Production Notes

These Production Notes were provided in the TNT

TM

 Press Kit

materials for this movie.

Novelist Zane Grey presented American literature with archetypal heroes dressed in black, guns by their side, who did what was right and rode off into the sunset. Grey’s prolific style paved the way for a worldwide phenomena. “He romanticized the old West -- its people and its landscape -- and through his writing let others visit that place and fall in love with it,” says director Charles Haid. “Riders of the Purple Sage is profound Americana.” Laden with emotion and a language that is almost Shakesperean, Riders is more a Greek tragedy than a simple take of cowboys and Indians. “It’s a timeless story of passion, lust, murder and intrigue,” explains Haid. The film’s star and executive producer, Ed Harris, read the novel in 1980 after buying it on a whim at a drugstore. “I was transported by the beautiful story and realized it would probably make a great film.” In 1983, Harris hired his friend Gill Dennis to write the screenplay. With Harris’ wife, Amy Madigan, they worked on the screenplay and shopped it around to the studios. “It’s been a long haul to find people who would let us make this film,” says Madigan, who stars in Riders and also served as executive producer. “When you love a project this much, you hold on to it and take care of it until you can tell the story you want to tell. This is not a typical Western.” After scouting location in New Mexico and Arizona, the Riders production team decided to film in and around Moab, Utah. “This cathedral place is the part of America that Grey wrote about, not the flat plains of Texas,” says Madigan. “Grey probably was one of the first environmentalists,” notes Haid. “He wanted to conserve the West and its land and he expressed this philosophy through his writing.” The spectacular canyons, in dramatic hues of red and purple, and the elements themselves served as metaphoric characters in the film. “The resonant theme in Grey’s writing is that nature mirrors human emotions, which is an esoteric concept that Grey makes accessible through his landscape and characters,” says Haid. “Everywhere we turned, the rock formations and atmosphere were dramatic,” continues Harris. “The sky changed constantly, winds would pick up and thunderstorms would roll in.” Harris felt an obligation toward the role of Lassiter, his first-ever film Western character. “It was an overwhelming responsibility to portray someone who is on such a passionate mission,” he says, explaining his “awe” at the character’s 15-year search for the man who kidnapped his sister. Lassiter is a pragmatic gunman, but he is also wrought with strong emotion,” adds Haid. “Grey once wrote that the path of the cowboy is lonely and desolate, which typifies Lassiter’s life.” While inventing the prototypical “silent cowboy” in Lassiter, Grey did not overlook the importance of a strong female lead. “Women have been left out of most Westerns, but in this story the women are full-blooded characters who must fight to be who they are,” says Madigan. “Grey wrote eloquent women’s parts, in particular my character, Jane Withersteen, who stands up for herself in the face of oppressive cultural odds.” “Jane Withersteen is a heroine who fights against a male- dominated society,” continues Haid. “Grey was strongly opposed to the definition of women as property, which was a prevalent attitude of that period.” Contradictions like these lend Riders the heightened sense on intense drama for which Grey is famous. “ He shown us the striking difference between the grandeur and cruelty of this country, which makes the story intensely romantic, yet also dark.” Henry Thomas, who portrays Jane’s ranch hand and friend Bern Venters, embraced the chance to work from Grey’s material. “The eloquent language carries so much of this film. Each line is poetic.” Aside from the appeal of the script, Thomas appreciated the action in Riders, which included extensive horseback riding in desert heat that at times reached 115 degrees. “Riding through those spectacular locations was an amazing opportunity, but I’ve never had a role that was this physical,” he says. Actress Robin Tunney, who plays the “masked rider” Bess, learned to ride horses only months before filming began. “It was intimidating because Henry lives on a ranch and owns five horses, and Ed and Amy have been riding for years,” she admits. Also challenging for the young actress was her audition for the film, which included a surprise reading with Harris himself. “I have such respect for him as an actor that I realized halfway through our scene I was about to hyperventilate. I had to go stand in the corner for a few minutes to calm down.” Asked what viewers should expect from Riders, Harris responds, “I hope they’ll be swept away into a time and place that will always stay in their minds.” Haid continues, “Not everyone gets the chance to visit this beautiful part of the country; we hope Riders will let them experience it.” Will a contemporary audience still relate to Grey’s work? “This story revives the spirit of the West,” says Haid. “I think people would like to see the world that simple again.”
The Ed Harris and Amy Madigan Production of:
“Up the gradual slope rose a broken wall, a huge monument, looming dark purple and stretching its solitary mystic way, a wavering line that faded in the north...”           --  Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
“I was transported by the beautiful story and realized it would probably make a great film.”      -- Ed Harris
Women have been left out of most Westerns, but in this story the women are full-blooded characters who must fight to be who they are.” -- Amy Madigan
“I hope they’ll be swept away into a time and place that will always stay in their minds.”   -- Ed Harris
“This story revives the spirit of the West. I think people would like to see the world  that simple again.” -- Charles Haid
“The eloquent language carries so much of this film. Each line is poetic.” -- Henry Thomas
Director Charles Haid
Executive Producer and Star, Ed Harris
Executive Producer and Star, Amy Madigan
Henry Thomas as Bern Venters and Robin Tunney as Bess
A Charles Haid Film
Riders of the Purple Sage