Forsaken is scheduled for release in 2014.
BY ERIC VOLMERS, CALGARY HERALD SEPTEMBER 26, 2013
After directing 58 episodes of the hit TV series 24, Jon Cassar has covered a lot of dramatic ground and pulse-quickening action sequences with actor Kiefer Sutherland.
Still, there was one scenario they could never quite shoehorn into the narrative, despite repeated suggestions by Jack Bauer himself.
"He would always be trying to get a horse into 24," says Cassar, in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "It was pretty funny. 'Maybe, we're in Central Park and I grab a horse off a policeman.' He was always just trying to ride in 24 but we were never quite able to make that work for him. And so we always talked about doing a western."
Kiefer, of course, is an accomplished rider, having spent part of the late 1990s perfecting his skills on the rodeo circuit after playing cowboys in films such as Young Guns and the Cowboy Way.
But there was a more compelling reason to make Forsaken, a classic gunslinger tale that recently wrapped shooting in Springbank just west of Calgary.
Father and son have been in the same films before. Kiefer's debut was a tiny role in the 1983 comedy Max Duggan Returns, which starred his father opposite Jason Robards and Marsha Mason. He also played a heavy in 1996's A Time To Kill, in which Donald also had a supporting role. But, up until now, they had never been in the same scene together.
"I think it was about trying to find a picture for his dad that gave him more than a guest star role," says Cassar, who was born in Malta but grew up in Toronto. "I mean, Donald works all the time. He is in everything. But it was about getting a meaty role. Getting a role from the beginning to the end. It wasn't just coming in and doing a few scenes."
Spotlight Forsaken is scheduled for release in 2014.
"Then it morphed from that to 'My dad and I together.'" So, after years of discussing the possibility of doing a western with Cassar, Kiefer commissioned the screenplay for Forsaken from Brad Mirman, designing it as vehicle for himself and his father. He plays reformed gunfighter John Henry Clayton, a haunted Civil War veteran who returns home after 12 years to patch up his relationship with his estranged father, who is a minister and rancher. When a ruthless businessman and his thugs decide they want Clayton Sr.'s land, his son is reluctantly pushed back into action. If this all sounds like a fairly typical setup for a western, that's because it is. The idea was to hearken back to the classic western tropes: The greedy landowner, the reluctant hero, plenty of gun play.
During a visit to the set a few weeks ago, much of the day revolved around filming a shootout in a saloon. It doesn't get much more classic-western than that.
"There wasn't the pressure of a big studio saying 'we want to do a western but how can we do it differently?'" says Cassar, whose credits also include episodes of Fringe, Terra Nova and the miniseries The Kennedys. "Which is kind of the world right now. 'We want to do Jump Street but how can we do it differently?' It's a world of trying to dredge up these old ideas and trying to do them differently. And (with Forsaken) I don't think anybody at any point wanted to do this differently, which was attractive to me right away because I was there right at the beginning of talking about it and we always talked about just doing a classic western with classic western characters. In one way, it almost becomes revisionist because no one has done it in such a long time."
Shot for under $20 million, Forsaken began filming in late July on the CL Ranch, which conveniently comes equipped with a ready-built western town. But it was right after Discovery Channel's Klondike had wrapped, meaning the town had to be quickly transformed from a booming Dawson City circa 1890 to a not-so-booming town in the wild west circa 1870.
The Sutherlands are joined by an impressive cast of veterans and up-and-comers. Demi Moore plays Kiefer's former sweetheart. Brian Cox is the ruthless businessman attempting to buy up land he can resell to the incoming railroad. Michael Wincott is his verbose hired gun named Gentleman Dave.
Meanwhile, Alberta natives Landon Liboiron, last seen as a werewolf Gypsy in Netflix's Hemlock Grove, and Siobhan Williams, a Calgary native appearing in Hell on Wheels, are cast as a young gunslinger and his love interest.
But while there are plenty of classic western touchstones, the heart of the story is the relationship between John Henry and his father, which allowed for plenty of dramatic scenes for the Sutherlands to sink their teeth into.
"It was a little nerve-racking at first," says Cassar. "Only because I had worked with Kiefer and knew how he worked but had never worked with Donald. Donald is definitely an icon of not only Canadian film but worldwide film. The movies he's done, the directors
he's worked with, it was little intimidating at first. But it didn't last long because I realized he is just the consummate professional, exactly like his son. They virtually have the same work habits."
"Some of those scenes were tough," he added. "They were very intense emotional scenes that were about father-and-son having this very rocky relationship. Those are tough to get through. It doesn't matter what kind of relationship you really have, those are just hard to get through. Those are a challenge but we came out in the end in a really good place with incredible scenes that were the backbone of the show."
For now, the film has entered post-production and producers - which include Kevin DeWalt of Regina's Minds Eye Entertainment and Edmonton's Josh Miller of Panacea Entertainment - are aiming for a theatrical release some time in 2014.
Meanwhile, Cassar and Kiefer Sutherland are preparing to shoot 12 more episodes of 24 for Fox.
"It's 12 episodes instead of 24," Cassar says. "Basically it's the same format. It's still an hour an episode and it's still one full day but you miss an hour or two. So it gives us the ability to move around a bit which we never had the ability to do. When you are doing 24 hours you have to virtually stay in the same city, there wasn't time to move around. This gives us the opportunity to skip a couple of hours and move to a completely different city and really push the storyline forward."
It's unclear if horses will be involved.