More and more productions are finding eco-friendly substitutes for plastic water bottles these days, and "True Grit" is a case in point. "It was the first film I ever came on board where I was given a stainless steel water bottle," says Barry Pepper, who plays outlaw Lucky Ned Pepper. "It was a gift to the crew and cast, and beautifully embossed with 'True Grit,' with a note on it. It said, 'We'll have pumping stations with clean water everywhere you go. By utilizing this stainless steel water bottle, we'll save 30,000 plastic water bottles in the course of this filming.' Since then, I went on to several other films [including] Terrence Malick's. Everyone's doing it. I thought that was really cool," says Pepper, who is also currently in "Casino Jack" and will play Bobby Kennedy in History Channel's "The Kennedys."
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, "True Grit" is more a new version of Charles Portis' novel than a remake of the 1969 western that won John Wayne an Oscar, with Jeff Bridges in the iconic Rooster Cogburn role — looking far older and grubbier than he appears in "Tron." "That's the fun of my job, that I get to play all different kinds of guys," says Bridges, who remembers, "I used to love it when my dad [Lloyd] would play a western. When he appeared at my door all dressed up in his cowboy clothes, it was a thrill to me so I guess there's some of my dad in there."
While the story, about a young girl who hires a besotted but tough U.S. Marshal to find the man who killed her father, is serious, there is plenty of dark humor in the screenplay, which also preserves the novel's idiosyncratic period language. "There's a musicality and a rhythm to the dialogue. It's so specific that you're working very much with what's on the page," notes Pepper. "Most people were probably pretty illiterate back then. They were maybe schooled on the King James Bible and that really infused the way they spoke. I think a lot of westerns have missed that."
Shot in Santa Fe, N.M., where uncompromising locations, uncooperative weather, many night shoots, horse-wrangling and a short schedule make filming difficult, "True Grit," opening Dec. 22, has a stellar cast also including Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and remarkable 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, who nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for her first feature film role. The Coens dispatched casting directors to scour the country and saw thousands of girls for the role of Mattie Ross before they found Steinfeld in their proverbial backyard — she's from Thousand Oaks, in northwest Los Angeles County. While she's acted since she was six and had ridden horseback before, Steinfeld had to learn to shoot a gun and roll a cigarette for the role. Before filming, "I had my dad take me to a shooting range with a friend of ours who's an LAPD officer and he told me everything I needed to know."
As for being the only woman in the cast and far younger than her co-stars, "I feel like all of them are big kids, so it was a lot of fun," she says, but reveals there was more estrogen on set than what's portrayed on screen would indicate. "I was surrounded by women the entire time — hair and makeup people and wardrobe, my mom and my tutor." Now topping many critics' choice lists for Best Supporting Actress, Steinfeld is almost guaranteed an Academy Award nomination. Bridges, last year's Best Actor winner for "Crazy Heart," may score one, too, but might have a tougher time repeating, given the formidable competition from front runners Colin Firth ("The King's Speech") and Jesse Eisenberg ("The Social Network").