In A Million Ways to Die in the West, director Seth MacFarlane gives us his view of the ‘good old days’
Seth MacFarlane has always had a high-risk career plan—shifting between the roles of voice artist, singer, director and actor. After his 2012 comic blockbuster, Ted, he has come out with his latest offering, A Million Ways to Die in the West, in which he plays the lead role of Albert, a lowly sheep farmer in 1882 Arizona who despises the uncivilised frontier life. The movie has already released to mixed reviews in the US, coming out in the shadow of Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent. Without the help of Mark Wahlberg and a teddy bear, he’s sure to find the going tough at the box office. More from the director:
How did you come up with this story?
I have always been a fan of the Western genre. When I was working on the final touches of Ted with my co-writers, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, we were procrastinating watching old Westerns. As much as this genre has been explored, it has never been explored from a modern perspective. We wanted to have somebody in that classic environment who was aware of the “awfulness” of the place.
The character of Albert has his own choice of language, doesn’t he?
We didn’t want people walking around speaking in drawls. I have a theory that you get one thing that is out of the ordinary, and everything else has to be grounded. For this movie, our freebie was that it takes place in the Old West, so everything else had to be made accessible as if it were a 2014 thing.
Was your use of Mila Kunis’ name in the Apache scene a shout-out to your friend?
The use of her name was an improvisational choice. It also had to do with the fact that the Apache language is almost impossible to learn. There was this one piece where I couldn’t say the word, so I said “Mila Kunis.”
Why did you cast yourself as the lead?
I enjoy trying things. This was something I was curious about. I enjoy doing things that terrify me creatively.
Tell us about Charlize Theron’s character.
We thought it was a rich character, dynamic, that had a lot of narrative mileage to it. Her character is someone who also has the awareness that this is a terrible place, but has reconciled with it in her own mind.
Working with Neil Patrick Harris.
He is one of the most talented guys in entertainment. I had always been a fan but was not aware of how expansive his abilities were until we worked on this movie. The character he plays is broader than any of the others. We gave him a little more license to be bigger and yet he kept it grounded.
Tell us about your career trajectory so far.
I have always had this attitude that the worst that can happen is that I fail. My show Family Guy helps that line of thinking because it is a safety net for me. When I was making Ted, I remember thinking I can always go back to TV if the movie fails. As a result, it put me in the frame of mind that all I need to worry about is what creatively feels right.
Have you learned the technical skills of directing by now?
Absolutely, I have. Ted was a very complex movie in terms of effects. It was shot pretty simply otherwise. That was partially about making a stylistic choice and partially about me learning the medium. Hopefully, this movie is a little bit more ambitious in its appearance. There is no talking bear, so you have a little more freedom to do whatever you want with camera angles.