Listen y’all, what is with all these no-account mangy foreign varmits taking all our jerbs? I’m not talking about our neighbors from the south or them there Canindians from the north, I’m talking about them folks from overseas coming in and stealing our All-American icons. First they got their limey mits all over our superheroes, and now they’re a-comin’ for the cowboy. Is that lady-lipped English feller, Daniel Craig, really gonna play a cowboy in Cowboys and Aliens? The cowboy? He’s the Alien! Ain’t no way some tea-drinkin’, soft-footed Brit can do justice to a gunslinger. The cowboy is as American as gull-durned apple pie, fer crissakes! Hunh? Apple pie was invented by the British? Dagnabbit.
Okay, all kidding aside, y’all, the Western genre, while considered the epitome of Americana, isn’t being invaded, it’s been occupied. After the legendary John Ford, the most famous Western director is an Italian, Sergio Leone. And two of the most popular and iconic Westerns Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars are based, of course, on Japanese films. But while an actor is an actor and it is their job to play someone entirely “foreign,” I’m as leery of a Brit in the saddle as I am of a Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. But time and time again I’ve been proven wrong. By Brits but, mostly, by Australians. The land down under shares a lot in common with the American frontier (rough and tumble, indigenous peoples, harsh, unforgiving landscapes), so it should be unsurprising that so many talented Australians have slipped effortlessly into the chaps and spurs of the American Western. In fact, the Australian Western is a genre in its own right and includes The Man From Snowy River, Quigley Down Under ( sorta), Ned Kelly and, my personal favorite, The Proposition. In fact, I’m going to smirch this list of Foreign Actors as Western Heroes ever so slightly and give a tip of the stetson to that glorious bloodbath of a film.
Guy Pearce (Australian): The Proposition—It’s cheating to include this film, but just in case some of you out there haven’t seen this damn fine piece of cinema, I urge you to do so. That is, if you think you’ve got the stomach for it.
Yul Brynner (Russian): The Magnificent Seven—The lead actor in one of the most iconic Westerns of all time isn’t John Wayne or Gary Cooper, it’s the great Yul Brynner.
Geoffrey Rush (Australian): The Warrior’s Way—This mess of a film was saved from being a total disaster by Rush’s sly performance. If you’re in the mood for an Asian-influenced Western, however, I suggest you try Sukiyaki Western Django instead.
Cate Blanchett (Australian): The Missing—Blanchett is Blanchett and can do anything. Well, except a Russian accent, Doctor Jeaunes.
Mel Gibson (Australian-Bigot): Maverick - I don’t care that he’s a shith**l, I love this movie. I like to pretend that maybe he wasn’t a shith**l back then.
Heath Ledger (Australian): Brokeback Mountain—Some people try to say this isn’t a Western and then I laugh in their faces because if the genre is meant to celebrate the struggle to survive in a harsh and unyielding environment, then Brokeback is the best Western I’ve ever seen. Ledger is, naturally, amazing with his clenched jaw and loaded silences. Damnit.
Christian Bale and Russell Crowe (English and Australian [but born in New Zealand for all you sticklers]): 3:10 To Yuma—To me, this is an almost perfect film. Both men absolutely dominate in these roles which transcend the typical black hat/white hat. Crowe gets an extra mention for his portrayal of the gunslinging preacher in The Quick and the Dead, one of the best worst films of all time.
Joanna Robinson finally, today, at long last gets that “Cowboys and Aliens” is a play on “Cowboys and Indians” and will stop mistakenly calling it “Cowboys vs. Aliens.” Probably.