if it’s accepted into SUNDANCE. The director already had one of his films shown there last year, so SUNDANCE is expecting him to come back with this one. It was cool because I did get a real acting role, and if it does get accepted into Sundance it would be some good exposure. And WARRIOR’S HEART is a modern film that I got to do some stunt-work in as a lacrosse player. They were looking for native guys who had played lacrosse in the past. Adam Beach is the main native guy in that one, mentoring a kid who lost his father. He also plays Nat Colorado in COWBOYS & ALIENS.”
And there’s one more Western. “DAWN OF CONVICTION is supposed to come out after the first of the year – it’s just going to go film festivals first. It’s made by a production company called Companion Pictures, in association with The University of Fairfield, in Connecticut. A couple of guys graduated from the university, and then went back there with this Western they’d written. And the film program director liked it so much that they got the University, and some more money, behind it. It’s kind of a student film/independent film. And the crew was students working for credit for their class. We filmed it in June of 2009, in and around the Black Hills of South Dakota, kind of close to Mt. Rushmore. That’s one I’m kind of excited about, it’s the one that I call my first acting role. It’s a small role, but I was on set for a couple of weeks, and it was a great experience, with a lot of other young actors. I’ve been on some really big sets, really grateful for that, but this had to be my funnest shoot ever. We shot with really nice Sony HD cameras from the university. We’re out on a 70,000 acre ranch, just a sea of grass. At base-camp they had cabins and trailers for us to stay in. A lot of the actors and crew were from New York and Connecticut, who’d never done any camping. The night we wrapped filming, a bunch of them didn’t stay in their cabins – they got around a big campfire and slept out there – they just wanted to sleep under the stars. It was a real experience for a lot of them. I don’t know if it’s going to be as good as TRUE GRIT, but it’s going to be a good one.” CLICK HERE to see a trailer for DAWN OF CONVICTION and visit the official website.
WILL ROGERS TRIBUTE AT LASKY-DEMILLE BARN WEDNESDAY 12/8
Cowboy Will Rogers became a vaudeville star with an astonishing rope-tossing routine that was billed as a ‘dumb act’, that is, one performed silently. Eddie Cantor said it was Ziegfeld Follies co-star W.C. Fields who convinced him that he was funny enough to talk on stage, and the rest is history. On Wednesday, at 7:30 p.m., the Hollywood Heritage Museum will present An Evening With Will Rogers, featuring his great-granddaughter, Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, who will discuss her predecessor’s legacy in film, print and radio. Also on hand will be Todd Vradenburg, Executive Director of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation and Board President of the Will Rogers Foundation.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will premiere several documentaries produced for their Will Rogers DVD Collection, including ‘Back To The Ranch’, with family interviews, and ‘Jane Withers Remembers’, with reminiscences from Withers about their friendship when they were both making movies at Fox. Additionally, film historian Stan Taffel will screen rare film clips from his collection. The event costs $10 for the public, $5 for Hollywood Heritage members, and is, delightfully, located in Hollywood’s original studio, right across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, at 2100 Highland Avenue. For more information, CLICK HERE.
FREE THURSDAY LUNCHTIME SCREENING OF 'RED AND WHITE: GONE WITH THE WEST' DOWNTOWN
The Jules Verne Adventures folks -- the ones who brought you last year's WILD BUNCH 40TH ANNIVERSARY SCREENING, and last month's Steve McQueen event, are presenting the documentary film narrated by Ernest Borgnine. They describe the movie as, "A journey unto the American Wild West, between past and present, from Buffalo Bill's last gleaming hopes to the Native Americans ressurection." It's at the Jules Verne Pocket Theatre at 7th and Figueroa. For details, CLICK HERE.
WILLIAM S. HART’S ‘THE DARKENING TRAIL’ AT THE EGYPTIAN SATURDAY 12/11
Hart, the first great actor of the Western screen, starred and made his directorial debut in this 1915 story of unrequited love, infidelity and revenge in frontier Alaska. Showing at 7:30 in the Speilberg Theatre (which I think is the smaller one in back), it is part of the Egyptian’s Retroformat Series, screening movies in obsolete formats, because that’s often the only way they are available. They’ll be showing an 8mm film print. Also in the program, a 1915 Pacific Electric film on trolley safety, and D. W. Griffith’s OIL AND WATER (1913) starring Blanche Sweet. For more information, CLICK HERE.
It's almost two a.m., Monday morning, so I'm not going to get the rest of this week's report up until later in the day. But please check back, there's more interesting stuff!
All Contents Copyright December 2010 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved