EXCLUSIVE: Kelly Reichard’s First Cow, based on her frequent collaborator Jonathan Raymond’s 2004 novel The Half Life, brings new life to pre-statehood Oregon and the early Americans seeking to stake their claim in the burgeoning Pacific Northwest.
The A24 film, which is up for three Film Independent Spirit Awards including best feature and best director among its string of honors from critics groups this awards season, centers on the friendship between a kind-hearted cook named Cookie (John Magaro) and King-Lu (Orion Lee), an entrepreneurial-minded Chinese salesman. When the outsiders cook up a plan to sell sweet treats, the first bovine in the area becomes their cash cow – but with a catch.
When penning his novel, Raymond said he wanted to write about American history in a way that was “against or contrary to East-to-West manifest destiny.” Featuring more than just white settlers, Raymond said he sought to spotlight the internationality of 1820s global capitalism, from the Spanish fur traders to the generations of Native American tribes who found themselves in the mix.
“This is an interesting and complex counter-point to the American history that we learned in fourth grade civics class,” Raymond told Todd McCarthy during the movie’s Contenders Film panel.
Reichardt, who previously adapted Raymond’s stories for her films Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy & Lucy and Night Moves, co-penned the First Cow script with Raymond and said that reshaping the book was necessary to incorporate her two characters — and Eve the cow — into Raymond’s history. By introducing original characters, she and Raymond built out the world around Cookie and King-Lu, bringing in Alia Shawkat, Ewen Bremner, Jared Kasowski and Toby Jones to play them.
First Cow, which had its world premiere at Telluride in 2019, is executive produced by Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Louise Lovegrove and Christopher Carroll. Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino and Anish Savjani are producers.
Read Reichardt and Raymond’s script below.