Brendan Wayne Interview: John Wayne's Grandson Stars in Spielberg's 'Cowboys & Aliens'
Brendan Wayne, grandson of the legendary actor John Wayne, continues the Duke’s legacy by starring in the highly anticipated summer blockbuster Cowboys & Aliens (premiering July 29, 2011). Directed by Jon Favreau and produced by Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, this "western meets sci-fi" film features the rugged, real-life cowboy star Wayne alongside Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell.
The California native grew up riding horses, attending rodeos and visiting his grandfather on set. It was after watching him in iconic roles that Wayne decided to study film at the University of Southern California. The father of three is best known for his roles in Couples Retreat, Fast & Furious, Angel and the Badman, CSI, and The Closer to name a few.
"I can’t help but think that my grandfather (John Wayne) … this is why he loved doing it. He’d walk on a set and he could just immerse himself in the whole town. Deputy Lyle gets to go on a little chase. He’s going to find the people that they’ve lost and that journey is fantastic!"
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Brendan, how are you?
Brendan Wayne: I’m good. Did I hear a little twang in that voice?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yeah, a little one (laughs).
Brendan Wayne: Where are you?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Alabama.
Brendan Wayne: Oh, all right … Roll Tide … are you Roll Tide?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Absolutely! Brendan, you play Deputy Lyle in the Ron Howard/Steven Spielberg blockbuster Cowboys and Aliens due out in a few weeks.
Brendan Wayne: I do play Deputy Lyle who is technically Keith Carradine’s deputy. He plays Sheriff Taggart. Deputy Lyle gets to go on the adventure of a lifetime in this movie! Jon Favreau, the director, just did such a beautiful job making a western.
I can’t help but think that my grandfather … this is why he loved doing it. He’d walk on a set and he could just immerse himself in the whole town. Deputy Lyle gets to go on a little chase. He’s going to find the people that they’ve lost and that journey is fantastic!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Deputy Lyle chases the aliens?
Brendan Wayne: Yeah and he gets to play with the big boys, you know? There’s this mysterious drifter who’s kind of a Clint Eastwood mold that Daniel Craig plays and you’ve got Harrison Ford who’s just an icon and he’s playing kind of a taciturn kind of fellow, much like my grandfather in The Searchers … just kind of a real tough SOB.
It’s great because with a western you have so many specific roles. I don’t know why. I don’t understand because I’m not that smart, but Favreau knew and he filled the roles and did an amazing job at it. So that’s me running crazy, riding the horses, doing all my own stunts in the movie. It was a lot of fun.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve been riding horses for many years?
Brendan Wayne: I’ve been on a horse for quite a while but I haven’t been on them like I was in this movie. I didn’t know it until I got there but it is a whole different feel when you’re doing stunts off of horses. These stunt guys are the best. It was amazing to watch them, especially nowadays because it’s not done as often and it’s done with such a critical eye to make sure everyone (horses and humans) is safe. These guys do it with such artistic integrity. It’s amazing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I imagine it was a special experience to work with Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard.
Brendan Wayne: Yeah. First of all, as an actor it’s just really nice to work. Then you get a movie and usually get a star. I’ve worked with Samuel L. Jackson, but then you get a movie that has Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde … I could just keep going down the list … and Clancy Brown who is just amazing! That’s when your jaw drops and you’re like, “Oh, I’ve got to work with these guys.” I’m like, “I just hope I don’t suck.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That was not your first western, though, was it?
Brendan Wayne: No, I actually got to do a remake of my grandfather’s Angel and the Badman a few years ago. It was a valiant effort and I had a great time doing it. That’s for darn sure.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did it feel odd, knowing that your grandfather made the original?
Brendan Wayne: Weird to say the least, yeah. I really wasn’t going to do it. Then it was made clear to me that they weren’t looking for me to fill the role of Quirt (my grandfather’s role) and so I thought, “I could have some fun with that.” I can’t relate it to anything else because I only know this, but I can imagine.
I keep finding it out because I did Home of the Brave with Samuel L. Jackson in Morocco. People were coming up to me with VHS tapes of my grandfather’s films asking me to sign them. This is a Muslim country, you know? So when you find out he’s that popular even after he’s been dead for 30 years you’re like, “Oh my goodness, what am I doing?”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): He was larger than life to many people.
Brendan Wayne: He was. I was talking to someone about it recently. I said, “You know, he was larger than life but wasn’t so large that you didn’t identify with him.” That duality … I don’t know who would do that, but he did. He did it better than anybody before or since so far as I’m concerned. I’m completely biased, but I look at his work and think that certain people could have done it, but nobody did it the way he did.
I don’t think he ever really wore a white hat and rode the white horse, but he was so human at his core that you couldn’t help but go, “He’s just a person. He’s a human who’s done bad and good, but in the movies he was able to do the good in the hardest moments.” I think my grandfather embodied that idea in spite of taking the easy way out. He did the right thing at the toughest time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I remember John Wayne guest starring on The Lucy Show in the 60s and showing a bit of his comical side.
Brendan Wayne: Oh yes. And McLintock! He’s hilarious in that one.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Exactly. It was always fun to catch a glimpse of his lighter side. You were pretty young when he passed away.
Brendan Wayne: I had just turned 8.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you remember anything about him personally?
Brendan Wayne: It’s funny, I do. Related to movies I remember being on the set of The Shootist. I was 4 or 5 at the time. That’s one of my earliest memories just as a kid in general. I remember that birthday I got my first set of six-shooters and the holster that went with them. Talking about The Shootist, in retrospect I knew it was a set, but back then I assumed everybody’s grandfather did something and mine was a cowboy and he walked around shooting the bad guys (laughs). That’s just what he did. So I got on that set … little did I know I should have made friends with Ron Howard then (laughs).
My grandfather and I used go fishing and go to Catalina. We would go to his home in Newport. In his bedroom, I’ll never forget it, you couldn’t see a television. Then you’d lie down on his bed and this TV would come out of the ceiling. Back then it was weird to have that kind of stuff. It was so cool.
Since I’ve grown up, I’m proud of both my grandparents, my father’s father and my mother’s father. I do like to look at history so I read up on anything I can. You hear these stories, you read these books, and it’s just really cool. I know he was a big funny guy. I know that for a fact because I’d hear stories about him pranking some of his friends. You’re able to separate the two images, though. One is my grandfather and then it’s John Wayne. I’m a really lucky guy to be in this position.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Were you nervous when you began acting, thinking people would compare you to John Wayne? I imagine your uncles (Patrick and Ethan) experienced those comparisons.
Brendan Wayne: I’m sure they got it a lot worse, especially Patrick being closer in age. Ethan seriously got into acting after his father passed. But I can’t imagine it was easy for either of them. For me, it’s daunting in the sense that if I ever try to put my head around the scope of him … but I’m real good at compartmentalizing and ignoring things so I try to stay away from it.
You do have those moments where you walk into a casting office and they’re looking for a guy who is 6’ 5” 250 pounds and I come in at 6’ 180 and their heads drop. There are moments. Then there are people who have an idea who you are. There is good and bad with it. I didn’t start out in acting until I was about 28 so I had a little maturity and wasn’t wide-eyed and looking at the stars. I had an idea that there’s a lot more to this than somebody watching you at Schwab’s drinking a soda. I also have a great wife who pushes me and teaches me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You also didn’t use the name “Wayne” early in your career.
Brendan Wayne: No I didn’t, as a matter of fact, much to the consternation of my rep at the time (laughs). It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate it. I just didn’t want to insult my dad. It’s my mom’s dad who is John Wayne and my dad’s dad is a La Cava. His uncle Greg (La Cava) was a two-time Academy Award nominee as a director. Greg did My Man Godfrey. So I wanted to respect both sides of the family.
It took me about 5 years and then I said, “Dad, I’m getting a lot of pressure …” Before I even finished getting to where I was going he said, “If your mother was a Rockefeller I’d tell you to take her name. Now hurry up and do it. This is a business. If you want to create art, go out in the backyard and paint something.” So I was like, “Okay, I’m on it.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When she was young, your mom appeared in a couple of her dad’s films.
Brendan Wayne: Yes, she was in The Alamo in the background. Not a speaking role in that one, but I have some pictures at my house and she’s just stunning. She was in The Quiet Man on a buckboard on the back. Whenever he could bring his kids to the set he would. Uncle Jack (John Ford) was really very accommodating and loved kids and family. That’s why he always worked with the same people. But, yeah, my mom, God rest her soul, was one of the greats.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): She wasn’t interested in show business, as she grew older?
Brendan Wayne: No. The whole thing for her was … she was stunning and was able to do some print work at a young age. But it was a different time. I think she had her fill of the business. I can’t imagine the pressure, but we talked about it. She was a very confident woman and she said, “Look, I studied it as part of the curriculum. I just didn’t have the heart to do it. It’s a thankless business in a lot of ways.” She had seen both sides of the business with her father I’m sure. I just can’t imagine what it would be to grow up as the son or daughter of John Wayne.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Has your Uncle Patrick retired from acting?
Brendan Wayne: He hasn’t pursued anything for probably about 15 or 20 years. My grandfather had indicated that he wanted to lend help in some way, in cancer research, to the doctors at UCLA who had helped him live more comfortably and live longer. He said, “Do whatever you have to do.”
My mom and her brothers and sisters started the John Wayne Cancer Institute for research and for finding a cure. They’ve made incredible strides, especially in Breast Cancer and early detection. They’ve been in the forefront of the fight against cancer and the fight for the cure. So my grandfather, although passed away, has continued in what he thought was his responsibility to the American people and to people in general to make their lives better.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Where is the John Wayne Cancer Institute?
Brendan Wayne: In Sana Monica at Saint John’s Health Center. We’ve since moved from UCLA. We’ve done incredibly well there. My Uncle Ethan’s youngest boy who runs John Wayne Enterprises has created the John Wayne Foundation which also raises money for cancer research. As opposed to just going to our Institute we’ll give to Johns Hopkins or somewhere else so that the race can be won together. We want a cure for everybody.
People really loved John Wayne and what he represents. I know people who say, “When I get weak I watch a John Wayne movie and I feel stronger and I know I can do it.” That means a lot and when I go to the Cancer Institute and see someone getting help or living more comfortably that means even more and that’s all on my granddad. To know that one individual can affect so many in such a good way, it really gives you a different perspective on what your goals and ambitions should be.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I agree. What’s coming up next for you, Brendan?
Brendan Wayne: I have a movie to film in Spain. It’s another western and I’m actually excited about it. I think, personally, westerns are going to be the panacea for our country. This one is called Dollars From Hell and it’s going to be more in the vein of a Sergio Leone-type western. This will be a lead role and a different experience for me as an actor.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I can’t wait to see Cowboys and Aliens and I wish you the best in Spain.
Brendan Wayne: Thank you. I wish me the best over there, too (laughs). How’s the weather there? Are you staying away from tornadoes?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s a stormy day. We’re bracing for bad weather.
Brendan Wayne: Well, do me a favor. Duck and cover and be safe. I wish y’all the best and will be praying for y’all out there.
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