TORONTO >> The 41st Toronto International Film Festival got underway Thursday with Antoine Fuqua's remake of "The Magnificent Seven," an old-school Western with more modern faces.
The film's Thursday night premiere kicked off North America's largest film festival, which is set to unspool some 300 films over the next 10 days. On tap are premieres of many of the fall's top films, including the Los Angeles musical "La La Land," the oil rig explosion docudrama "Deepwater Horizon" and Oliver Stone's "Snowden."
"The Magnificent Seven," starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, is a remake of the John Sturges' 1960 Western, which itself was a remake of Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai." For Fuqua, who grew up loving Westerns, it was important for him to cast a diverse group of actors to welcome moviegoers to a genre not known for inclusiveness.
"For me, being black, I didn't see anyone that really looked like me," Fuqua said in an interview. "But I still loved the Westerns because as a kid, I wasn't identifying color. I was just identifying my heroes, John Wayne and those guys."
In Fuqua's "Magnificent Seven," the hero is unquestionably Washington, who plays a fearsome black-clad bounty hunter. It's the actor's first Western, and if nothing else, "The Magnificent Seven" unites one of today's true movie stars with Hollywood's most iconic, if somewhat out of favor, genres.
"I had a vision of him on that horse," said Fuqua, whose "Training Day" and "The Equalizer" starred Washington. "That's what made it fun for me. Right away, when we were talking about the different cast members, I said, 'You know, I'd love to see Denzel on a horse.' Everybody in the room got quiet. They said, 'Do you think he'll do it?' I said, 'Well, I'll fly to New York and find out.'"
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Washington said he never saw Sturges' film, but he did watch "Seven Samurai." "I didn't know how it would help me," said Washington. "It allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do instead of trying to not do what maybe somebody else did."
For Fuqua, watching the Western morph over time, particularly with Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns, was what most enthralled him: "I fell in love with them watching them change."
He hopes his film — which also stars Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Vincent D'Onofrio — helps open up the genre to others, and more accurately reflects the diversity of the Old West.
"People say, 'Oh, Westerns are hard to sell.' Well, they're hard to sell if everybody in the Western looks one way," says Fuqua. "You're not going to get the Asian market excited about it if all the Chinese guy does is work on the railroad. And I won't get black people go see it if all it is is the slaves. Even white people get tired of seeing the same guy over and over as well. Everyone wants something to make it fresh. It's a great genre and I thought it was dying for no good reason."
"I hoping if this is successful, we'll get to see more Westerns — more diverse and interesting Westerns," he said.