Ed Harris Rides 'Appaloosa' To The Wild West

Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen shoot 'em up in 'Appaloosa.'

Ed Harris (right) as Marshal Virgil Cole and Viggo Mortensen as Deputy Everett Hitch move in to capture an outlaw in Appaloosa. It was the close relationship between these two in the book that made Harris want to turn it into a movie. Lorey Sebastian/Warner Bros. hide caption

itoggle caption Lorey Sebastian/Warner Bros.

During the production of "Appaloosa," Ed Harris wrote this little song just for fun. It ended up getting used at the end of the credits.

Ed Harris

Ed Harris immersed himself in books and movies about the Old West to prepare for the film, he says. Lorey Sebastian/Warner Bros. hide caption

itoggle caption Lorey Sebastian/Warner Bros.

If Ed Harris were actually living in the Wild West, he's certain he'd be carrying a gun.

Beyond that, it's unclear, he tells Alex Cohen — seeming a wee bit stumped by what he would have done with his life back in the 1880s, the time period of his latest film.

"Well, I have no idea. I mean, a lot of guys were either a shop owner or a farmer. You're on one side of the law or another. ... I'd probably be on the right side," he says.

That's also the side Harris plays on in Appaloosa, which he wrote and directed. He and Viggo Mortensen play lawmen hired to help a New Mexico town troubled by a corrupt rancher. The friends' relationship is complicated by the arrival of a mysterious widow, played by Renee Zellweger.

While Harris has been busy acting in a vast array of roles — even playing Beethoven in Copying Beethoven — in the past decade, it's the first film that he has directed since Pollock in 2000.

He took his duty seriously, devouring books and movies about the Wild West.

"I really wanted to immerse myself in the genre because I wanted the film to have more of a classic feel than any attempted modernization," he says.

Back in 1882, guns were a lot heavier — so heavy, in fact, that his co-star Mortensen initially expressed some concern about toting around an 8-gauge shotgun.

"Viggo got a hold of the gun," Harris recalls, "and he's going, 'Am I supposed to carry this around with me all the time?' And I go, 'Well, yeah, see how it goes the first couple of days.' And it didn't take him long for it to become his best pal, really."

The relationship between Mortensen's character, Deputy Everett Hitch, and Harris' Marshal Virgil Cole made Harris fall in love with the concept initially, he says. The script is based on a Robert Parker novel by the same name, published in 2005.

"I wasn't looking to direct this book," Harris says. "I had just brought it along with me on a vacation with my family. And I read the first few scenes between my character and Viggo's and I just fell in love with this relationship — the humor that these guys had and the unspoken affection and appreciation they had for one another."

Behind the scenes, there was another very close relationship on the set: Harris cast his father, Bob Harris, as a town judge. His 85-year-old father, who performs in community theater in the Chicago area and had worked with his son on Pollock, nailed the part, he says.

"Once I get my dad to hear me — he doesn't hear real well — he was a great man. I was so proud of him! I almost burst into tears."

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