Screenwriter / director Anna Kerrigan and actress Jillian Bell discuss the love they felt filming their next family western, Cowboys.
Cowboys It takes place mainly in wide open spaces, but the story at its center is quite tight. The modern western, which hit theaters on February 12, already received a lot of praise at Outfest last year for its moving portrayal of a family in crisis.
Troy (Steve Zahn) and Sally (Jillian Bell) are separated but negotiate the care of their young son, Joe (Sasha Knight). Although Joe identifies as a boy, Sally insists on dressing him up as a girl and buying him barbies, which neither he nor his father will tolerate any longer. This division triggers an adventure that is both wonderful and heartbreaking, but most of all that explores the true meaning of love and acceptance.
Writer and director Anna Kerrigan joined Bell in speaking with Screen Rant about the inspirations behind the film and the motivations behind Sally’s wrong actions.
Sally said one thing in the movie that I found really interesting: “Who would choose to be a [girl]? “From both perspectives, how does Sally feel about her own womanhood, and how does that reflect what she is trying to impose on Joe?
Jillian Bell: She believes that to be a woman, you have to be beautiful, and the feminine side has to be very strong. When Troy is having a good time with his son, all he sees is a fun-loving father while I’m stuck at home; In that speech, she talks about cleaning, cleaning the toilet, and washing dishes. And what example is that for our son of what a woman should be?
For her, she comes from such a vain place. The backstory that I talked to Anna about was that she had a few years when she felt like a beauty queen, and then she lost everything when she became a mother. For her, a part of her identity was lost when she gave birth. That is what I think; I don’t want to speak for Anna, or how you feel about the character. But this is how I imagine this resentment he has towards his son. Then the division becomes even greater when she discovers that her son wants to be a boy.
Anna Kerrigan: When Sally says that line, she doesn’t fully understand what it means to be transgender. From his perspective, his son likes to go hunting and do all these active things with his father. From Sally’s perspective, it’s like, “Yeah, why would you do such nonsense?”
I remember being in Girl Scouts as a child, and I thought that everything we had to do was so lame compared to what the Boy Scouts had to do. I’m cisgender, but I think there are a lot of women who think it’s a lot less fun. I mean, in the way society dictates what it means to be a girl and what it means to be a boy.
This movie touches on many things. One of them, obviously, is gender identity. And for me, Sally is a character who fights against what society thinks she should be, or what she thinks society thinks she should be as a woman. When her son comes out, how will that reflect on her? She was going to be this woman with this little girl, and they would dress the same and do all these feminine things together. This future that she imagined just went away.
Jillian Bell: I think it’s also so disturbing that you find that parents sometimes take the place of the worst bully they can imagine. Sometimes they will [take] what they fear the most for their child to hear, and it would never really be as harmful coming from any child than from the person who gave birth to you and raised you.
Anna Kerrigan: Protection through harassment.
Anna, what was it that first inspired you to tell this story? What made you want to post it?
Anna Kerrigan: I have a connection to the part of Montana where we shot the movie. It’s called the Flathead Valley, in northwestern Montana. I used to go there when I was a kid, and I knew I was feeling a bit homesick for it. I knew I wanted to send a movie there and started writing. The first scene was just this father and son on horseback; He knew they were running from something and he knew they were outlaws. But at the time he wasn’t sure what.
I kept writing and writing, and the story revealed itself to me. It started to make sense as a kind of modern Westerner, in [the sense of] Who are the outlaws these days? A father with mental illness and his transgender son. I also wanted to make a portrait of a family in which everyone was doing their best and society is a kind of villain, rather than just one person.
Jillian, I feel like there is a lot of love and a lot of tension between Sally and Troy. How do you think she views him and the state of their marriage or separation at the beginning of the movie? How much would she attribute to her mental health problems compared to her own feelings for Joe?
Jillian Bell: I think at the beginning of the movie, I always felt like Sally was trying to hold on to this image that she has of herself, not just herself, but her family. She has this slovenly, distraught, goofy guy for her husband, but she can make it work as long as it’s number one in her eyes. So she has this boy, and she’s going to raise this boy to be a little girl who has matching outfits just like her.
She has that image in her head, and when things start to change, she wants to keep putting her back on track. [it was]. And she constantly struggles throughout the movie. I thought it was really interesting. It is not until you lose them that you discover what you initially had.
What made Jillian suitable for the role in your eyes? She obviously has a wide range and is presumably not like Sally in real life.
Jillian Bell: I sent you $ 100.
Anna Kerrigan: I’m so broke! No, Jillian and I met and discussed the script, and she was so passionate about the role and she really understood Sally and all the things that we’re talking about right now. It became a larger conversation about what it means to be a woman in America today. It was very clear that she really connected with the role in a way that I really liked.
He had seen Idiotsitter and loved her in it. I think it’s much harder to do comedy, don’t say it [anyone]. Let’s not compare, but I think in general comic actors have more rank, at least that’s what I could find. And this was also a role that I didn’t want him to feel heavy and stuck in; I wanted there to be moments of lightness and life and an actor’s ability to express humor. Then after I saw Brittany [Runs a Marathon], which is such an incredible performance by Jillian, there was no question.
What theme or moment in the movie struck you the most?
Jillian Bell: I think I took that off, Anna said this before, but it’s true, we are at a point in our country where we are very divided. Often, as a liberal woman living in Los Angeles, I think, “How can you not fight for the homeless?” It made me think about playing this character who doesn’t see things that clearly. How can you come from that place?
I had to interpret her in a way that I could understand her, because I couldn’t say, “No, I’m just a bad guy,” and that’s it. Obviously, seeing it, that’s not what Anna intends. I had to come up with this touchstone for me, which was that, as a parent, you want your children to have the easiest and most beautiful life possible. And you never know how society will treat you if you don’t follow some false rules that we’ve created.
So that’s where I focused Sally and in a sense it opened my mind to where people can be. Because we are, as I said, so divided right now, where do people come from. If I only think one side is right and one side is completely wrong, I don’t know how we move forward. So that’s what I learned from playing Sally.
More: The 10 Best Westerns of the 21st Century, Ranked (According to Rotten Tomatoes)
Cowboys opens in theaters on February 12.
The Fifth Element 2 was planned based on the original film’s cut story
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