John Wayne left big footprints to fill both in the entertainment world and elsewhere as well. He would probably be proud that many of his children have stepped into the Hollywood arena.
Brendan Wayne, his grandson, is the latest to make that leap. Currently appearing in Cowboys & Aliens, the 39-year-old actor admits he’s started his acting career late. Married to actress Sara Arrington, the two have three girls Celia, 12; Simone, 3 and Lola almost 2.
Wayne, born Daniel Brendan La Cava, studied child psychology at UC Santa Barbara and worked odd jobs before studying film at the University of Southern California. When he began acting, he asked his parents about taking on his grandfather’s surname. They both encouraged it, and to date Wayne has appeared in 20 movies and television shows. He was very excited to talk about his career, famous grandfather and Cowboys & Aliens.
What made you say yes about doing Cowboys & Aliens?
What didn’t make me say yes? It’s a dream! I grew up playing cowboy – I think every kid did – and then you get this great opportunity to do a western, and I’ll jump pretty much at any western. It’s funny, I’ve done a couple of other westerns and I have stunt people, they don’t let me do them. But on this movie I got to do all my own stunts. This job was great, I mean Jon Favreau, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde and one of my personal favorites – Sam Rockwell. It was a no brainer, along with the idea of doing a western again.
Having a famous grandfather did you want to grow up like grandpa and be actor?
When I was a little kid I wanted to be cowboy, like he was. When I was older, I wanted to do something, but it was not acting. Compared to most actors, I’ve started this career late in life. I think acting was where I was always headed, but there was always some hesitation on my part. But my mom was always supportive.
I was the last of eight kids, and whatever we wanted to do was fine. So when I decided to be an actor, she said then you’re not going to be like any other actor because you don’t have that option; you have a responsibility to be better. You have to know what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and to know all sides of this [career] because that’s what [John Wayne] did, and people will expect that from you. That was the best advice I ever had.
What is it about westerns that are special to you?
I think we need them. Maybe that sounds a little presumptuous but this country grew up with that kind of movie behind us. Some may think we don’t connect with them, but I look at my grandfather’s popularity.
I was lucky enough to be born John Wayne’s grandson. He hasn’t been out of the Top Ten Harris pole in popularity since its inception. In this past poll he was in the Top Three in a demographic of 15 to 35-year-olds. That blew my mind. That tells me there’s something transcendent not only about what he did, but about the stories he told and the way he told them. So for me, doing this film was about bringing back something from that day. Cowboys & Aliens has some scare in it, and it’s a darn good western. You want to bring your tweenager and above to it. It has some substance, values and it’s fun.
I did an interview with Joe Sewell who was on the set with your grandfather in the 1930 The Big Trail and he shared some things about your dad that I thought were great.
Wow I didn’t know anyone was still around from that film. That’s amazing. My grandfather took a big chance on that film, and they took a big change on him doing that film.
What’s your character arc in Cowboys & Aliens?
I play a deputy who is aligned to Sheriff Taggart, and played by Keith Carradine, who is such a great actor. We have to go out on the trail to get our people back. And I’m there for his grandson Emmett (Noah Ringer) as well. I’m kind of a guardian; that’s my deputy profile, but also a simple townsperson who does the right thing – like my grandfather would (in his films). Good or bad, the deputy is there at the moment you need him.
What was it like to work with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford?
As cool as you think it is. You hope that the people you idolize or look up to when you’re growing up live up to what you’ve based those decisions on and they’ve exceeded that. It was tremendous to watch Harrison. He knew what needed to be done and understood his character and other peoples characters too, so he was so valuable in that sense. And he understands filmmaking and the genre well because he’s a part of the generation that had westerns. And Daniel was very keen on doing a western and having the challenge of doing a classic American role. It was great to be around them, and I was proud to watch them perform.
How was it to act with the sci-fi aspects without seeing the aliens that were done later with CG?
We had seen some prototypes, but hey, you’re an actor; you better be able to image it. So after seeing it for the first time, it does capture what Jon (Favreau) wants; it has a classic aggressive alien feel to it. I studied with a great Russian acting coach, and what stuck with me was about the creation of atmosphere and environment; when you walk onto a set and how I see it, and the mood and feeling of the props and how they affect you. This helps, so that when I walk on a set ready to work, it’s not so unfamiliar and I’m prepared to go with it.
You have three children, what do they think about their dad being a movie star?
My girls they are as fun as it can get. They just assume that’s what it is, daddy’s job. But my 12-year-old has seen me grow in the business and enjoys my success, and she’s very much a part of it. And I think that’s important to see what hard work can get you in life. We’re often spoon fed this entitlement so it’s nice to see hard work pay off. Her mother reflects this; she took time to have the kids and now is working. She’s getting ready to do an Oliver Stone movie, so she (the daughter) is getting to see it all from dad working, and mom at home and mom’s career. That empowerment of women is so important today, especially for my three daughters.
In your opinion what’s the audience for Cowboys and Aliens?
I’d say 15 and up. The western does bring in a different crowd. A traditional western lover is going to have to let go with the alien part and live with it, and vice versa to a certain point. But I think it will grab a much bigger demographic than just that of a sci-fi movie. It’s a fun feeling, but aggressive, and it actually has heart that harkens back to a few of my grandfather’s roles.
What’s up next for you ?
I’m working on The Red House with Kate French. It’s a horror movie, which my grandfather never did, but if he did I guarantee he’d be having as much fun as I am. This fall I’m going to Spain to do Dollars From Hell with a Spanish Director in a town where Sergio Leone did his westerns, and it’s going to be grittier than Cowboys and Aliens.
Do I hear a bit of an Italian accent already ?
(Laughing) Yes, that’s from my dad’s side.
Wayne’s roles include Couples Retreat, Fast & Furious, Angel And The Bad Man, and
When not filming he’s actively involved in the nonprofit organization John Wayne Cancer Society. He also enjoys boxing, playing basketball, coaching his girl’s soccer team and riding his two horses “Out of Money” and “Deuces.”