British viewers probably know Ruth Wilson from her work on the BBC, particularly the 2006’s version of Jane Eyre and as the whackadoodle Alice Morgan in the acclaimed series Luther. She’s spending the summer in a much more prominent feature: the big budget remake of The Lone Ranger. She plays Rebecca Reid, the Ranger’s widowed sister-in-law and possible love interest. In an exclusive interview with Mania, she discussed the trials and travails of shooting the film, and what it was like as an English woman loose in the Wild West.
Question: How do you handle the transition from an English period piece to an America period piece… and a huge one at that?
Ruth Wilson: Not any different than the approach to an English period piece. You still do the research. You still have to find the voice and make that voice authentic to the period. Accents are tricky, but it’s also knowing the realities of that time and place. It has to be authentic, even in a big summer action movie. Especially in a big summer action movie.
The difference, I think, lies mainly in that scale. The sheer size of this film. There’s so many crew members and so much going on. I’ve never worked on something that size of a project before. That’s a good thing. It’s exhilarating and exciting and pushed me out of my comfort zone a little bit, which is where an actor needs to be to do their best work.
Q: Did you watch a lot of westerns growing up? How familiar were you with the Lone Ranger in England?
RW: My dad loved them, so I grew up watching them with him. We watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid a lot. The Magnificent Seven. Films like that. I loved them. That world seemed very exotic and cool. When I got this job, I watched a lot more of them. Sergio Leone, John Ford, a lot. As far as the Lone Ranger himself goes, I never saw it – not until I started this job – but of course we knew the tropes. You knew what he was. The mask, Silver, the William Tell Overture, that was all there as this pop culture image. One of the great joys of working on this film was finding out all of the reasons for those things.
I did watch a whole lot of the 1950s show when I was hired for this shoot. It was great. A wonderful bit of nostalgia.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced on the set?
RW: I loved the stunts I got to do here, but one of them was quite scary. I fall off a train and land on a horse, on Silver. I’m hanging on to this bar and there’s a wind machine blowing, and I was landing on a fake horse in a galloping motion. Backwards. It was really scary. That was probably my hardest day, but I got through it, and I think it looks great in the final film.
Q: How much experience did you have with horseback riding when you started this shoot?
RW: I’ve ridden quite a few, and fallen off of more than a few of them. All of my experience was more formal, however: English riding, which is a ride-and-trot style. We came out here and spent two weeks in cowboy camp to get back to basics: a much different style of riding than I’m used to. I’m always impatient. I wanted to gallop and run in the new style, and thought I could do it. I really had to strip it down and rebuild it. But we had some wonderful trainers and they knew how to adapt my technique to that kind of style.
Q: How did you work through the push and the pull between the old-fashioned damsel-in-distress stuff and the more modern and dynamic approach to your character?
RW: I don’t like the damsel-in-distress stuff and I think the movie addresses that. They wanted to have her be strong and forceful, but they also wanted the throwback to that earlier era, where the girl basically got to be tied to the train tracks for the whole film. I think we found points where we could show this character’s grit. Show her fighting back. It makes her a more fully rounded character. A character who learns. And by the end, she’s okay being on her own. That’s my job: to find and bring out those complexities.
Q: You also got to work with fellow Brit Tom Wilkinson a lot. How was that, two English actors in the Wild West?
RW: Tom’s wonderful. I sort of felt like I had to look after him, and of course he doesn’t need any looking after. He’s sort of a typical Brit. He moans about everything, and he loves it all underneath. And he finds that subtlety in the character. He’s always on it. You always want to work with actors like that because they make your work so much better.
Q: How do Brits look at the Western? It’s really a colonial genre: America and Canada and Australia all have this cowboy tradition, but not England…
RW: We love westerns. I actually think we look at it more romantically than Americans or Australians do. It’s not our world. It’s rugged and rural and wild. England always has this sense of propriety. We’re very neat and clean and proper. I love the ruggedness, and it might just be my individual point of view, but that’s much more exciting to me than the sort of buttoned-down period things that we’re known for.