Christoph Waltz and Willem Dafoe Praise Walter Hill’s New Western ‘Dead for a Dollar’: ‘This Is a Film That Isn’t Often Made Anymore’

After a stop in Venice earlier this month, Walter Hill’s latest film, “Dead for a Dollar,” headed west for the U.S. premiere.

The prolific filmmaker of such movies as “The Warriors,” “48 Hrs.,” “Streets of Fire” and “Red Heat,” was the talk of the evening on Wednesday at the Directors Guild Theater in Los Angeles. The film’s stars Willem Dafoe, Christoph Waltz, Benjamin Bratt and Warren Burke praised the writer-director, already renowned for his revival of the Western genre, for making another Western.

Speaking candidly, Dafoe, who last worked with Hill in 1984 on “Streets of Fire,” described the director as a “no-nonsense kind of guy.”

“He is kind of the same guy and I am kind of the same guy. I had such a good experience on ‘Streets of Fire.’ He gave me so much; he gave me fun things to do,” Dafoe recalled. “He is so direct and he knows film so well; he is kind of a no-nonsense kind of guy. He has this great intellect, but he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. He is smart, he is wise and that only comes from the humility he has. He has great knowledge and he is fun to be around.”

Waltz said he was drawn to the film because the genre has become a rarity in Hollywood.

“This is a film that isn’t often made anymore and Walter is a director who works or does work that is not done that often anymore, and stories that deal with moral and ethical dilemmas in that clarity are not being dealt with often anymore,” he said.

Bratt, who plays the ruthless crime boss Tiberio Vargas, one of the main villains of the film, said Burke has practically reinvented the genre.

“The Western genre is so beloved because you go into it as an audience member with a pretty clear expectation of what you are going to get. There is going to be a battle between good and evil, and there is a showdown at the end of the story,” Bratt said. “You get that here, but what Walter does is to create — and I would never say that he would say this but, someone put it to me this way — he has created a new Western in that some of the issues of the day, and we are talking about gender and race issues in 1897, which are strongly present even in modern day society, he touches upon in a way that makes you thoughtful about these issues and how they have never been resolved, and yet he doesn’t beat you over the head with it.”

Hill said he came up with the subject matter when reading about outlawry in Oklahoma and discovering the story of Chris Madsen, a Danish soldier in the French Foreign Legion who immigrated to the United States, joined the army, and later becoming a lawman and a bounty hunter.

“I thought there was really so many immigrants in the West, so that was the feeling of the light coming on,” he said about coming up with the concept. “And I wanted somebody very American to be the antagonist and a worthy opponent, obviously, not just a villain. But I then borrowed the plot of the ‘Iliad,’ and that is one of the things I used to tell people, ‘Don’t worry about the story, we know it works, it has been great for 2,700 years.’ But it is about a man of sinister, political influence who hires a mercenary to go find his wife who is presumed to be abducted, but this does not turn out to be the case. Well, Homer beat me to it, but I doubt he is going to sue me.”

To portray the trustworthy Sergeant Poe, a Black soldier in the 1890s frontier, Burke said he had to be sure of himself.

“In 1897 and for me to be an African American male, in the midst of all these characters, you really got to know yourself,” he said. “You can’t phone this one in and, especially with the lovely poetry that Walter Hill was writing from, you got to know you or you are going to think it is like this and it is really not.”

“Dead for a Dollar,” which also stars Rachel Brosnahan and Hamish Linklater, hits theaters on Sept. 30.

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