The Western genre is comprised of countless movies starring white guys shooting up other white guys, which is one reason it’s hard to discuss director Antoine Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven” without noting the racial diversity of its cast, which includes Denzel Washington, Mexican actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, South Korean actor Byung-hun Lee, and Native American actor Martin Sensmeier.
During a press conference Thursday at the Toronto International Film Festival, however, Fuqua said he wasn’t trying to make any statement with the casting of his film. “I just wanted to see Denzel on a horse,” he said. “Everything else kind of fell in around that idea.” While the movie is a remake of John Sturges’ famous Western that was based on Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai,” Fuqua said he was determined to make an original movie that was more reflective of current society, despite being set in the 1870s.
“You can’t do the same thing every era,” he said. “If we were sticking to just one way of doing something, then all Westerns would be all white guys looking like John Wayne from John Ford movies. Westerns change with the times we’re in, so we just made our film based on the world we live in right now.”
In keeping with the theme of creating something new rather than re-doing an earlier movie, Washington said he avoided watching Sturges’ 1960 film “The Magnificent Seven,” and still hasn’t seen the movie. “I just didn’t know how it would help me,” he said. “I think it allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do, instead of trying not to do what somebody else did.”
The rest of the cast includes Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio and Haley Bennett (“Hardcore Henry”). All the actors agreed that Fuqua allowed them to bring their own ideas to help define their characters. “One of the great things about working with Antoine is he asks you to to contribute,” Hawke said. “All of us were asked to participate in who our characters were.”
For Fuqua, what makes the story of “The Magnificent Seven” a timeless tale is the willingness of seven different men to come to the aid of people who can’t defend themselves.
The most important thing was to stay true to the DNA of Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai,” which is what Sturges did,” Fuqua said, adding that he thought Kurosawa would have “loved” to see a new version of the film today. “The best of human evolution is to do right by others.”