This year, Taylor Sheridan made the transition from actor to screenwriter with his film Sicario, a border thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring his dream cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Thanks to producer Basil Iwaynk of Thunder Road, Sheridan’s trajectory was unusual—he wrote the script in four months, escaped development hell entirely, and had a film shot from his first draft four months later.
Sheridan was inspired to write Sicario based on the real drug war transpiring on the border at the time, and the way in which it was shockingly ignored in the media: “They’re our closest neighbor who we’re so economically and culturally intertwined with, and yet we ignore it,” he says. “I felt I could explore this world in a way that it had not been explored before with relation to the militarization of our police.
“I didn’t have to dig too deep to find information (in the research process)”, he says, though he admits the film was “entirely an act of the imagination”—an exploration of a situation that had escalated to a climactic point. “All of the violence that you see was based on actual events, taken completely out of context and fictionalized, but bodies on bridges and bodies in walls, I didn’t make that up.”
The more challenging aspect of his research involved digging into the infrastructure of the different military and police organizations, and understanding the ways in which they interacted. “I had no idea if the (Central Intelligence Agency) and the (Defense Intelligence Agency) work with the (Federal Bureau of Investigation), and I would suspect that they do in Afghanistan and that they don’t here,” he says.
For Sheridan, working extensively as a “journeyman actor” on such series as Sons of Anarchy and Veronica Mars gave him a unique perspective that was highly influential in developing his methodology as a writer. “I would love nothing more than to be considered an actor’s writer,” he says. Having played lots of smaller roles himself, he tries to provide a satisfying arc for even the smallest characters in his scripts. As a result of working in network television, where stories are driven forward through dialogue and exposition due to a lack of money and time, “there’s almost no exposition in my dialogue, and I intentionally broke a lot of rules of the structure of storytelling because I’d been held to them so long,” he says. As a writer, Sheridan’s main goal is to perform “the hat trick, to create a script that entertains, and educates, and enlightens at the same time.”
Shooting already has wrapped on Sheridan’s next feature, Comancheria, which was directed by David Mackenzie and stars Chris Pines, Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster. It’s part of a Western trilogy that includes Sicario and Wind River, which Sheridan intends to direct himself and currently is casting. This three-part project is driven by his fascination with the “modern American frontier” and the ways in which that frontier has changed… and stayed the same. “The west is so uniquely us,” he says. “The consequences of actions are so clear there because there are so few people, and it’s so wide, and it’s so raw. I’m from the west. I grew up in the country, and so I wanted to examine my home.”
To see a short featurette on Sicario, click play below: