Health & Family

Ed Harris talks about the Old West and crooning

Eight years after impressing critics with “Pollock,” his feature debut behind the camera, actor Ed Harris returns to the director's chair with the Old West drama “Appaloosa.” Adapted from Robert Parker's 2005 novel, the $20 million film stars Mr. Harris as Virgil Cole, a laconic lawman who — along with partner Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) — is hired to bring a corrupt rancher (played by Jeremy Irons) to justice. Mr. Harris, star of such films as “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “A History of Violence,” recently spoke with The Wall Street Journal.

Q. The Old West is a pretty far cry from the artistic enclaves of the Hamptons.

I hadn't really set out to make a western, but I started reading Parker's novel in the summer of 2005 and fell in love with the relationship between these two guys before I even finished the book. It just happened to take place in 1882.

Q. What was easier to shoot?

“Pollock” was really tough in terms of the logistics. I ended up pumping a whole lot of my own money into “Pollock,” but I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. With “Appaloosa,” I was telling a story — I wasn't making a subjective film about this man I had been reading and thinking about for years and years.

Q. Westerns are pretty few and far between these days. How difficult was this to get greenlit?

It was hard to set up. The script was received really well, but the price tag was a little high; it would have been a lot easier if it were $10 million. It was a constant fight until the end in terms of budget. There was a time we couldn't even have a train, so I started looking into stagecoaches, but it wasn't the same. A western needs a certain scope and production value to look authentic.

Q. You've worked with most of your actors and crew before. When did Viggo Mortensen, your “A History of Violence” co-star, come aboard?

I showed him the book (during the Toronto Film Festival in 2005), he really liked it, committed to do it, and God bless him, he's a man of his word and stuck to it, despite being busy to the point of excess. He literally showed up a couple days before filming started last year, and had done all his homework. Also ready was Jeremy Irons, who was excited to do the film because he's never done a western before.

Q. You also croon a tune you wrote, over the ending credits. I didn't know you were a singer.

I didn't either! But it sounds all right. (Composer Jeff Beal and I) knew we wanted some music over the credits, so I wrote a song, and he wrote the music, and we stuck it in. It's basically (my character) Cole singing to Allie (played by Renee Zellweger), so it's got some humor to it.