Doing whatever it takes to save their family, even if it means overstepping some of the very laws they once swore to always protect, is an equally timely and timeless vital message, in both fiction and real life. That’s certainly the case for the characters in the new period crime drama, ‘Let Him Go,’ as well as the 2013 novel of the same name that it’s based on by Larry Watson.
Filmmaker Thomas Bezucha wrote, directed and produced the screen adaptation, which is set in 1963. Focus Features is releasing ‘Let Him Go’ today in theaters. The thriller’s distribution highlights how even more than 55 years after the story’s events take place, Americans are still willing to do whatever it takes to defend not only their loved ones, but also the ideals they hold dear, no matter what experiences they had in their past, or may face in the future as a result of their actions.
‘Let Him Go’ follows retired sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife, Margaret (Diane Lane), as try to protect their young grandson, Jimmy (Bram and Otto Hornung), after the death of their son, James (Ryan Bruce). When James’ widow, Lorna (Kayli Carter), eventually decides to remarry, and chooses the emotionally and physically abusive Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), Margaret and George become increasingly concerned for her and her son’s safety.
After Lorna and Donnie decide to move back in with his family and take Jimmy with them, Margaret convinces George to leave their Montana ranch to track down the Weboys in North Dakota. Along the way, the Blackledges meet and receives help from Peter Dragswolf (Booboo Stewart), a young Native American rancher who’s living and working off his land on his own, after struggling through an upbringing that separated him from his family. When they later discover the Weboys, who are led by matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville), have no intention of letting Jimmy leave their family, George and Margaret are left with no choice but to fight, with Peter’s help, to protect their grandson and former daughter-in-law.
Bezucha and Stewart generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing and starring in ‘Let Him Go’ during individual exclusive phone interviews. Among other things, the filmmaker and actor discussed that they were drawn to bring the story to the screen because they appreciate the intimate look the story offers into the characters’ strong nature. They both also shared that they cherished the opportunity to work with not only each other, but also the rest of the cast, especially Costner and Lane, who effortlessly infused their characters with a powerful courage to protect their family.
The conversation with Bezucha began with the writer explaining why he was inspired to pen the screenplay, and what the scribing process was like on the script. “I have been a fan of Larry Watson, the novelist, for a long time. I was lucky enough to be the guy who plucked the ‘Let Him Go’ book off the shelf at Barnes & Noble, and I felt like I really had an idea of how to” adapt the novel for the screen, he shared.
“The characters spoke to me, and the story has this thriller engine. But the story also offered the opportunity to paint this intimate portrait of this long marriage between George and Margaret, who are played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. That was the real appeal to me,” Bezucha also divulged.
Further speaking of the fact that ‘Let Him Go’ is based on Watson’s book of the same name, the scribe then delved into how having the source material influenced the way he approached adapting the story for the screen. “The great things was that I started with a book I love. But then I had to really figure out how I was going to tell the story,” he mentioned.
“The novel actually starts around the 15-minute mark in the movie, which is when Margaret packs up the car and tells George she’s going to go (to look for Lorna and Jimmy). So as a filmmaker, I needed to front-load all of the backstory that had gotten her to that point,” Bezucha explained. “It was extremely challenging, but also so much fun, to figure out how to show how the family had gotten to the point that Margaret was going to pack the car and go find their grandson. It was really fun to do that with a minimum of dialogue.”
The filmmaker then began discussing how, in addition to writing the screenplay, he also directed the movie, and what his overall helming style was like like on the set. “I always intended to direct it. I had a vision of how I wanted the story to unfold, and how it should look. Of course, it had every Terrence Malick reference, and I also pulled from Cormac McCarthy,” he shared.
“One of the things that we did very early on was work to make it look like we made it in the late ’70s. That meant that I didn’t want to (do things like) have green screens for when the characters are driving in the cars. Everything is as practical as it can be; there aren’t any drone shots in the movie,” Bezucha added with a hint of a laugh.
“There’s something about the integrity of the Margaret and George characters (in the book) that I wanted to match in the movie…So I wanted the approach to feel handmade and old-school; it feels like an old-fashioned movie,” the director added.
Like Bezucha previously mentioned, the drama stars Lane and Costner in the lead roles. Bezucha then delved into what the casting process was like for ‘Let Him Go.’ “I was lucky enough to meet Diane very early in the process. I owe her kind of everything, because she got the ball rolling. I was so admiring of her desire (to star in the film). She’s a staggeringly beautiful woman at the age of 54, but she was determined to look (Margaret’s) age. It was her mission to represent women as they are, so she wanted to have the gray hair and make-up to dial the glamorization dial down, and that was great,” he shared.
“We then went to Kevin, and he read the script. But I don’t know how I got him,” the filmmaker admitted. “I think it was because of the script. But I feel like a lottery winner twice.”
Stewart began his interview by sharing how he became involved in starring in the film. “I became attached the movie through an audition. When I got the notice for the audition, I saw who else was involved, and instantly thought, oh my gosh, this is amazing!,” he revealed with a laugh. “I also thought, how can I make my audition tape different, and stand out?
“I grew up on a ranch, and we have a small room with all the leathers and horse equipment, and it’s been there since I was a baby. So I said, ‘Let’s shoot the audition tape in this room,; and I guess it worked!,” the performer laughed.
“I was then sent the script, and within the first 10 pages, I was like, ‘This is incredible, I love it!’ Then I showed up on set,” Stewart added with a laugh.
Once the actor signed on to star in ‘Let Him Go’ and read the script, he did some additional research to help him better understand his character of Peter. “I looked into some of the things he had been through throughout his life, including being in a residential school, and seeing how the natives were treated, and how they were being stripped of their culture. It was a lot to take in, but I’m proud to represent that, and give a voice to the people who went through that.”
Stewart also cherished the experience of collaborating with Bezucha as the writer-director. “Thomas is amazing. I really enjoyed working with him, and hope I get to work with him again. The way he approaches the scenes, and works with the actors is so calming, and there wasn’t any stress. I’m sure he had a lot of stress, but he didn’t show it,” he added with a laugh.
“It was such a relaxed environment, and he really listened. I liked being around him as a person. I instantly felt comfortable and free to try anything. It was a very nurturing set, and he was genuinely kind,” the performer noted.
In addition to working with the filmmaker, Stewart also embraced the opportunity to collaborate with his co-stars. “Getting to work with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane was incredible. I couldn’t believe that I had the chance to work with them. I didn’t want to get in their way, but I constantly wanted to be around everybody, and just soak everything in,” he revealed with a laugh. “I wanted to soak in their knowledge, and I learned a lot.”
While the story in the thriller is largely set in Montana and North Dakota, it was shot around Alberta, Canada. Bezucha then delved into what the experience of shooting ‘Let Him Go’ on location was like during principal photography.
“We shot all over the Alberta province in Canada, but we were based in Calgary. That way, we could mimic Montana and North Dakota in 1963. Obviously, this isn’t a huge budget movie, so we had to go (to Canada) for tax incentives,” the helmer divulged. “But I loved being up there. We shot very close to where Kevin shot ‘Open Range,’ so it was familiar stomping grounds for him.”
Stewart also chimed in on the experience of shooting the movie on location in Canada. “The locations were extremely beautiful. We were in Calgary, and it gave us some of the most beautiful backdrops ever. It was freezing cold and extremely windy, though!,” he added with a laugh. “Driving onto set everyday was amazing, and picturesque of what you’d image of this wide open range.”
While shooting the drama on location, Bezucha also served as one of the drama’s producers. He discussed why he decided to also take on producing duties. “I was happy to be one of the producers, since I had found the book. We got very lucky, because I knew movies on this scale and budget are often hard to get made,” he admitted. “After working on the script, I put my blood, sweat and tears into the project, and knew I was going to also be a producer on it…I wanted to be part of the process until the end.”
With Focus Features releasing ‘Let Him Go’ in theaters today, the filmmaker also spoke about the thriller’s theatrical distribution. The release comes as theaters in many states are just reopening following months of being closed, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“Much to my relief, I wasn’t the person who got to decide where and when the movie is released,” Bezucha admitted with a nervous laugh. “There are people in a much higher pay grade who are doing that. We were originally supposed to come out in August, as the movie’s been done for a year. So I’m happy that we’re finally releasing the movie.” He added that “While I miss movie theaters, I only want people to go if they can go safely.”
Stewart is also embracing the fact that “People are starting to be able to safely go back to theaters. I can’t wait to see the movie on a big screen!,” he noted with a laugh. “I think this is the type of movie that calls for a theatrical release, with the all-encompassing soundtrack and overall tone of the film. When you’re in a theater, you’re automatically locked into the tone. This film very much does that, as it puts you into the time period that it’s set in.”
Once people watch ‘Let Him Go,’ the actor hopes that audiences can take away its important messages. One such lesson that he wishes viewers can embrace about his character of Peter is “the strength he gained from what he’s gone through, which is something that I really value. To be able to come out of those experiences, and still want peace, instead of angry and bitter, is amazing. I really admire that strength.”