True Grit is a story of a tough-talking teenage girl seeking revenge for the slaying of her beloved father. She hires the old, drunken US Marshal Rooster Cogburn to help her. By the time the film came out in 1969, the American Western as a genre had already run its course. These True Grit behind-the-scenes stories depict how both the original Henry Hathaway adaptation and the Coen Brothers' 2010 installment went about breaking the rules to become the perfect revisionist model of the classic Western.
True Grit changes the rules of the genre. There are no classic Western protagonists; there is no higher moral ground where heroes wear white cowboy hats and villains are draped in black. John Wayne was the quintessential American movie Western protagonist. When he took on the role of the cantankerous, morally questionable Cogburn, the juxtaposition of persona helped to earn the Duke his only Academy Award. How dare Joel and Ethan Coen seek to remake such a movie classic, right?
But the Coens never questioned their motives; after all, they live in revisionist movie territory. The filmmaking pair have almost never made a straightforward genre picture. They routinely subvert genre convention while still managing to stay within the model's malleable walls. In this case, the Coens opted to completely ignore the 1969 film. Instead, they used the classic Charles Portis novel as their only source material. From there, in trying to find the right actor for the story's uncommonly complex heroine, the Coens landed on then-unknown Hailee Steinfeld among a sea of 15,000 contenders. And, of course, they convinced Jeff Bridges to take the role made famous by Wayne - and allowed him to wear the eye patch on the "wrong" eye.
Check out all the behind-the-scenes tales of both the original True Grit and its 2010 remake, all in one tidy list.
Jeff Bridges Did His Own Horse Riding - Two Arms In Hand, Reins In His Teeth - In The Film’s Climax
Jeff Bridges is willing to commit to a movie role, even if that means putting his life at risk. The climax of both True Grit movies involves Rooster Cogburn riding his horse without the use of his hands because he needs both guns to save the day. John Wayne may have won his only Oscar for his portrayal of the US marshal, but in filming the scene's heroic ending, Wayne rode a moving truck instead of a horse. Of course, one can't quite blame the late Hollywood legend, who was already in his 60s when he filmed True Grit.
Though Bridges was also in his 60s when he took over the role, he chose to take the true way and do the scene on an actual horse. Joel Coen revealed:
That was something we - and even Jeff - assumed would have to be fudged in one way or another, but he actually did all that for real. It was really quite difficult, manipulating those two big heavy [arms] with the reins in his teeth without being able to control the horse except with his legs.
Wayne Insisted On Being Able To See Out Of His Eye Patch
Rooster's most defining physical feature is the eye patch over his left eye. The construction of a traditional eye patch would not typically present a veteran wardrobe designer like Luster Bayless too much trouble. However, the Duke wanted to actually be able to see out of the eye patch. He also requested that he get a fresh eye patch every day because they would get dirty.
Through trial and error, Bayless was able to construct an eye patch that Wayne could see out of by using gauze and window-screen mesh.
Hailee Steinfeld Beat Out 15,000 Girls In An Open Audition For The Lead Role
The Coen Brothers ran into a lot of trouble trying to cast the role of the 14-year-old, revenge-seeking, tough-talking, irrationally confident Mattie Ross. They auditioned over 15,000 actors online for the part originally played by Kim Darby. It's a tough role for a young teen girl, and they could not find an actor who could handle the no-nonsense, quick dialogue. According to Joel:
Ninety percent of the kids just get eliminated for one very obvious reason: They're not actors in any sort of natural way. Beyond that, the screenplay, as a reflection of the novel, is written in a very particular kind of language, so it's almost like casting a verse player.
Just weeks before the film was set to start production, the Coens discovered an unknown 13-year-old actor named Hailee Steinfeld. The young starlet ended up clicking with Bridges and beat out her competition.
"Just the thought of it was kind of intimidating," Steinfeld said of her audition. "But the minute I met [Bridges], I realized that he was just there to do a job - and I'm there for the same reason, and I kind of clicked with him and the Coen Brothers."
All Steinfeld did in her first major big-screen role was earn an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. Matt Damon could not believe the adjustments the still-green thespian could make after getting notes from the legendary directing duo.
"I saw the notes they were giving her, and they were some pretty complex adjustments," Damon said. "And we'd do the scene again, and she'd just nail it. I remember looking up at [cinematographer] Roger Deakins and saying: 'Is she doing this stuff every day? Is she that good?' And he just nodded to me and said, 'She's that good.'"
The Coens Intended To Reunite With Bridges For Years After 'Lebowski,' But Hadn't Found The Right MoviePhoto: Gramercy Pictures
The Coen Brothers clearly have an eye for casting. Perhaps their biggest home run was giving the part of Jeffrey Lebowski, AKA The Dude, to Bridges for their 1998 surreal comedy The Big Lebowski. It's almost impossible to think of any other actor in the role. Bridges just is The Dude.
The Coens and Bridges knew that they wanted to work together again at some point. The filmmakers told the actor they were interested in making a Western. The idea intrigued Bridges... until hearing they were looking to remake True Grit with Bridges himself in Wayne's iconic role of Rooster. Bridges's first reaction was to second guess the Coens. He didn't abide the idea of taking on the role that earned the Duke an Academy Award.
The Coens convinced Bridges to accept the role by insisting their version was not necessarily a "remake" of the original film. Instead, their source material was simply the 1968 Charles Portis novel, not the 1969 adaptation. Bridges said:
As soon as I read it, I saw what they were talking about because the book is wonderful, and it reads like a Coen Brothers script. So I took those guys up on that and didn't refer to John Wayne or that other movie at all and just looked at the book. Took it totally fresh like I would any other part.