As Seth MacFarlane and fellow writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild were putting the final touches on their soon-to-be blockbuster feature debut, Ted, they were taking a break and watching Clint Eastwood in director Ted Post’s classic Western film Hang ’Em High. They started pitching jokes and riffing on the idea of creating an unconventional Western, and they soon decided that a comedic twist on the genre should be their next project together. MacFarlane recalls: “We were talking about how this era is so romanticized in literature, but it was actually a time and place that would have been so unbelievably depressing and dangerous to live in, particularly if you weren’t an alpha male. It took off from there.”
As they developed their story, the filmmakers felt there was truly no upside to living in this place at that time, and they liked the idea of examining it through a contemporary lens. MacFarlane says: “One of the things that we have always felt about comedy, particularly with high-concept comedy, is that you get one crazy thing in your bag of tricks and then everything else has to be grounded. In the film, the high-concept element is that it takes place in the Old West. Everything else findsitself to be based in contemporary reality.”
They felt the need to infuse their characters with a modern-day sensibility, especially Albert Stark, the story’s protagonist. Wild offers: “This was Seth’s idea from the beginning: how to stick a knowing, observant guy into a world where he just doesn’t belong … where everything is just terrible. Albert is not suited for it. This guy is a fish out of water, and he shows what an unbelievable nightmare it would be to live in this time and place.” Sulkin adds: “We consciously kept [Albert] a bit more contemporary, so he’d be the one saying to everyone, ‘Hey. What’s up?’ while everyone else says, ‘Howdy!’ We imagined it would be annoying for him that everyone else is so into the Old West, and he hates it.”
Although McFarlane has spent much of his time behind the camera, and is familiar as the voice of animated characters from shows such as Family Guy, and the movie Ted, choosing to take on the role of Albert marks this hisfirsttimeas a live-action leading man. He was game for a new challenge. He explains: “There’s not one specific job that is more rewarding than another. They’re all different. The writing is rewarding; the directing is rewarding. The acting is rewarding, but certainly the most terrifying because I have the least experience with it.”
A Million Ways To Die In the West is available starting Oct. 7 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
© 2014 Universal Pictures Credit: Lorey Sebastien