JONAH HEX director Jimmy Hayward talks with Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
If you picked up your copy of JONAH HEX a the comic shop today, you noticed that the issue featured an exclusive interview between JONAH HEX movie director Jimmy Hayward and the writers of the JONAH HEX comic series, Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. With minimal help from yours truly, the conversation touched on a wide range of topics, including Hex comics, the film, Westerns and the movie’s soundtrack. But some stuff got left on the cutting room floor for space reasons. But fear not, Source gang. We’ve got the full transcript right here for you to read. So click below and enjoy.
DC COMICS: What was it about the character that drew you as a director to the initial material?
JIMMY HAYWARD: I liked comic books like all kids like comic books, but I guess the whole capes and Spandex thing wore a little thin for me. I liked Jonah Hex because he was an anti-hero and he had a sense of humor and he was a badass. And I liked that he got himself into jams and got out of 'em. I loved Spaghetti Westerns as a kid and this was a comic book version of that, so I was attracted to that.
JUSTIN GRAY: We wanted to get back to those Spaghetti roots with HEX. The “Weird Western Tales” had that Spaghetti feel, and then when Michael Fleisher took over writing HEX, you started to see a heavy influence from “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”
DC: Another thing that's really exciting - just seeing the initial stuff about the film - is the casting, so I don't know if you'd want to talk about Josh [Brolin] as Jonah and what made him the perfect person for that role.
HAYWARD: I think Josh looks the part and he carries himself that way. His improvisational work on the picture was really great - the subtle tics, the little nuances that he does - he really created a cool version of Jonah Hex, and I can't even imagine anybody else doing it.
JIMMY PALMIOTTI: I have to agree. When Justin and I saw him on the set for the first time with you, Jimmy, we were floored. I think you were setting up a shot when we got there, and he came in wearing full makeup and on horseback and we were like, "Oh my god" - he just so nailed it.
HAYWARD: Was that the day we were basing the shot on the cover of JONAH HEX #13 where he’s attached to the big X?
PALMIOTTI: Yeah, plenty of bug spray that day.
HAYWARD: That wasn't even one of the worse places.
PALMIOTTI: Yeah, that was when he was tied to the cross. Again, it was exciting for us to see Jordi [Bernet]'s artwork come to life in that scene and the house set on fire behind him - it was a pretty cool scene. It's one of the key scenes in the movie, I think.
HAYWARD: It is. The scene from the cover of #13 is the opening of the modern image of Jonah in the movie, but before that sequence we do a prologue that's just over music, and it's just Jonah Hex before he was scarred, fighting in the Civil War, taking out Union troops in hand-to-hand combat, and bombs going off, and the badass Civil War imagery. And then we go to the image of the red clay with the coffin and the crow on it, and then everything goes to black, and it comes up and it's him waking up on that cross in front of his house being confronted by Turnbull [played by John Malkovich], and that's how we open the body of the picture.
PALMIOTTI: That's awesome. I guess the obvious question, since this is why we're doing this interview, is are there any other elements that you'd want to tell fans of the comic book about that they can look forward to seeing in the movie?
HAYWARD: From an image standpoint, there's a ton of them. The #8 cover is kind of in there. I think a lot of the imagery you guys have created, a lot of the covers, we've tried to keep that stuff. They're all from different artists, but they all embody Hex and who Hex is. Form a story standpoint, I think the way he carries himself … it's more of the attitude and a lot of imagery that we tried to crib.
GRAY: I noticed something in the trailer that's almost directly like something we did - in a hardcover we're doing [JONAH HEX: NO WAY BACK], there's a part where Hex shoots the guy when he asks him about his face, just like in the movie.
HAYWARD: Absolutely. I think I stole so many things from you guys - images, little ideas … For instance, there's an image when he talks to Turnbull where we took one of my favorite images from the new stuff - I think it's #36 - where he's got one foot in this world, one in the next. We actually wrote dialogue based off that imagery from the covers. We actually have two moments in the movie where it's exactly like that - he's literally standing in the afterlife.
GRAY: I remember Josh was showing us test shots - a lot of the poses he was in, it was almost identical to the comics.
HAYWARD: #39, I don't know who did the cover to that one - I have a bunch of these things lying around in my office - images up all over the office in editorial. But also when he confronts Lt. Evan, when they come to Hex’s door to recruit him and he spins around and puts his gun in Evan’s face. There were so many instances where we tried to emulate [Spaghetti Westerns], but rather than lifting off shots from [Western directors like Sergio] Corbucci or [Sergio] Leone or anything like that, we used that stuff as a jumping-off point - a lot framing techniques and framing devices from those films. But a lot of the stuff in this movie we took from you guys.
PALMIOTTI: That's awesome. We know the HEX fans are going to run to see the movie in theaters, but let me ask you, why do you think people who aren't fans of the Western genre might want to give this a shot?
HAYWARD: Well, this isn't a Western on certain levels - it's also an action picture, it's a revenge picture - we did a lot of genre-bending on this picture. You see people writing online, "Oh, Hex has gotta be this way or that way!" Those guys are fans of certain different elements of the HEX universe, but Hex has traveled to so many different places in his career - he's been a Western character, he's been “The Road Warrior”! He's been all over the place. And obviously we don't have “Road Warrior” elements in this movie, but really, HEX has gone through so many different iterations that it's not just a Western. I'm a huge fan of [the Western film] "Django," which we've obviously all talked about, or the "Man with No Name" series and "Outlaw Josey Wales" - you couldn't pace a picture like those in this day and age, at least not a studio picture. You could do it with a smaller picture, but you can't pace a movie of HEX’s size like that and get away with it. So you can use the framing style and you can use a lot of the swagger of it and a lot of the essence of it, but essentially we've cut it a lot more like an action picture.
PALMIOTTI: I think that makes sense because I sat in a crowded theater for “Nightmare on Elm Street,” and the trailer for HEX ran right before it.
HAYWARD: That's right, we were on every print of that.
PALMIOTTI: Yeah. The reaction was pretty damn good in the theater, and I know that half the people never heard - half? More like 90 percent - never heard of Jonah Hex, and on some level that's who you’re aiming for: everybody. The trailer definitely had something that I think appealed on a lot of levels to a lot of different people. They said it just didn't look like a Western, it looks like an action movie, it looks like a summer blockbuster...
HAYWARD: You got Megan [Fox] running around shooting guns, you got stuff blowing up, you got Josh Brolin running around, you got Gatling guns and all kinds of stuff. And look, again, some fans of the hardcore Western version will have one viewpoint about that kind of stuff. But we're not just trying to pack in stuff for everybody, we're kind of touching upon different aspects of the HEX universe, and hopefully people will understand that.
GRAY: So many people have preconceived notions that Westerns are these huge panoramic, slow-moving epics. So for those people …
HAYWARD: You go see "The Wild Bunch" [to change their minds].
GRAY: Yeah, exactly. Or you see "Django."
HAYWARD: A lot of people forget that Westerns were so popular in the United States for so long. But a lot of the stuff, particularly the Spaghetti Western, a lot of those things were about technology and the old West clashing, or political viewpoints clashing, like the Old and the new. Then when you get into the [Italian-filmed Westerns], you get into all this crazy communist stuff, like "A Bullet for Sandoval"…
GRAY: That's a great movie.
HAYWARD: Yeah, awesome movie! Ernest Borgnine. What we're doing with JONAH HEX is, Turnbull is like the first terrorist in America - it's kind of crazy. But we're dealing with these two universes colliding, and we're playing with that idea.
PALMIOTTI: It's great the way that Josh personifies Hex as occupying every room he enters. He becomes this mythology in his physical presence on top of the story that's around him.
HAYWARD: Absolutely. And we ultimately tried to make this movie as much about Hex as we could.
GRAY: You get a fun sense from Megan Fox. It's a different character for her. She seems a lot more edgy and sarcastic. We know she's beautiful, but it looks like she's trying to find something else in this character for her to show people. That's what I get from the trailer.
PALMIOTTI: If this thing’s a hit, and we all know it will be, and you would do a second one, would you continue threads that you introduce in the first one?
HAYWARD: Of course - you have to do that. I think we’ve left things open. There’s no sequel-baiting in this movie at all. When Jonah rides off, Jonah rides off.
GRAY: Which is good, because you don't want to leave people hanging with, "Oh, there's the door for the sequel," because you can do anything with that character.
HAYWARD: You know, I want to touch back on what you said earlier about why people who don't know anything about Jonah Hex should go see this, because I actually don't think that many people do know about Jonah Hex. I know people that are completely pop culture-literate and they ask, "What picture are you working on now?" You say, "JONAH HEX" and it's clear those two words have never come together in their heads before.
But that's what's so great about this, because you get to introduce this cool character to all these people who've never heard of him before. If it wasn't for the efforts of you guys and the other people at DC, Hex would languish in obscurity - which some people might like, I don't know. People like to be in on a secret thing.
PALMIOTTI: It's the freedom you have, too. You can almost do anything you want with this, and I think that's the fun of the character. In the trailer it shows. There's this kinetic kind of energy where anything goes. And I think that's why it's fun.
HAYWARD: Brolin talks about the absurdist nature of stuff, and how tonally, you could draw a guy with Gatling guns on his horse, but when you actually go out to do it, you have to have a certain tone, or it won't fly. Some fans like different things, but just to have Jonah Hex riding around murdering people, it's easier to get away with that in a comic.
PALMIOTTI: And we try to mix it up in the comic all the time. There are fantastic elements in the comics as well, and people forget that. We do that as well at times.
HAYWARD: Which issue is it that has the kid that's in the pit fights?
GRAY: The first one.
HAYWARD: Yeah. In the movie, we have chicken fights and dog fights - that's where we introduce Jonah's dog - then they're fighting oddities from around the world. We borrowed on that. We couldn't have a little kid fighting, though. That's a pretty crazy, out-there idea you guys had for a Western, if you really think about it.
PALMIOTTI: Oh yeah, definitely. For us, we have to pull people in every month, we have to keep it interesting for them - otherwise they won't buy the next issue.
HAYWARD: To me, that was a great jumping-off point for us. What a weird scene for a Western. You wouldn't see that in "The Outlaw Josey Wales."
PALMIOTTI & GRAY: No.
GRAY: But that's our love of Spaghetti Westerns. Something like the film "Four of the Apocalypse" - there's so much weird stuff that happens. "This is a Western?" you ask yourself. The cannibal guy that they have riding around with them that they don't realize is a cannibal until they get to the graveyard …
HAYWARD: And I think people forget because they haven't seen those movies. I think people have seen four or five Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns and they're thinking that's the scope and breadth of Spaghetti Westerns. But there're all these weird movies, and they haven't seen "Django," they haven't seen that film, they haven't seen all these other things. We're all borrowing more on the crazy edge of [the genre].
PALMIOTTI: I think the movie looks awesome. We can't wait to see it.
HAYWARD: So what else you guys got?
GRAY: Mastodon - you got the band Mastodon to do the soundtrack.
HAYWARD: Yeah, we've got [film composer] Marco Beltrami and Mastodon working together. Mastodon are awesome guys who love movies and have never done anything like that. I’m a big fan of their music. We were listening to their music a lot when we were developing the movie, when we were rewriting the movie - I was listening to Mastodon all the time.
GRAY: They did that great "Moby Dick"-themed album [“Leviathan”].
HAYWARD: Yeah. I'm friends with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures. At the time [film composer] John Powell was working on HEX, and we had scheduling difficulties. He had to move on because he works on a lot of movies at a time, and we couldn't fit his window. So I started talking with Josh Homme about this, and we were talking about different artists - he's actually worked with a bunch of composers, like Marco Beltrami. We were talking about different people and he was saying, "The guys from Mastodon really want to do something." And I had been listening to them, so it was really a "Hey, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!" kind of moment.
So we got together with the Mastodon guys and showed them some of the movie, and they came down to the set. [Bandmembers] Brent Hinds and Brann Dailor came down. Brent and Brann, we've all become good friends since. We actually just went and saw them the other night. Those guys watched a lot of the imagery from the movie - we showed them the train sequence, we showed them the shoot-out where Jonah drags the bodies into town. They were really stoked. So they actually had a week off and wrote almost an album's worth of material just reading JONAH HEX comics and watching the movie. They wrote and recorded an album's worth of material while waiting for the compositor to come in and work with them to create the more compositional elements of the score that you need to do.
PALMIOTTI: Are any elements from the soundtracks of Spaghetti Westerns in there?
HAYWARD: Not really. In terms of thing being sparse and tonally gnarly, sure. Marco Beltrami wrote Jonah's theme, and they recorded an orchestral version of it, then Mastodon did a version of it. So every once in a while there are just these huge booming chords coming in. They really just added this badass nature to it.
PALMIOTTI: I heard it was compared to, at times, Pink Floyd.
HAYWARD: The song you're referring to is a 14-minute song they recorded while watching Civil War imagery from the movie. I set up monitors in the studio, looped imagery of Jonah Hex from the movie.
GRAY: And that's the sequence from the beginning of the movie with no dialogue, like you were saying earlier?
HAYWARD: Stuff like that, yeah. I mean, who knows? Marco's going to blend it all up and use it all over the place. It's having a real effect on the movie - we're stoked on it.
PALMIOTTI: Jimmy has been very generous with Justin and I in terms of including us and getting us an invite down to the set. So I wanted to thank you.
HAYWARD: Dude, you guys are awesome. I really appreciate you being so open with everything. And DC's been great. They’ve helped us out a ton, with the title sequence, and getting materials to all the actors and all the crew. Everybody has their opinion, but I feel like the comic book guys shouldn't be pushed aside, they should be part of the party, they should be reading the script, they should be involved.
GRAY: And we love you for that.