John Wayne

Brendan Wayne, Grandson of Hollywood Icon John Wayne, Can (Unsurprisingly) Hold His Own In a Fight

n some ways, it’s tough—and in others, not tough at all—to be Brendan Wayne. On the one hand, he co-stars in the new Jon Favreau–directed sci-fi blockbuster Cowboys & Aliens, which was a hit at last week’s Comic-Con in San Diego and opens tomorrow (July 29) pretty much everywhere. Despite being the lowest rung in an all-star cast, Wayne has received almost as much press coverage as his more famous co-stars, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, and Daniel Craig. But on the other hand, he is incessantly asked questions about his grandfather, who happens to be American cowboy icon John Wayne. It’s not just that Brendan Wayne has big shoes to fill; he might as well be an amputee and the shoes are the Grand Canyon. He would literally have better luck doing anything else in the world besides acting in a cowboy movie. It’s why Bob Dylan’s grandson, Pablo Dylan, recently announced that he’s making a hip-hop album. What was he going to do, record an album of folk protest songs? Good luck with that! I called Brendan on the set of his new movie, The Red House, as he was sitting in the makeup chair and having fake blood applied to his face. For somebody who gets asked about his grandfather approximately every 30 seconds, he was remarkably funny and gracious.

Eric Spitznagel: Did you ever tell a reporter, just to fuck with them, “I don’t want to talk about my grandfather”?Brendan Wayne: I did, actually. I said it to somebody last week. I was like, “Could we not talk about John Wayne so much? We were never on good terms.”

No you did not.

I did! And the guy was like, “Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry.” He got pretty flustered by it. And I finally broke and said, “I’m kidding, I’m kidding!” I do like doing that from time to time. Sometimes when people ask what he was like, I’ll catch them by surprise. “He was a bastard. Don’t let anybody tell you different.”

“He punched me when I was a baby.”

Right, you think you had a rough childhood? Try having a gun pointed to your head by John Wayne.

Did you ever consider saying no to Cowboys & Aliens, just because doing it would lead to a lot of John Wayne questions and comparisons?

Not for a second. There’s a two-fold answer to that. With the John Wayne association, you get to a certain point in this business and you realize that you have to be marketable to a studio. How do they justify keeping me in the film? I’m in a cast that includes Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown, Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, and Olivia Wilde. Why, exactly, do they need me? You know what I mean? I want to be a part of this group, so how do I make myself valuable? Also, there was no way I was saying no to being in a Western like this, even before I knew who was in the cast. Like most other kids, I grew up wanting to be a cowboy, playing the sheriff or whatever. So playing a cowboy in this movie was the easiest thing for me to tap into imaginatively. I can ride a horse, and I can do stunts on a horse. At least I found out I could do stunts on a horse.

You found out? I assumed you came out of the womb on a horse.

[Laughs.] No, I waited until I was a little older. I thought I was pretty good at riding horses until I got on this film and I was working with guys who were rodeo champions. That’s a different type of riding.

I can’t imagine getting on a horse at all. I have Christopher Reeve anxiety.

Oh, God, I understand.

I can’t get over the fact that it’s a live creature that hates me and wishes I would get off its back.

That’s true. If it senses any trepidation at all, it will try to own you. My biggest advice is to be next to people who know how to ride. When that accident happened to Christopher, he was riding out alone with a horse. Nobody was on his left or right, and horses feel better in packs.

The few times I’ve ridden a horse, I was convinced they could smell the city on me. They get a whiff of museums and three a.m. taco places and it makes them angry.

You do have to be careful with horses. When I got on the set of Cowboys & Aliens, they asked me, “So you can ride?” And I said, “Nope!” I made it very clear that I wanted a lazy, slow horse. And if he’s old, all the better. You don’t want to tell wranglers you can ride, because those guys will put you on the best stud out there. I’m not having any of that. You’re right, a horse can smell the city and they can smell fear.

I heard Jon Favreau say in an interview about Harrison Ford, “He’s our generation’s John Wayne.” Did that piss you off?

Not at all. I get it. But I have to be honest with you: I think it’s unfair to Harrison and what he’s accomplished. It was meant as a compliment, but I think Harrison Ford has done enough in his career to be our generation’s Harrison Ford. It’s like comparing Kobe Bryant with Michael Jordan. It’s like saying, “Obama is our generation’s Washington.” Just let him be Obama.

I feel like you need to get back at Jon. Is it O.K. if I refer to you in this interview as “our generation’s Jon Favreau”?

I’m fine with that. Yes, by all means, please write that.

Did you call your grandfather “Grandpa,” or did he make you call him “Duke”?

You know what’s funny? Of all the affectionate names we could’ve called him, all the masculine versions of “Grandfather,” what do you think he preferred? He wanted to be Granddaddy. That’s just amazing to me in hindsight. My dad is Dad, but my grandfather wanted to be Granddaddy.

Was he always wearing that eye patch from True Grit when you visited?

Just over Christmas. [Laughs.] No, actually, he was a suit-and-tie guy off the set. And then on the boat, he was always about shorts and no shirt and no hairpiece—basically the exact opposite of his movie image. My memories of him are of being on his boat and fishing with him, which I know is a very different visual image than the rest of the world has. They think of him in the cowboy hat or the eye patch or riding a horse, and I think of him shirtless on a boat.

They did a True Grit remake recently. Did you at least get an audition?

I did, yeah. But I think at the end of the day they wanted to distance themselves from the original. The Coen Brothers wanted to make it their own film and not remind people about the John Wayne movie. They didn’t want that attachment, and they certainly didn’t need my pedigree. At least I hope that’s the reason, and not because I just had a really terrible audition.

Did you audition for the part of Rooster?

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