Pedro Almodóvar makes a gay western with Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke

The green-robed gunslinger locks eyes with the sheriff.

“Don’t look at me like that,” the sheriff said, squinting.

“How do you want me to look at you?” The Gunslinger replies, joking.

It wouldn’t be a Western without Perilous Confrontation, but when Pedro Almodóvar is behind the camera, the looks are more loaded than pistols. in “strange way of life,” a new short film that will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday. Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal play a lawman and a cowboy who reunite after 25 years of romance. But will their old charms be rekindled, or will both men hide ulterior motives for the meeting?

In many ways, the project is an aberration for Almodóvar: the 73-year-old author, usually known for Spanish-language films about contemporary women living in pretty apartments, has cast two English-speaking actors in a short film set in the dusty Wild West. But Almodóvar, who was courted two decades ago to direct the gay western “Brokeback Mountain” and turned down, sees his new project in a continuum with the 2005 film, eventually directed by Ang Lee, who won best director. .

“In Brokeback Mountain, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character says to Heath Ledger’s character that they have to go away and work on a farm,” Almodóvar said on a video call. Heath says, “What are two men going to do in the West, working on a farm?” In many ways, I feel like my film provides an answer to that.”

Almodóvar wrote a few pages of the pivotal scene three years ago, then put it out of his mind. “Sometimes I write just for the joy of writing,” he said. “I had no purpose for it.” But inspiration arose when Anthony Vaccarello, creative director of fashion label Saint Laurent, mentioned that he had just produced a short film by Gaspar Noé. Almodóvar remembered the sequence with the two guns, added a scene introductory introduction and the results of the guns, and showed Vaccarello the script for the 31-minute film “The Strange Way of Life”.

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“Of course, it would have been a feature film,” he said. “But I think it was the perfect length for the story I wanted to tell.” After making the short film “human voice” In 2020 with Tilda Swinton, Almodóvar hoped to continue casting English-speaking stars. “I never wanted to do that in Spanish,” said Almodóvar. “Even though we had our own genre, the spaghetti western, I wanted to make it a classic western.”

Almodóvar soon reached out to Pascal, whose star began to rise with the series “The Mandalorian” And “The last of us.” The 48-year-old actor was keen on signing; He had seen Almodóvar’s first film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), with his family when he was a young teenager.

“I remember feeling like I was going to a new amusement park,” Pascal said in an email. “A whole world of color and play and a kind of riotous rebellion was introduced to my experience.”

His co-star was just a jerk. “I felt really honored to be an American actor who would be working with him,” Hook said over the phone. “Often when you make major American films, there’s this third entity in the room, which is that you want to sell the movie—you feel it from the people behind the screen. And the great thing about working with Almodóvar is that you feel like there’s nobody you need to make him happy but you.” Pedro Almodóvar.”

The short went into production last summer in Almeria, Spain, on the outdoor sets where Sergio Leone once shot his photos. The classic 1964-66 trilogy From the Spaghetti Western starring Clint Eastwood. “The passage of time, 50 years of that, has given the place an authenticity,” Almodóvar said. In addition to producing the project, Vaccarello doubled as costume designer, an important position in Almodóvar’s film.

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“There are some directors I’ve worked with who are great directors, but they’re not interested in the costume — it’s just, ‘Yeah, whatever you want to wear is fine,'” Hook said. Or the gray color of your jacket and what fabric it’s made of.”

Although Almodovar’s films are also noteworthy for what happens when those clothes are removed, “Strange Way of Life” is surprisingly discreet, blackening when Hook and Pascal move in to embrace.

Almodóvar said, “The sexual tension in my film happens around looks, so I decided from the start that I wouldn’t show the entire sex scene.” “They’re more naked in the conversation they’re having afterward.”

It was that conversation that made Almodovar want to shoot the film in the first place: After making “Pain and Glory” (2019), which stars Antonio Banderas as a thinly veiled version of his director, Almodóvar found himself increasingly drawn to stories about the medium. Gay men their age look back on their lives.

“I think it partly reflects my age, as I decided to tell stories about old men,” said Almodóvar. “If I had written these stories when I was 25, I probably would have written a story about two 25-year-old cowboys.”

Hawke admitted that filming wasn’t easy: the production had to contend with a record-breaking heat wave over 15 days in the desert, “and it’s very difficult to come up with subtle ideas when all your body wants is to sleep or find some air conditioning,” he said. But as the project drew to a close, he was able to step back and take it all in.

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“Suddenly I was done and I realized I was in the desert in Spain on the set of an old Sergio Leone, and Almodóvar was hugging me, thanking me, and I just thought about how much I love movies and what a unique challenge this was and how much I wanted to seek out these kinds of experiences,” Hook said. “I felt somewhat better that I did, and I don’t know how to say it otherwise.”

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