Oscar Nominee Taylor Sheridan on Guns, Politics in Film and 'Hell or High Water'

Mark Judge | July 27, 2016 | 9:50am EDT
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Actor and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (AP Photo)

Note: Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is a 2017 Academy Award nominee for his film "Hell or High Water." CNSNews.com talked to Sheridan last July, when this profile first ran. 

Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan doesn’t believe in putting personal politics in his films.

"For me as a storyteller, which is a great responsibility to an audience, you know someone is going to give you their time and their money to be entertained and possibly enlightened in some way, for me to try and impart my politics on them is, I think, arrogant and patronizing," Sheridan told CNSNews in a recent interview. "I feel like if an audience can ever get a sense of my politics I have really failed them. I show sides of a coin. I show sides of a coin, both of them, and everyone else can make their own conclusions"

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that’s either purely good or purely evil,” he adds. “Mercifully there are very few Hitlers. Sadly there are very few Ghandis. Everyone else lives in some varying degree in between.”

Sheridan is also an actor, who is probable best known for his role as David Hale in “Sons of Anarchy.” He received a Writers Guild of America Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for his previous film, 2015’s “Sicario.”

Sheridan's new film is “Hell or High Water.” It opens August 12 and stars Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster, and tells a story of  Texas brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) who rob banks to save the family farm. The farm is facing foreclosure because they brothers took out a predatory loan to pay for hospice care for their mother. They are pursued by Marcus (Jeff Bridges), a Texas Ranger with only a few months away from retirement.

Sheridan describes the characters this way:

Tanner is a product of his environment and choices that he was forced to make as a child, as an 11 year-old boy. They were victims of abuse, victims of poverty. That doesn’t justify what they do, but it does explain. There were other choices to make in the film and they didn’t make them. There were countless choices before the film started, in their imagined past, that they didn’t make, that could have altered the course of where they ended up. But it doesn’t minimize the circumstances that they were surrounded by.

While it is a bank that gives the brothers the predatory loan, Sheridan says that the brothers "had to take action and work at it" to get the loan and could have turned it down. "There are very good people working at banks, and there are some pretty selfish people working at banks – at every profession," he says. "It just seems that when you’re dealing with money, the consequences of working with the wrong person are greater. They were desperate, and they did what a lot of people did when they are desperate."

“Hell or High Water” is set in West Texas, and most people carry guns. At one point one of the brothers says, “The concealed carry law makes in damned hard to rob a bank.”

Still, it’s impossible to tell what Sheridan’s views are on guns, and he wants to keep it that way. He tells CNSNews:

The reality of living in a really small town far from a big town, is that you don’t have the support services that exist. And so there’s a sense of independence that exists in small town Texas, in small town everywhere - small town Wyoming, small town Nevada. It’s self-reliance. And that self-reliance might mean, if someone breaks into your house the cops are 20 minutes away - what do you do? Is that an endorsement of anything? Not my place.  But to have the conversation is healthy for both sides. We’re so polarized which I think in a lot instances is the fault of news media – 24-hour news as entertainment, Having to be divisive in order to garner viewership. I think our politicians have capitalized on that as well. It seems almost impossible for people to have a dialogue and discuss. We just live in these two extremes. Pick the topic, it doesn’t really matter what it is anymore. Whether is guns or the environment or taxes, or schools, there is no “lets come together and figure out a solution.” It doesn’t exist anymore. We live in extremes.

In “Hell or High water” the Texas Ranger Marcus, played by Jeff Bridges, is facing retirement. He has no family and his one remaining friend is his fellow ranger Alberto (Gil Birmingham). Marcus often playfully insults Alberto, who is Native American.

According to Sheridan, the insults, often trading in stereotypes about Native Americans, reflect a reality about the loneliness of Marcus and the way men show affection rather than hostility: "We talked a lot about it," Sheridan says, "and [Bridges] was concerned, as I was concerned, and [director] David [Mackenzie] was concerned, that if not handled properly, you’ve alienated an audience. Because what he is saying is extremely insensitive. And yet he was able to express it in a way that showed the flaw in his character and not the insult towards another.  And it showed it’s a man who’s just incapable of expressing his feelings and saying how much he cares about somebody – he can’t do it. And the way he does it is with insults. Which is the way guys (maybe not with racial insults) have expressed affection for friends forever.  But it’s magnified because it’s the last chance he has to spend time with this guy, and look at how he treats it. That’s a real heady thing for an actor to take on. And I don’t let it get resolved. He has to convey all that regret, because it’s not resolved."

Sheridan adds, “When you get the opportunity to work with actors like Jeff Bridges – the guy has never been overpaid. No matter how much he’s been paid, he’s never been overpaid.”

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