By Bryan Alexander
GREENOUGH, Mont. — When you're in a cowboy movie, you never know where the next attack is is coming from.
As Harrison Ford relaxes on a front porch of a remote resort on a beautiful Montana morning, he is set upon by blood-seeking bugs. His Cowboys & Aliens co-star Daniel Craig leaps into action.
"(Expletive) black mosquitoes!" Craig snarls as he leaps forward to swat the offending critters. Ford is surprised and amused.
"See how he's got my back?" he says with a smile.
VIDEO: Five questions for director Jon Favreau
Ford can certainly count on Craig to watch his back no matter what the attack. But with their Western/sci-fi flick opening today, the stakes are considerably higher than mosquito bites.
This time it's two of Hollywood's biggest names pooling their significant box-office appeal in the hopes of a bonanza. The two take on deadly space invaders in theWild West in a genre-blending concept as simple as theCowboys & Aliens title suggests.
"I like the fact that the title isn't pretending," Craig says. "It's sort of saying, look …"
"Here are the ingredients," Ford adds, finishing the sentence.
"You don't need to dress it up," Craig adds.
There really is no reason to dress up the other essential movie ingredient — Ford, 69, is essentially passing the cool-guy movie torch to Craig, 43.
"These are two of the biggest acting icons of our time, and that's because they are so good at being heroes," says Cowboys co-star Olivia Wilde.
It's Indiana Jones meeting James Bond backed by an impressive array of moviemakers including executive producer Steven Spielberg, producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, as well as director Jon Favreau.
Sitting over an outdoor breakfast in blue jeans and rolled-up shirt sleeves weeks before the movie's release, the two seem natural for the roles. They are both all about purposeful strides, gruff talk and few words, just like their cowboy counterparts. But Ford has not done a Western since 1979's Frisco Kid and has not appeared on-screen on horseback in more than a decade.
As for the Englishman Craig, even he admits he thought he was "a strange choice" to play a Western gunslinger, even if he had "wanted to play a cowboy for as long as I can remember."
Favreau says there was a cowboy learning curve for Craig. "He's James Bond. You don't get much more English than that."
But he says there was something in Craig's famous stare that made him a natural choice for the role.
"It's the look, the strong blue eyes," he says. "It's the gunfighter glare he has. It occurred to me how much he looks like Steve McQueen in The MagnificentSeven."
Besides, Craig had been practicing his gunplay skills since he was a kid.
"I had a toy Winchester. You pump a few rounds, fall over and die. That's the reason I became an actor," he says with a laugh. "I finally got here, though it's taken me 25 years."
Ford was somewhat reluctant to join the film, a notion Favreau chalks up to the sci-fi element. Despite the clear popular appeal of turning graphic novels into films (Cowboys & Aliens came from that source), Ford was wary about going there.
"I just had to convince myself to do a movie where there's a danger of people actually going to see it these days," Ford insists.
Once Ford came around, it marked the beginning of a power team, even if it took the Englishman a while to catch up on the Western basics. But Craig began horseback riding "as early as possible when I got the job" and proved to be a quick study.
Stars played on the plains
"There's nothing like galloping across the plain and riding into a shot and hitting your mark," he says. "For me it was a big deal. Getting on a horse at 7 in the morning and going to work was a joy."
It wasn't all work on the dusty Santa Fe set. The Bond star also enhanced his party-throwing skills in the off hours during the three-month shoot last summer.
"I'd invite people over, and it just kind of worked out," Craig says. "It doesn't always work. Sometimes (parties) fall flat on their face."
Quite the contrary, this time. Craig's frequent soirees at his rented house overlooking a beautiful canyon were catered, and Craig played the consummate host.
The events often went late into the evening as Craig and Favreau strummed ukuleles while others joined in with their own instruments and sang near a bonfire. Afterward, Craig's cowboy partner would help out with the dirty work.
"Harrison was very nice to come over, and he'd help clean up the mess," Craig says.
The two even worked through their fashion choices for the film. Ford, who created a piece of Americana with his Indiana Jones fedora, had the tough task of choosing cowboy headgear.
"You get the hat right, and the rest of it follows," Craig says.
"People chose a hat very carefully," Ford says. "I was concerned. I wanted to get the right hat. Everyone wanted to get the right hat."
Craig's other big choice came with his decision to wear riding chaps, a source of needling from Ford. He teases Craig that everyone is talking about "your (butt)."
Despite the ribbing, Craig says he's still good with the chaps decision.
"I regret things, but not that. The truth of it is, they do the trick, they keep you from getting chafed. They are also strangely comfortable. That's as far as I'm going."
Do more foes lie ahead?
On set, the two shared a banter "which was a constant refrain," Favreau says. "It was always well-meaning, but very spirited."
That connection may have culminated in a moment on-screen when Craig's character, Jake Lonergan, asks Harrison's Woodrow Dolarhyde, "Are you OK, old man?" after a harrowing incident.
Ford claims ignorance of the line, even gruffly insisting, "I didn't hear that."
"It came in ADR (dubbing)," Craig says with a laugh. "Actually, I was just trying to wind Harrison up."
"Well," Ford says, "it is a reality."
Favreau claims the line came at Ford's insistence.
"Harrison is very egoless when it comes to the laugh and the movie," the director says. "That was the emblematic moment of what his and Daniel's relationship was like."
It's a relationship that could certainly continue into other fields beyond alien fighting, should the box office signal approval this weekend.
"I think when you get Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig back-to-back, they can handle pretty much anything thrown at them," Favreau says. "I would be curious to see the movie with zombies, dinosaurs or killer robots."
Certainly the two seem keen to ride again. As Ford prepares to get up to move from his porch perch, he gives as much mush as a tough guy is allowed to give another tough guy.
"I had a good time," he says, looking at Craig.
"Same here," Craig says, looking nearly sheepish.
"I'm determined not to work again unless it's with Daniel," Ford says, smiling.
"OK, good," Craig says. "I want that in writing."