We spoke to director Kristian Levering about his new Western, The Salvation.
Set in 1870s America, a peaceful American settler kills his family’s murderer which unleashes the fury of a notorious gang leader. His cowardly fellow townspeople then betray him, forcing him to hunt down the outlaws alone.
When did you start working on The Salvation and where did the project start?
It started here in Soho, I was at a lunch with my producer (Peter Aalbæk Jensen) and we were talking about where our love of film came from. We’re both the same age and both Danish. In the sixties when we were kids we only had one television channel in Denmark and they would always show westerns on a Saturday afternoon. That was my first encounter with these films and that’s where my love of them started. Over lunch, we talked about it and I became very enthusiastic then he said “Kristian, you should do a Western! You are so passionate about this, the way you talk about it, I think we can find the money and we can do it”. That was about four years go.
What was the writing process with Anders Thomas Jensen like? How many drafts did the screenplay go through and were there any major changes from what you first envisioned?
I think we wrote four drafts. I don’t think we had any major changes. The thing that happens in the stage coach was always there and the consequences were always there. It’s a film about revenge, a classic Western theme, so that didn’t change but there were lots of minor changes, especially to supporting characters.
It feels like we’re seeing a gradual increase (and a welcome return) of the western genre on the big screen. When you were initially going into production, was it a challenge to raise the finances?
Yes it was, for instance we couldn’t shoot the film in the U.S. because we didn’t have enough money. It’s expensive to shoot there, so that was a big challenge. There was a lot of interest from actors and we wrote the main part for Mads (Mikkelsen). He’s always wanted to do a Western, so when he heard we were actually going to make one he was on board which helped.
Even though it’s quite a tough watch, it was fun to make! All of the guys out there in the middle of nowhere, with horses and guns. It was a very childish enjoyment on set but a positive experience overall.
I’m Danish, Mads is Danish and we knew each other already. We talked when we had the second draft and he was onboard. After Mads the second person I talked to was Eva Green. She plays a complicated part, it’s not easy to play someone who can’t speak. I thought she could do it and she liked the challenge. People wanted to do the film, which was great!
Eric Cantona isn’t necessarily known for his acting work but he was fabulous in Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric and once again he’s great in The Salvation. Was he someone you had in mind from the start?
No, but I wanted to bring in someone who had a different energy. Eric actually is an actor now, he does lots of stage work and he’s working all the time. He approaches a role in a different way to say Mads, I felt was a real strength to have that in the film.
The film is shot in a beautiful 2.35:1 (as all good westerns should be!) what notes did you give to D.P. Jens Schlosser before production began?
I didn’t give him notes as such but he knew the style we wanted. When you do a film you have tons of meetings and I wanted the film to be very colourful which can also come out in costumes and sets but it’s important that he knew what I wanted to achieve. The western genre is traditionally quite colourful as lots of classic westerns were shot on Technicolor film stock which can give the picture a heightened sense of colour, I wanted to replicate that look and have those strong colours in our film.
Similarly Kasper Winding’s score works perfectly in the picture, was this done entirely in post-prodiction or was Kasper working on it as you were shooting?
He came on board before the shoot and he’d already started to work on some musical themes in pre-production. They weren’t played on set or anything but we had those in mind as we were shooting. I find music very difficult because it can very easily easily be over emotional or not do enough. We spent a long time working on it!
The Salvation is in cinemas now.