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With Netflix’s The Harder They Fall, writer-director-composer Jeymes Samuel brings swagger and style to the American West with a bloody revisionist take on the Western genre. The British filmmaker assembled an incredible cast — including Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, LaKeith Stanfield, Regina King, Delroy Lindo and Idris Elba — all playing characters based on real (yet nearly forgotten) figures from American history. The revenge tale sees Majors’ Nat Love and Elba’s Rufus Buck violently clashing (with the help of their respective gangs) in epic fashion on the dusty frontier. Here, Samuel shares with THR five items — from a space cowboy to the wild and bizarre world of Roald Dahl’s imagination — that inspired his feature film debut.
Samuel was immediately intrigued by the bounty hunter, who became a fan favorite despite his limited screen time in the original Star Wars trilogy. Samuel points to a brief interaction between Fett and Darth Vader (“the ultimate cinema baddie”) in The Empire Strikes Back. “Vader lines up the bounty hunters and doubles back on Fett, saying, ‘No disintegrations.’ And Fett replies, ‘As you wish,’ ” the director recalls. “I’m not saying Rufus Buck is modeled on Boba Fett, but his swag, his employment of words. … He’s one of my favorite characters in the history of cinema.”
Samuel bought his vintage Boba Fett toy as a kid at a secondhand store in London. “I would walk in every day to play with it,” he remembers, “and the owner told me I had to stop coming in to play with the toy. So I started giving him 10 pence every day until I paid for it.” The item is a reminder, Samuel says, of why he chose a creative path for himself. “Filmmaking and storytelling are all about fun. I’ve always said that the movie we make is for the public, but the actual making of a movie is for us, and we have to have fun.”
Alfred Hitchcock: The Complete Films
“Alfred Hitchcock is the only filmmaker whose films you don’t watch — you snort them, like a line of something you shouldn’t be snorting,” Samuel says with a laugh. “He’s literally one of the boldest filmmakers who ever lived.” This book, a celebration of the auteur’s filmography, was a reference point for Samuel when he was location scouting in New Mexico in 2019, and he credits Hitchcock’s films for teaching him how to become a filmmaker himself.
“The storyteller in every single film is the camera,” says Samuel. “I don’t think The Harder They Fall is super-stylized; I just think the camera gives you the tale in the best possible way. Alfred Hitchcock taught me that, and I find myself being confident in where I put the camera because of my love for Hitchcock [and] the way he broke rules and employed different visual techniques.”
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
Samuel considers this 1977 collection of short stories by Roald Dahl to be his favorite book of all time. “We all know his stories, from Fantastic Mr. Fox to The Witches to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but this is the first Roald Dahl book I ever read,” he says. “This book literally taught me how to write, and the title story taught me all about twists and turns and going where you least expect.” The biggest lesson Samuel took away from Dahl was to embrace chaos in storytelling. “My golden motto for everything that I do is: ‘Obey your crazy.’ No one obeyed their crazy like Roald Dahl — and no Roald Dahl story obeys its crazy like ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.’ ” The collection’s full title — The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More — also inspired the title of the companion album to Samuel’s 2013 short film, They Die by Dawn. “The album was called They Die by Dawn and Other Stories because this book is literally in my DNA as a storyteller.”
What Color Is Love
“They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I think the opposite is true for albums,” says Samuel of singer-songwriter Terry Callier’s 1972 recording What Color Is Love. Samuel remembers the moment he first spotted the record as a kid. “I was walking in Tower Records and saw a reissue of the vinyl. I took it home, and from track one, it literally changed my life.” Although What Color Is Love was a critical success, it was a commercial failure — but Callier had a career resurgence when his music became popular among British DJs during the 1980s.
While Samuel was working on the script for The Harder They Fall more than a decade ago, he was putting together another film that will be its follow-up. “I contacted Terry Callier to write the main song for my second movie, which he called ‘Virinia,'” says Samuel. Callier completed the track before his death in 2012. “His cadence, his voice, his stylings, his chord progressions, influence how I make music, and I think my song ‘No Turning Around’ on the Harder They Fall soundtrack is a very Terry Callier song.”
Before Samuel cut his teeth as a director, he was an accomplished singer-songwriter who went by the moniker The Bullitts. “This was the guitar I started writing songs on as a child,” Samuel says. He embellished it himself. “I got bored of looking at it. I took fabric glue and an old denim jacket, took out the seams and wrapped it around the guitar.” He says the instrument is the first tool when it comes to composing any of his music. “The sound of it is spoiled and muffled, which is totally my fault. But all of my songs start with this denim guitar.”
Samuel admits his prized possession once came close to being lost forever. “I worked on the music for [Baz Lurhmann’s 2013 version of] The Great Gatsby with Jay-Z, and I was staying in an apartment in New York on Wall Street.” When he returned to London, he realized he had absentmindedly left the guitar back in New York — and quickly learned that the apartment’s owner had sold the place. “I called the building, and they still had the guitar [in storage]. I wanted to cry because, for whatever reason, I had disrespected it.” He hopped on a flight back to New York just to retrieve the instrument and now barely lets the guitar out of his sight. “What was once a cheap guitar birthed every single song that [I wrote for] The Harder They Fall.“
This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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The Harder They Fall