Appaloosa – Virgil Cole (Ed Harris)
I don’t kill people for a living, I enforce the law. Killing is sometimes a by-product — Virgil Cole
Vince (Bad guy): You shoot him, you think were just gonna ride away? Virgil Cole: Nope. Vince: We'll kill you and Hitch. Virgil Cole: You'll try. Vince: You're willing to die to keep us from taking him? Virgil Cole: Sure. Vince: Hitch, you willing to die, too? Virgil Cole: Of course he's willing to die. You think we do this kind of work because were scared to die? You? Vince: Me? Virgil Cole: You afraid to die? Vince: I ain't afraid. Virgil Cole: Good, because you go first. And that boy with the red scarf goes next.
When Ed Harris embarked on a family horseback-riding trip in 2005, he brought Robert B. Parker’s novel Appaloosa along for the journey. A character-driven tale about honor and camaraderie set against the backdrop of the Old West, the novel captured his attention so much that he ended up co-writing, directing and acting in the movie.
Harris said he wanted to make the film because he was drawn to the “unspoken comradeship” of Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. “Though they’ve been hanging out for years, they’re not too intimate, but they know each other…. I can’t think of any other situation where a friendship like that is called for.” As Blogcritic Richard Marcus comments: “There’s the note that each man is able to strike with the intensity of a gaze or the quirking of an eyebrow while talking that communicates a level of understanding of the other person’s character that can’t be expressed in words. The slump of Mortensen’s shoulders when his character recognizes what the stubborn set of his buddy’s chin means, quickly followed by him squaring them in acceptance of shouldering his share of whatever will ensue says more about the level of trust the two men have for each other than any speech. In those two movements you not only see Everett’s loyalty to Cole, but the knowledge that Cole would do the same for him without question.”
The movie starts out with the explanation of the relationship between Virgil Cole (Ed Harris), the gunman/lawman for hire and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), a west point grad who decided that the army wasn’t for him and he needed to discover himself in the wild, wild west. Everett had helped out Virgil once in a gunfight and since then, the two had been inseparable, with Everett taking second fiddle to the infamous Virgil. They’re gunmen who only shoot when it’s legal – that’s when they’re hired to be lawmen for towns that seem to have been infested with too many bad guys.
“I was immediately drawn to the relationship between Cole and Hitch. After I read the first few scenes between these guys, I fell in love with their dialogue and their friendship,” says Harris. “These are two tough guys who’ve been riding together for more than 12 years and they just know each other. They don’t have to talk about their feelings necessarily, there’s an unspoken understanding between them. They’re very comfortable with one another and respect each other, and they have a great sense of humor together.”
Executive producer Michael London also liked the source material. “I felt strongly about the novel from the first time I picked it up. There was something about the interplay between these two guys. There’s a traditional buddy movie at the core of the story.” “What is most fascinating about the story is that it explores how Hitch and Cole’s friendship deals with the unexpected,” says producer Ginger Sledge. “It examines the potential for good and bad in each character.”
Realizing Parker’s novel was more than just a good read, Harris saw the cinematic potential and teamed up with Robert Knott to collaborate on the screenplay.
“We explored the ways friendship could be expressed on screen through both the silence and banter between Cole and Hitch–how each of them played such an integral role in supporting each other along the way, how they dealt with the fear of death or lack thereof, and how they understood each other’s needs,” remarks Knott, who also serves as a producer on the project.
Ed Harris Perfect for the Part
In addition to writing the script for “Appaloosa” with Knott, Harris made the decision to direct and produce the film, and to star as Virgil Cole. “Ed is absolutely perfect for the part,” says author Robert Parker. “He looks the way I thought Cole would look. He has this economy of movement that Cole has. Ed has a distinct sense of self-containment; he’s never in a hurry, but he’s still a beat faster than most people. He also has a ‘he-does-what-he-sets-out-to-do’ kind of attitude, which is not unlike the character of Virgil Cole.”
“Ed brings an amazing strength of character that’s in every frame of the movie,” says exec- producer Michael London. “He has a very powerful, quiet presence, which he brought to the character.”
In “Appaloosa,” Virgil Cole is an expert gunman who is committed to his trade as a man of the law. “Whether it’s the law that he brings to a town or the law of a territory, that is his life’s work,” offers Harris. “He believes in justice and in treating people fairly. He has a bit of a temper, but he’s also got a sense of humor about what he does. He’s a very loyal individual, and you see this in his friendship with Everett Hitch.”
Costume Designer David Robinson
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.