For The Warrior's Way co-star Danny Huston, working in New Zealand on a production that combined green-screen technology with partial sets was like "clinging to the edge of the world."
"I didn't really know how it was going to come out until all of the effects were done," the actor, who plays the villainous Colonel, told Spinoff Online.
Considering that writer/director Sngmoo Lee's martial arts/Western mash-up contains a circus town, carnies, ninjas and Huston's character, who wears a leather mask reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera, it's no surprise the actor describes the film as "Felini-esque." But even with all of those seemingly disparate elements in play, he felt the cast developed into a tight-knit group.
"In a way all actors are kind of gypsies or tinkerers or a traveling circus," said Huston, who played Col. William Stryker in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. "So here we all were in New Zealand working on this extraordinary film, so it was easy for us to feel a sort of kinship."
In The Warrior's Way, Huston and co-star Kate Bosworth play two Old West figures locked in a lifelong battle that borders on obsession. Bosworth's character Lynne, a knife-thrower in training, looks for help from town newcomer Yang (Dong-gun Jang) to learn how to kill Huston's Colonel, the man who altered her life.
"Sometimes we would just look around at these crazy costumes and this empty stage and go like, 'Well, we're here together. We know we're here together,'" laughed Bosworth, who starred as Lois Lane in Superman Returns.
The group spirit on set was important to her. "You [could] spiral into a little bit of a madness sometimes," she confessed. "I know I did."
Both actors came to the project because of the film's unusual premise. "I had never read anything like it," Bosworth recalled. "It was incredibly original and really a collision of different genres all mixed into one."
In the movie, the assassin Yang flees his native land after refusing to kill the last child of an enemy clan. Finding his way to the American West, he becomes a laundry man and butts heads with Huston's character.
"[It] is a real kaleidoscope of many different elements," Bosworth said, "but there's a very strong through-line of good versus evil and that love conquers all. So the kind of dichotomy, the complexity on one hand, and then the simplicity on the other -- a real kind of beautiful poetry interwoven through the whole project was what was most attractive."
Realizing the script was first-time writer/director Lee, who developed the story for 11 years. Huston said Lee had a curious way of directing him in the often completely imaginary environment. "He was saying, 'I want you to take the gun and shoot up at the sky.' And I said, 'Right, but what am I shooting at?' And he said, 'Light 26'," Huston recalled, referring to one of the soundstage's high-power lights. With nothing but the lights, crew, and camera to consider, Huston needed more motivation. "I was like, 'Yes, but what's the light?'" he laughed. "And he's goes, 'It's a ninja! Hundreds of ninjas! All around you, they're ninjas!"
Although Lee is fluent in English, Bosworth noticed a more subtle barrier when discussing the film with her director. "It was sort of like an umbrella of an emotion and finding the tentacles of exactly what it was that he was specifically looking for," she said.
The director and actress massaged the performance until Lee found the right words to express his desired tone. "He would say to me, 'I think she's very angry in this scene.' And I'd say, 'Oh, wow. That's quite an intense notion.' And I'd play it." When the director found the performance too angry, Bosworth countered with, "Frustrated?" Lee agreed with the pitch.
She and Lee also initially disagreed on Lynne's hair color. "I thought, how could you have this fierce, fiery, crazy, feral woman in the middle of the desert with jet-black hair?" Bosworth said. "I love jet-black hair, but she has to be a redhead! So I fought tooth and nail with that, but I won that battle." Although that may seem like a small point, Bosworth believes it helped her find the character. "I had this romantic kind of idea of her. It really helped define her for me," she said of the choice. "I know that sounds strange, but sometimes the physicality [is key]."
The physical elements like hair and costuming proved important for surviving the green-screen shooting. "The costume really gave us some kind of visual aid as to where we were in terms of character development and physically what will be around us because it was literally a blank canvas," she recalled.
"All my guys -- my cowboy guys -- full of grit and dirt and everything, when they came on stage, it was astonishing," Huston added. "A stage packed with horses!"
Although both actors trained with stunt performers for their fight scenes, their first real chance to rehearse with each other arrived on stage.
"We were challenging each other for the first time," Huston said. "We knew more or less what the dance would be like, but there's a lot of trust involved, especially when you have someone like me with a big mask on, not able to see out of one eye swinging a large sword at you."
According to the actor, 95 percent of the fights seen in the finished film are their own performances, with only the occasional cutaway to stunt people.
"I feel like it had to be us because it was so essential to their development," Bosworth said. Generally, those scenes would be in the hands of the stunt performers, with the actors shot in tight close-up. However, Bosworth said each fight between Lynne and the Colonel carried an emotional undercurrent that had been brewing since her character was a child.
Asked whether they were injured while shooting the fight scenes, Bosworth looked to Huston and asked, "You lost a finger, right?"
"It's back," Huston laughed.
Neither he nor Bosworth recall any noteworthy injuries, but Huston mentioned bruises and soreness discovered only when filming wrapped for the day. "When you go back home, [you feel it] and you're like, 'Oh my God!'" he exclaimed. But in the end, they became badges of honor: "You'll kind of wear the wounds -- or bruises I should say -- with a certain amount of pride."
The Warrior's Way opens today.