Motley crew

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, The Magnificent Seven stars (from far right) Lee Byung Hun, Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier and Vincent D'Onofrio.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, The Magnificent Seven stars (from far right) Lee Byung Hun, Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier and Vincent D'Onofrio.PHOTO: SONY PICTURES
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (above), The Magnificent Seven stars Lee Byung Hun, Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier and Vincent D'Onofrio.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (above), The Magnificent Seven stars Lee Byung Hun, Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier and Vincent D'Onofrio.PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

Magnificent Seven director Antoine Fuqua decided on a multiracial cast because he says it takes all sorts of people to unite against tyranny

The new Magnificent Seven movie - a remake of a remake, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) via John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven (1960) - is significantly different in one area: its racially diverse cast.

African-American actor Denzel Washington leads a team that includes Native American actor Martin Sensmeier, Mexican actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and South Korean star Lee Byung Hun.

For a western flick, this is probably one of the most multi-coloured cast combinations there is in the genre.

As Antoine Fuqua, director of the new film, puts it: "You can't make that movie anymore, where the white guys on horses save the day.

"It takes all sorts of people to come together to fight tyranny. It's not about one race anymore. The world has changed and it takes all of us to come together to fight tyranny."

 

He was speaking with The Straits Times and regional reporters at Marina Bay Sands.

In the new film, which opens in cinemas tomorrow, Washington plays bounty hunter Sam Chisolm, who leads a group of seven outlaws hired to protect a town from an impending siege by corrupt industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (played by Peter Sarsgaard). Rounding out the rest of the titular seven are actors Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio.

Response to the casting choices of the new film has certainly been positive. American newspaper USA Today commented that the film "has the racially diverse cast we need", while Vanity Fair says the cast is "fascinating".

This has occurred amid controversies such as #OscarsSoWhite, the hashtag that went viral earlier this year when the Academy Awards was lambasted for focusing on only white males and not paying enough attention to people of colour.

But Fuqua, 50, is careful to say he is not trying to use his new movie to make any form of a political statement.

"When we sat down for the meeting with (studio) MGM to discuss the cast, I suggested Denzel Washington, only because I just wanted to see Denzel on a horse. I didn't really think about colour.

"And there was this hush over the room because, first, would he even do a western, and second, he's African-American. And that's when I said, 'For those reasons, that's why we should get Denzel Washington to do it.'"

It turns out Washington, 61, was all for the idea.

Fuqua, who has three children with actress Lela Rochon, says: "I had sent him the script, then I flew to New York to meet him for lunch and I talked about how much I loved westerns and grew up watching them.

"By the end of the lunch, he said he would read my script and, after that, he called me and said, 'All right, let's make your western.'"

Perhaps, there was already inherent trust between the two as this film marks their third collaboration.

Previously, Fuqua had directed him in Training Day (2001), which earned the star his Oscar for Best Actor, and in the actioner, The Equalizer (2014).

Luckily for the film-maker, gathering the rest of his super seven was even easier.

Hawke, Washington's Training Day co-star, took the initiative to call the director and demanded to be in the film as soon as he heard about the project. Pratt told Fuqua he had always been a fan of westerns and wanted to be in one.

As for Lee, Fuqua says he has been a fan of the Korean star's films such as A Bittersweet Life (2005) and I Saw The Devil (2010) for years, and could not wait to work with him.

Reportedly, Lee had agreed to do the movie on the spot when approached, simply because Fuqua was so familiar with his work.

In any case, the gamble of having such a diverse and eclectic cast for a western looks to be paying off, with early test screenings of the film turning out to be "amazing", says the director.

"A lot of people were surprised and happy with the characters and they just loved every one of them. A lot of them were commenting on it, saying, 'It's so cool he's a Native American, it's so cool there's an Asian guy, it's so cool there's Denzel.'

"To me, that was a big deal. Westerns change with the times we're in, so we just made our film based on the world we live in right now."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•The Magnificent Seven opens in cinemas tomorrow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'Motley crew'. Print Edition | Subscribe