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A Million (wacky) Ways To Die In The West

Charlize Theron and Seth MacFarlane sizzle in A Million Ways To Die In The West, a totally wacky and hilarious satirical farce with romance at its core, which offers more than a million ways to chuckle.
Yes it is naughty and sometimes wicked (in a fun way), but Seth MacFarlane keeps it all in under his hat as he stretches the boundaries of comedy as writer, producer, director and actor with flair and a daredevil attitude. It pokes fun at westerns and mostly everything that is sacred. Let's just say that sheep, gunfights and barroom brawls will never be the same again! Just as Rango and Blazing Saddles took a comical bite out of the genre, so does A Million Ways To Die In The West.

A Million (wacky) Ways To Die In The West


From its classical western opening titles, it tells the tale Albert Stark, a soft man in hard times who is trying to figure out how to escape this godforsaken frontier that seems to be trying to kill him-and everyone else in it-at every turn.

Backing out of a gunfight


A sheep farmer whose fickle girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried of Les Misérables, Mamma Mia!), leaves him when he backs out of a gunfight; Albert feels like a chump.

Adding to Albert's distress and feelings of inadequacy, Louise takes up with the town's most successful businessman, arrogant 'moustachery' owner Foy (an absolute side-splitting Neil Patrick Harris of TV's How I Met Your Mother, Broadway's Hedwig and the Angry Inch). And what Albert can't dream of offering in terms of financial stability and facial hirsuteness, Foy has in spades. But when a mysterious and beautiful gunslinger named Anna (Charlize Theron at her best) rides into town, she helps Albert begin to find his courage and they start to fall in love unexpectedly.

A notorious outlaw


Nothing comes easy in the bitterly unforgiving Old West, and further trouble ensues when Anna's husband, Clinch Leatherwood - with Liam Neeson as you've never seen him before, as a notorious outlaw whose name strikes fear into the hearts of the citizenry-arrives seeking revenge on the man whom he thinks has made a dishonest woman of Anna.

Reluctantly, Albert must now put his newfound courage to the test in an only-one-man-left-standing gunfight that will earn him Anna's hand and long-denied respect in the Wild West - or another unmarked grave forgotten in the annals of history.

The idea for A Million Ways To Die In The West was sparked when Seth MacFarlane and fellow writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild were putting the final touches on their soon-to-be blockbuster feature debut, Ted, and were taking a break and watching Clint Eastwood in director Ted Post's classic western film, Hang 'Em High.

The old friends and collaborators started pitching jokes and riffing on the idea of creating an unconventional western, and they soon decided that a comedic twist on the genre should be their next project together.

A Million (wacky) Ways To Die In The West


This era is so romanticised


MacFarlane recalls: "We were talking about how this era is so romanticised in American film and literature, but it was actually a time and place that would have been so unbelievably depressing and dangerous to live in, particularly if you weren't an alpha male. It took off from there."

The filmmakers felt there was truly no upside to living in this place at that time, and they liked the idea of examining it through a contemporary lens. MacFarlane says: "One of the things that we have always felt about comedy, particularly with high-concept comedy, is that you get one crazy thing in your bag of tricks and then everything else has to be grounded. In the film, the high-concept element is that it takes place in the Old West. Everything else finds itself to be based in contemporary reality."

While the team wanted the setting to be the Old West, they felt the need to infuse the characters with a modern-day sensibility, especially Albert Stark, the story's protagonist. Wild offers: "This was Seth's idea from the beginning: how to stick a knowing, observant guy into a world where he just doesn't belong, where everything is just terrible. Albert is not suited for it. This guy is a fish out of water and he shows what an unbelievable nightmare it would be to live in this time and place."

The more the writers riffed, the more they started to see that the concept they had was rich with possibility. Sulkin adds: "We consciously kept Seth's character a bit more contemporary, so he'd be the one saying to everyone: 'Hey. What's up?' while everyone else says: 'Howdy!' We imagined it would be annoying for him that everyone else is so into the Old West, and he hates it."

A Million (wacky) Ways To Die In The West


Sheep farmer hatin'


For MacFarlane, it wasn't just the fact that their unlikely hero lived in the parched and dry 1880s, but it was also the kind of work with which Albert was saddled. Through his research, the filmmaker found that sheep herders were often reviled members of society. He says: "Everybody hated the sheep farmers because the sheep would graze so close to the roots of the grass that it would ruin the land. It's just not a particularly manly animal to be raising in the first place, so this idea that the sheep farmers would be the pussies of the Old West was something that seemed like a good, funny angle to help illustrate who Albert is and put a face on what 'nerd-dom' was on the American frontier."

The magic of A Million Ways To Die In The West is grounded in the undeniable chemistry and comradeship between Theron and Mac Farlane. The comedy is not forced, but naturally flows out of the absurdness of the many comical dilemmas they find themselves in.

While Theron has been more recognised for her dramatic work, the Oscar-winning actress had been eyeing a new genre to push herself as a performer.

She shares: "I've been interested in comedy for a while, but it's been tricky because audiences know me so well doing something very different. In fact, what also interests me is odd comedy. Those are very rare. The combination of this script and Seth directing was a slam dunk for me. I started begging instantly; I closed the script and started begging."

Theron explains the reason she felt a kinship with Anna: "She is the character that I have fallen in love with the fastest. We have a lot of similar traits and I felt like I understood her straight from the beginning. Even though she hates the West, she is not jaded or cynical."

A breath of fresh air


Working with MacFarlane felt like a breath of fresh air to Theron. She commends: "Seth makes it odd, because that's just his thing. It feels original and it doesn't feel regurgitated. Actors say that all the time, but I really feel like this is something unique. There is something about the film that feels like a throwback to the 1970s."

In fact, as both Theron and MacFarlane were stepping out of their professional comfort zones, they were initially a little nervous to work together.

Fellow Ted producer Jason Clark explains: "Charlize joined us for this read through. Seth was incredibly nervous because Charlize is an Academy Award-winning actress. She came in and was as nervous working with him because comedy is something that she hasn't had a lot of experience with. That instantly brought a terrific chemistry to the relationship."

Clark was thrilled to team up again with MacFarlane, Sulkin, Wild and Stuber for a never-before-told Western. He offers: "What I admire about working with Seth, Alec and Wellesley is that every story that they create with their jokes is grounded in a story that we care about. So, as an audience member, there's something to hang your hat on; there's someone that you're rooting for. The thing that Seth always has is the ability to bring heart and warmth, even with these outrageous jokes."

Producer Scott Stuber knew from the moment he watched them interact that Theron had nailed it.

He offers: "Charlize is obviously beautiful and an immensely talented actor who's proven herself in dramatic roles. So when we heard she wanted to try her hand at comedy, we jumped at the chance to cast her. Luckily for us, she does comedy just as well as drama, if not better. People will really be blown away by her."



A dramatic story with a ton of jokes


In assembling the remainder of the core cast, MacFarlane felt it was important not to simply choose comedians for the sake of casting comedians in a comedy. He explains: "The more I do this, the more I find that if you're doing your job as a comedy writer, if the jokes are there, then you want actors as opposed to comedians. The story has to have some believability, and you have to care about what's going on because, at the core, it's a dramatic story with a ton of jokes."

MacFarlane concludes with his hopes for the project: "I wanted to find a way to make this period accessible to the modern day, and that's what I hope this will be and what people take away from this. If there's one thing I can say it is that we're really proud of this, and I hope that we managed to crack the period comedy puzzle."

If you are looking for a barrel of laughs and entertainment that gives you what it promises and much more, A Million Ways To Die is definitely one you will laugh about for a long time.

For more on this film and other new releases, go to www.writingstudio.co.za and stand the chance of winning some fun A Million Ways To Die playing cards and bottle openers.

About Daniel Dercksen

Daniel Dercksen has been a contributor for Lifestyle since 2012. As the driving force behind the successful independent training initiative The Writing Studio and a published film and theatre journalist of 40 years, teaching workshops in creative writing, playwriting and screenwriting throughout South Africa and internationally the past 22 years. Visit www.writingstudio.co.za

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