ti west interview

Director Ti West tries his hand at a new genre with In a Valley of the Violence. The director of The House of the DevilThe Innkeepers, and The Sacrament has made a Western with attitude and plenty of personality. The revenge tale stars Ethan Hawke as Paul, a dangerous and tortured loner seeking revenge. He’ll stop at nothing to get his hands on his dog’s killers, Gilly (James Ransone) and his gang.

Paul’s motivation couldn’t be cleaner or more to the point. In a Valley of Violence is a blast of simplicity. This isn’t a movie that wastes any time, as West’s story builds towards a bloody, darkly funny finale that puts John Travolta to great use as a hilariously sympathetic antagonist. West, who typically makes audiences squirm, has crafted his most crowd-pleasing film to date.

The writer-director recently spoke with us about Jeff Grace‘s score, Ethan Hawke and John Travolta’s performances, Neal Jonas‘ striking opening credits, and his love for opening title sequences. Below, read our Ti West interview.

When Paul is talking to his dog Abby, those are the kind of scenes that easily could’ve been dull if you didn’t have an actor who can hold your attention on their own. I know you wrote In a Valley of Violence with Ethan Hawke in mind. What made you first think of him for the role?

I’ve just always been a fan. I think he has a really interesting sensibility. I’ve always liked everything he’s done. Making a Western, I just thought, Who would be good for this? Then I pictured him. I knew he knew [producer] Jason Blum, so maybe Jason would be into it and could set it up, which he did. I went to New York to pitch the film to Ethan, and he dug it.

To your point about his scenes with Jumpy, it was very surreal. The scene with the campfire, which is one long take of him acting with the dog, that’s not in movies, you know what I mean? Jumpy is just in there acting with him. Even before that one long take they’re sitting up and there are over-the-shoulder shots of Jumpy, and they’re talking like it’s a person. I haven’t seen that in movies. From an actor’s standpoint, what an odd, bizarre thing to commit to a performance sincerely where you’re not doing a monologue, and you’re also not with someone to talk to. To act with each other is really fascinating, and it was a pleasure for both of us to explore that, to transcend the day-to-day acting and directing.

The film reveals more information about Paul as the story goes along. When you started writing the script, did you have an entirely clear visual of the character or did you discover new ideas about him during the writing process? 

A little bit of both. I knew who he was and what the story was. As you write, put them in rooms, and have them start talking, you kind of figure out more things about the characters. When I pitched it to Ethan I was talking about this guy who has PTSD and all of this other stuff. I knew the gist of it and where it was going, but yeah, the esoteric details start to come out as you write it.

In a Valley of Violence has strong character introductions. How did you want to establish Paul and the tone of the movie? 

For me, people often use the term slow-burn. Personally, I like to settle into movies, and that’s why I like long title sequences. I like the slow-burn first half of movies because I like to really sink in and feel out who everybody is and where everybody is. Once you have a comfortable sense, whenever the movie goes to where it’s going to, I’m sort of invested and intrigued. For me, this was a very character-driven and performance-driven movie. I just thought this was a case of we’re going to introduce everybody in ways that define who they are. You need to know at least who you think these people are. For me, it was about setting up archetypes you’re familiar with and when faced with violence, they don’t act like archetypes. You had to get a sense of who they were for that to work.

With the Marshall, it’s funny just seeing two adversaries completely understanding where each other are coming from. That’s not what you expect from a villainous archetype. 

Right. Yeah, this movie has a big, dark sense of humor, but with the Marshall character, that was the thing: he’s seen more violence than anyone else in this town. He knows it’s not worth it, but he knows he has to do what he’s gotta do. I think that’s an interesting dynamic, and John Travolta always got that. He really embraced those idiosyncratic details about the character; he’s so fun to watch.

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