With writer-director Scott Cooper’s fantastic new film, Hostiles, now playing in limited release, a few days ago I got to sit down with Christian Bale and Chief Phillip Whiteman (who helped Bale understand the Cheyenne culture while filming) for an exclusive interview. Bale talked about how he got involved in the project, what surprised him to learn while researching his role, how the film doesn’t shy away from depicting the brutal violence of the era, what it was like on set while filming, how Chief Phillip Whiteman helped him understand the time period and the importance of his morning prayers, and a lot more.
If you’re not familiar with the film, Hostiles takes place in 1892 and stars Christian Bale as a legendary Army Captain who reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back home to the tribal lands. Along the way, they encounter a variety of obstacles including helping a young widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was murdered on the plains.The film also stars Adam Bach, Ben Foster, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tanaya Beatty, Jonathan Majors, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Timothée Chalamet, Paul Anderson, Ryan Bingham, John Benjamin Hickey, Stephen Lang, and Bill Camp.
Loaded with amazing cinematography, fantastic production design, costumes that feel like they were transported from the era, and great work from all involved, Hostiles is one of those films that should absolutely be seen in a movie theater and on the biggest screen possible. Strongly recommended. For more on the film, read Adam Chitwood’s review.
Check out what Christian Bale and Chief Phillip Whiteman had to say below.
Collider: I think this is Scott’s best film. I really responded to this. Everything about this film is very well done. You have a previous relationship with him. Is it something where he just picks up the phone or texts you and say, “I think I have something for you.”
CHRISTIAN BALE: Yes, and he sent me Donald Stewart’s original manuscript, written in the ’70s, asked my opinion. I said, “I think it’s fantastic. I think we can really work with this.” He said, “Great. Let’s start putting it together,” and then he began with the writing, and slowly we formed it.
Why pick one project over another? Very good experience with Scott on Out of the Furnace, knowing that Masa was going to be shooting, and just a gut feeling of, “There is something that I’m quite obsessed about with this character and with this entire story. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I don’t need to. I’ll discover that as I make it,” and we like working together, Scott and I. It just clicks. It’s a good relationship.
One of the things about the film is, even though it’s taking place in the late 1800s, it’s still relevant today, in terms of what it’s dealing with. Can you talk about when you were researching the period, what surprised you or anything that you took away from researching for the role?
BALE: Yeah, and it’s become more and more relevant as we were filming, and then since filming, with the notions of the other and division and hatred, this theme of hope and redemption and reconciliation, this kind of disgusting whimsy of Washington, which dictates life and death for men, such as Blocker, who is bigoted when you first meet him, but I believe in his way of thinking, and Chief Phillip will explain and you’ll understand what I’m meaning, and his linear way of thinking is essential.
He cannot do what he does without accruing hatred, and then that hatred becomes real as his brothers in arms die next to him, and this man is someone who has known war his entire life. He would have been in the Civil War as well. I made up a backstory of Shiloh and the Hornet’s Nest, but he’s smart and he recognizes that the bigger picture of this is that Blocker is the attacker, and this is genocide, and that’s exactly what they’re perpetrating here, and Yellow Hawk is defending himself and his family and his way of life, and Blocker would do exactly what Yellow Hawk is doing were he in his shoes, but he’s stoic and he represses everything, and as a leader in this linear way of thinking, he can’t show any vulnerability.
So then we get this journey of how this man turns off hatred, with that huge guilt that he feels about doing so. He’s rendering his brothers in arms deaths meaningless, and that’s why so many conflicts just continue, because you don’t want to admit that it was meaningless and people you love died for something that was meaningless, but he needs to go through that and the guilt of it, and he sees that expressed so much through the character of Rosalie, in that she’s another damaged individual, but she’s somebody who expresses that damage very openly, the opposite of Blocker, and then with Yellow Hawk, in recognizing a fellow warrior, who Blocker has a great deal of respect for but who has substance, family, love, a life, everything that Blocker lacks, and now Blocker is returning to humanity, and how is he ever going to be able to achieve that?
Chief Phillip was absolutely essential in helping me understand, not just to be able to speak the Cheyenne language, but in understanding, and knowing entirely that there is a very different way of doing this, and that informed me so much and informed Scott, and because we shot chronologically, we were able to adjust because of that. And then, I just loved listening to the Chief, and he was so helpful and so instrumental in this film. Do you want to expand on that at all, Chief?
CHIEF PHILLIP WHITEMAN: I think that today we have an opportunity. We can continue to do the same things over and over again expecting different results, and come to the realization that we cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it, and I believe in science, and science is catching up with our native teaching that we are all connected, and that this opportunity right here, right now, is a way to come together as one, and the highest thought process is that we are all connected, and the lowest form of thought process that we are separate.
The linear brain and the circular brain has a lot to do with language and the clash of cultures that this country … How can you own something that owns you? The native people, they had no concept of ownership, and their language is love based, and the linear language, it thinks in lines and corners, and it’s direct. It’s vertical. You learn to fight. The right brain, you learn to fight, not to fight. There’s many different dimensions that’s in our language, and overall, it’s better to be kind and right, and love is what this world needs today.