New images! Appaloosa – Hitch Everette (Viggo Mortensen)
Two of my favorite actors are Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris; two fine character actors who have come under their own, and when the two starred in the movie Appaloosa, a Western adapted from the novel by Robert B. Parker and directed by Ed Harris, this was simply seventh heaven to me.
I have never taken on 1/6 projects of an American Western theme but this one I had to do. The project was not an easy one; realising Hitch Everette was in many ways constantly finding solutions to multiple problems. There was firstly extensive research – conducted so as to understand more of the characters, their costumes, weapons. Then there was sourcing of the kit, equipment – and many of these required extensive customisation and not simple modifications. Many of the clothes and footwear came from Auggie’s BattleGear Toys; a great 1/6th scale depot; gun rigs and that wonderful eight-gauge shotgun came from StevoToys and a wonderful ruggedly sculpted headsculpt was commissioned from the talented Peter Miles.
Ed Harris’s Appaloosa is more of a character-based Western, and if you are used to minimal dialogue (steely, squinty eyes and grunts) and lots of blazing gunfights, then you might not be wrong to think this a languid movie. But that’s not to say there aren’t gunfights. Instead, the film’s action-based set pieces are relegated to short, staccato bursts widely separated by lengthy segments that are heavy on dialogue and dramatic interaction.Set in 1882 New Mexico, Appaloosa, like many Old West towns, is as light on law and order as it is on population. There’s the rich bad guy Bragg who thinks he’s above the law, with his band of ‘boys’ terrorising the town so much that the fed-up town leaders call in renowned gunman Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) to be their marshal. Cole is accompanied by ex-soldier Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), his constant companion for many years. Cole drives a hard bargain but the men who run Appaloosa are eager to rid themselves of Bragg and his gang.
It is when the two law-makers get into town that we get to know more about their characters, values and motivations. There are no clean stereotypes here; and the motivations of the characters are never straightforward. But that’s what makes this movie so delightful. Harris’s square-jawed marshal Virgil, is a straight-shooter but, despite his ability with a gun, he’s not the most intelligent marshal in the Old West and he’s not the most confident of men when away from his job. He also has a strict code about not breaking the law and will not circumvent it. Viggo’s heroic, loyal and humble Everett has his own set of rules, but they aren’t as rigid.
Ed Harris’s first and only choice for the role of Everett Hitch was Viggo Mortensen, with whom he’d shared the screen in “A History of Violence.”
“I had just finished reading Appaloosa when we shot ‘A History of Violence,’ and I gave it to Viggo and told him that I really wanted to make it into a film with him in it,” recalls Harris. “One of the greatest things about Viggo is his sense of loyalty. He’s a man of his word. Once he committed to the project, he was completely on board.”
Mortensen felt similarly, saying, “I like to ride horses, and I like Westerns, but there are a lot of bad ones. What set this one apart is just how the characters are a little more guarded.” Mortensen studied Fredric Remington drawings and other images of the American Old West to get into character and master the proper way to stand during a gunfight.
“We see eye to eye,” says Mortensen of his experience working with Harris. Mortensen was also drawn to the subtlety in the dialogue and the friendship between two lawmen in the Old West. “I think Cole trusts Hitch more than anyone else in the world, specifically because Hitch is very honest with him, even when it’s difficult to bring certain things to Cole’s attention,” says the actor. “That is my definition of a good friend: somebody who is brave enough to tell you the truth even when it’s not what you want to hear.”
“Hitch is the reason that Cole’s still alive,” says Harris. “The two met in a standoff between Cole and another gunslinger.” It was Cole and Hitch who lived to tell about it. “Hitch was originally trained at West Point, but he gave up the life of a soldier and wandered West. Then he met Cole, who was looking for a right-hand man in his peacekeeping business. Hitch saved Cole’s life, and Cole, in return, has given Hitch a life.”
While they have spent the last 12 years bringing peace to lawless towns, everything changed in Appaloosa, “in part because it was time for things to change, but mostly because of the influence of Allison French (Renee Zellweger),” Mortensen suggests.
Outfitting the characters in “Appaloosa” was the task of costume designer David Robinson, who scoured old photographs and Western antiques in his research. Robinson found similarities among men’s fashion in the day and reasoned that the similarities stemmed from the practicalities of the situation. “For instance, you wear a bandana to keep your neck from chafing, and you’d wear a vest because it gives you that extra layer,” the designer offers.
Additionally, the costume designer aimed to strike a balance between fashion and realism. “Photography at the time was a new invention, and those who had their photos taken were probably more dressed up than they normally would be for day-to-day life,” Robinson notes.
Classic Vs. Down-to-Earth
In creating the costumes for Virgil Cole, says Robinson, “Cole has a classic style. He’s often seen in a Prince Albert-style blazer jacket in charcoal gray along with black pants and striped period shirt. He’s very no-nonsense. And everything is well-kept.
“Hitch is more down-to-earth. His colors are browns and greens,” continues Robinson. “He’s very practical, so when something rips, he just sews it up. He has a leather saddle strap that’s been added to his jacket so his gun belt won’t wear on his jacket.”
Another key detail in the making of “Appaloosa” was the use of historically accurate firearms. The most noticeable gun in the film is Everett Hitch’s eight-gauge–a rare weapon also called a “punt gun” or a “market gun.” At 50 inches long and weighing more than 11 pounds, it’s an intimidating weapon. The cumbersome eight-gauge was most often used while sitting on a swivel in a boat, to fire into large flocks of ducks or geese for food and feathers. Technically a shotgun rather than a rifle, the eight-gauge shoots a number of pellets or buckshot, which spread out as they come out of the muzzle. Virgil Cole’s trusty pistol is a bone-handled Colt 45, vintage 1873.
Peter Miles – Headsculpt, painted
Figure – Can’t recall
BattleGear Toys – Hat – customised, repainted & weathered
Crazy Owners – Jacket – customised & painted
BattleGear Toys – Waistcoat – painted
BattleGear Toys – Shirt, Pants, boots – weathered
BattleGear Toys – spurs – modified
Newline Miniatures Cowboy Bandana – modified
Marshall badge – modified from a pair of earrings
Waistwatch chain – modified
Gun rig, shotgun rig, 8 gauge shotgun – Stevo’s Toys;