For A Million Ways to Die in the West writer-director-star Seth MacFarlane, stepping in front of the camera was a unique thing. He is best known for his voice work on the show he created, Family Guy, and of course his voice that gave us all those Ted quotes in his movie debut. In A Million Ways to Die in the West, he plays a sheep farmer who believes he could not live in a worse place at a worse time.
But, the first thing that struck MacFarlane is that voice acting and live action acting are closer than he thought.
“You're using your whole body, and there are things that are different. But when you are doing a character, even in the booth with nobody watching, my face will do different things when I do different characters. Also, I was with the most talented actress that I possibly could have,” he told Movie Fanatic of co-star Charlize Theron.
“This is probably old hat to actors, but it was new to me. Your performance really does depend in a large portion on what you're getting from the other person. And I got so much from Charlize and was made so comfortable by her during this process.”
For Theron, she was eager to flex those comedic muscles and reported that she would have done anything for MacFarlane.
“I got to read this pretty early on [when] there was talk about him doing this film. And even before I read it, just the idea of doing something that's kind of pitched in this very unusual way of a comedy-Western situation and him at the helm -- that to me -- was very intriguing,” Theron said.
“And then reading the material and just how well it was written, I felt like I could bring something to the table. So I definitely did some chasing.”
The Oscar winner also appreciated the experience of making a balls-to-the-wall comedy, something she rarely gets to do.
“Everything about it was liberating. You have to be able to feel like you can play way outside the box. Every day just felt like endless possibilities,” Theron said. “But at the same time, there was a really good foundation that we had laid because of him -- two weeks leading up to the film. Then, he's a fun guy to be around. It was definitely not like going to the dentist every day.”
Although both appreciated the scenery of the New Mexico shoot in its providing an authentic feel for the Old West (shown in this A Million Ways to Die in the West trailer), neither thought the conditions were ideal -- to say the least!
“Look, it's a gorgeous place. I understand why you want to paint it. I don't necessarily want to go and shoot in it again. It's just like the weather was unbelievable. I felt like it was like biblical times and we were all going to die a horrible death by weather,” Theron said.
In some ways, the title A Million Ways to Die in the West proved prophetic! “I mean, there was a night where we shot, and Seth left before me. I got a text from him that literally just said, 'The road is washing away! Get out of your trailer right now and start driving!' And I was like, 'I'm going to die on this movie.'”
MacFarlane the filmmaker appreciated the landscape for his camera, but in hindsight, it was beyond challenging and therefore, next time, he might go somewhere else.
“These flash floods would come out of nowhere. We were driving back, and it was like Wayne Knight in Jurassic Park! It was every weather extreme that you could imagine -- oftentimes, right on top of each other. It was blistering heat. It was arctic winds. It was torrential rain. It was lightning storms happening all around you,” MacFarlane said.
“It slowed us down enormously. It was actually -- we joke about it -- but it was a big problem. So if we were to do this again, it would be nice to find a more temperate climate.”
For MacFarlane, this experience was in some ways easier than making Ted, and in other ways, much more difficult.
“Well, as far as the post production, you didn't have this thing of an absent main character as we did in Ted. That movie, we had to cut shots that just looked like backgrounds and kind of guess where the bear was going to go,” MacFarlane said.
“Here, there was a lot more coverage. So there were a lot more dailies to look at. That was probably the biggest challenge because I like to look at every single frame of every daily because I'm terrified that I'm going to miss something. And that was enormously time consuming.”
When it came to casting the dressed in black from head to toe villain, there was only one person MacFarlane wanted, and he was amazed he said yes -- Liam Neeson. “I'm still astonished that he agreed to do the movie. That character needed to be a pretty genuine threat,” MacFarlane said.
Both MacFarlane and Theron were equally as star struck when he sauntered onto the set.
“There was definitely that [whispers], 'Liam's here.' 'Yeah?' 'I saw a car by his trailer.' 'Is he here?' 'Yeah?' 'Is he coming to set?' 'Wow.' Like trying to be cool when I met him first, and he is just the sweetest guy I've ever been around,” Theron said.
For MacFarlane, who has now made a comedy about a talking teddy bear that can be seen when you watch Ted online, and a comedy Western starring Oscar winners and nominees… the future is completely unwritten when it comes to his film work. He refuses to commit to one type of film.
“I don't gravitate toward any particular genre,” MacFarlane admitted. “I like to do things that interest me.”