Sundance: 'Sweetwater unites Ed Harris with Miller twins
Six years ago, Logan and Noah Miller ambushed Ed Harris after a screening at the San Francisco Film Festival and told him that he had to play their late father in their movie. Daniel Miller had passed away on a jailhouse floor four months before after a life marred by alcoholism, but before he’d died, the identical twins had promised him that they would make a movie about his life — and that Ed Harris would play him. Despite no Hollywood experience and no financing in place, the boys were persuasive and Harris rather quickly agreed. “They’re smart and I just couldn’t say no,” Harris told EW in 2010. “They wouldn’t let me say no. They’ve just got this energy that’s pretty undeniable.”
Touching Home, which also starred the brothers as aspiring baseball players — which they had been in real life — opened in a handful of theaters in April 2010. But that little-seen movie was just the beginning of a beautiful friendship — one whose most recent fruit is the violent Western Sweetwater, which just debuted at Sundance. Set in New Mexico Territory in the late 1800s, the movie stars Mad Men‘s January Jones as a vengeful wife who strikes back at a religious zealot (Jason Isaacs) who wants her land and may have killed her husband. And of course, Ed Harris is along for the ride, playing an eccentric, long-haired sheriff sent to the town of Sweetwater to investigate two other unsolved murders.
Once again, it was Harris who made all the difference. Initially, the twins were pegged just to rewrite the script, and they went out of their way to write a colorful character they suspected would appeal to Harris. When the trio met with producers, “The producer goes to Ed, ‘So what do you think of the script?'” says Noah. “Uncoached, unscripted, he goes, ‘I really like what the brothers have done, but if they’re not directing than I’m not interested.”
With Harris aboard again and his Rolodex of industry contacts at their disposal, the Millers put together an accomplished cast and crew for a 23-day shoot in Santa Fe. And though there are certainly echoes of Once Upon a Time in the West, the twins were adamant that their Western be its own thing. “We told everyone, ‘We’re not making a Western,” says Noah. “Don’t limit yourselves. It’s such a sacred genre. We did not go in there saying John Ford did this, so we need to do this. To me, anything that’s sacred in art is dangerous.”
So don’t expect high-noon shootouts in the middle of town. And Jones is the laconic Western archetype, a female Clint Eastwood who dispatches justice with extreme prejudice. In one scene, she shoves her gun up the rear of a pantless pervert and fires. “We wondered if audiences are going to accept that January just takes out everybody, even people who only slightly wronged her,” says Logan. “So far, the audiences have been enthusiastic, cheering when she kills the first guy.”
“I had never seen a character like her before,” says Jones. “There’s a lot of strength and violence in a way that it’s tough female violence — it’s justified. And if I responded to it, I thought a lot of other women would too.”
The film’s violence has bubbled up during post-screening Q&As, but the fact that Isaac’s sadistic megalomaniac is a bigamist who came to New Mexico from Utah went mostly unnoticed in Park City. “I’m surprised that someone hasn’t asked the question like, ‘Are we attacking Christianity or Mormonism?'” says Noah. “The parallels are certainly there, but it’s not like we’re trying to attack anything or anybody. This guy doesn’t represent any particular faith other than his own, which is totally perverted and corrupted.”
Harris is practically a surrogate father to the twins these days — they’ve spent the last three Thanksgivings with him — but the rest of the cast was just as smitten with the young filmmakers. “They attack life and writing and the set like they are in the World Series,” Isaacs said after the Sundance premiere. “So when the take goes where they like it to, they emerge like banshees from behind the camera, going “F—ing awesome, guys!’ They run around and they chest-bump or high-five or hug everyone, from the actors to the wranglers to the horses themselves. I would do anything for these guys.”
In person, the twins do seem to share a mystical connection. They finish each other’s sentences — Noah is the reporter, so to speak, while Logan is the editor, reining in his brother from time to time. When Logan gets up to to grab a drink from a Brita machine, and Noah asks for one, too, Logan returns with just one plastic cup of water, which they both silently share. “I think our enthusiasm comes from being twins, because we’ve always vicariously lived through each other,” says Noah. “That really helps with the other actors and the crew. We genuinely want them to be amazing.”
“In Hollywood there’s almost this fashionable apathy, and that’s not us,” continues Logan. “I’m not afraid to be f—ing passionate.”
“When you’re watching through the camera and an actor nails it, I have to go up and hug them. It’s so much better,” says Noah.
“It’s like hitting a home run,” says Logan.