On Saturday, Willie Nelson hosted an open-air screening of his 1986 Western unknown, Red Headed Stranger, shown in the original ancient western city of Luck, Texas, where the film was filmed and where the legend of the country and his family live today.
“I’m glad to have you here,” Nelson said, greeting the crowd of 400 who had attended a special screening organized by Rolling Roadshow and Luck Productions of Alamo Drafthouse of the first digital presentation, and recently resurfaced the classic, directed and written by Bill Wittliff and based on the acclaimed 1975 concept album of the same name by Nelson. Nelson, now 86, played the main character, the strange redhead, a preacher who became an outcast, although originally the part was sent to Robert Redford, who passed away. Nelson said it a little differently, joking, “Redford chickened out.
Luckily, Texas could be considered Nelson’s own Graceland, where he spends most of his time in silence these days with generations of close families. There are 75 rescue horses and a golf course, “there if I feel like swinging and failing,” Nelson joked. “There’s a lot to do here.
The Old West City with a church, lounge and clubhouse where Nelson likes to play poker and dominoes with friends was built 35 years ago for the filming of Red Headed Stranger. Originally, the script called for buildings to be burned down, but Nelson gave the city a sparkle, which has been restored and added over the years, and even built his own house higher up the winding dirt road.
Not many children who grew up obsessed with westerns can claim to have their own western city. But Nelson, a native of Texas from the small town of Abbott, can. He explained his love for western and how it is part of it (so much so that his faithful classical acoustic guitar is called Trigger and his son’s middle name, Lukas Nelson, is Autry).
“I grew up with Gene [Autry] and Roy [Rogers] and all those guys and I felt like I was a singing cowboy before I could sing or ride a horse,” Nelson said. “But I acted the way I could!
Does the outlaw icon like to act? After all, he has starred in more than 25 films throughout his long career. “I never see myself as an actor,” he said Saturday. “I react a lot.
Nelson’s daughter, Lana Nelson, costume designer for the film, described the shooting as very tough, with 20-hour days, but said her father was “the hardest-working man in the project. He spends the most hours, the most worry, the most energy. So everyone else has to do it too, because if he’s doing it, we have to do it. And all for the people who love him, because he also loves them.
Even with a grueling schedule in a 110-degree heat, there was a downtime on Nelson’s tourist bus, where the cast and team invited would gather to smoke grass. Actor Sonny Carl Davis revealed that he was called by director Wittliff because he was smiling too much during his impending death scene. “He takes me aside and says, “You’ve been on the bus, haven’t you? “Well, don’t look so happy, they’re going to put you in jail!”
Although Nelson had difficulty hearing some of the questions raised after the film screening, he had no trouble distinguishing the loud applause from the audience or the fans who shouted, “I love you Willie. When Nelson was asked if he was in on this for the applause, he replied cheerfully: “Oh, yes, yes. I live by that.