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Dubliner Stuart Townsend always wanted to star in a western and now gets his wish in “Apache Junction.” PHOTO COURTESY OF SABAN FILMS

Jericho Ford is a desperado with morals

 "About Adam," "Queen of the Damned" and "Salem" alum Stuart Townsend says playing a gunslinger in the new western, "Apache Junction," was a dream come true.   

“I wanted to play a cowboy my whole life. Who doesn’t want to play a cowboy? No one had ever thought of me in that role, but I had always harbored those ambitions to put on the belt and the shoes and the spurs and go and be a cowboy, but it never happened [until now,]” the 48-year-old actor told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview. 

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Townsend was offered the lead in "Apache Junction" nearly a decade after he worked with its producer, Daemon Hillin, on the Thai gangster flick, "A Stranger in Paradise." 

“He just called me up out of the blue and said: ‘Hey, I’ve got this script. It’s a western.’ He sent me the script and I read the logline and I just read the character’s name -- Jericho Ford -- and I said: ‘I don’t even need to finish it. That kind of name is so iconic, I’m in.’ I read the script and just loved it. It’s a straight-up, shoot ‘em up, classic western,” Townsend explained.  

Written and directed by Justin Lee, "Apache Junction" co-stars Trace Adkins, Scout Taylor-Compton, Thomas Jane, Ed Morrone and Victoria Pratt. It follows reporter Annabelle Angel (Taylor-Compton) as she shows up to write a story about the wild titular town and is immediately set upon by ruffians. Jericho, an outlaw attempting to live a quiet life, rescues Annabelle, but his killing of the villains who tried to assault her pits him against a powerful man. The film is streaming on pay-per-view platforms.      

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Hope and redemption are important themes in "Apache Junction," particularly in how they pertain to Jericho and his relationship with Scout.

“The first time she sees him, he is in a bar brawl and then he is in a gunfight,” Townsend said. 

“He saves her and shoots a bunch of dudes down in a split second, so clearly he is this menacing force, but then she starts to realize that he is actually a good guy. It’s kind of what I liked about him. He is introduced as this badass guy, who is an outlaw, but when she gets into trouble, he instinctively helps her.”

Townsend created a backstory for his desperado. The details didn’t make it into the movie, but the actor believes they gave him clarity regarding who the character is and added nuance to his performance.

“I always felt that he was an outsider, probably suffered a lot of trauma in his life and probably had been alone a lot in his life,” Townsend said. 

“You see this friendship he had with Wasco [Ricky Lee], this Native American character. You see how deep it is. So, I felt like this is a guy that doesn’t have many friends, but has morals. He is an outsider, but he does have a code and he ends up in this town kind of through misfortune.”

While meeting Scout earns him enemies, the act of rescuing her also renews Jericho’s sense of humanity, “with him maybe figuring out how to have a real life, not just an outlaw life,” the actor mused.

Scout isn’t just a damsel in distress in the film. She is a gutsy young woman in the male-dominated profession of journalism, who is determined to get the story, even if it means risking her own safety.

“She’s out of her territory, but that’s what she wants to do. She is brave enough to go and find the truth, but then what she finds is it is a dangerous town and she is a little bit naive. I thought that was a great premise for the story,” Townsend said.   

No 19th century-set western would be complete without a gunfight showdown in the middle of the town. 

The one in "Apache Junction" not only met but surpassed Townsend’s expectations.

“I also liked that this isn’t a movie with tons of special effects,” he added. “We stripped it back down to two guys on a dusty street and we were filming on a set that had been used by so many westerns. So, it was just kind of the history. I was like, ‘I’m not the first actor to stand here and do a duel or a gun fight.’ It felt great. It really did.”

So, did all of those elements integral to westerns -- weather and horses, for example -- cooperate with the production in New Mexico and California?

“Everything cooperated except COVID. COVID started, when we, basically, started our film,” Townsend recalled. 

“Within 10 days, we had to shut down and we had to come back nine months later. It felt like we were riding back to this story and, yet, everybody’s world had been changed and everybody was a little bit traumatized, wearing masks, getting tests and 10 to 15 pounds overweight.”   

Returning to work outdoors in the fresh air after being restricted for months because of the coronavirus pandemic was exhilarating for the cast and crew. 

“Just to be able to gallop off and not be locked down felt really, really good,” he laughed. 

Townsend thinks westerns, including his, capture something a lot of moviegoers are craving nowadays. 

“There is something in modern-day America that [makes us] yearn to go back to that time. Even though it was dangerous, it was also a time of pioneering spirit and freedom and endless expanses and new territories,” he said. 

“It is a very romantic time for Americans and I think, particularly post-COVID, westerns are going to be popular. They’ve always been popular, but they go in and out.”    

The father of two young sons is careful about the jobs he accepts now, preferring instead to play guest starring roles and characters in fast-shooting independent films to larger projects that take him away from his family for long periods of time.

“Right now, they are the people who need me most in my life,” Townsend said. 

Stuart Townsend grew up in Howth, Dublin, in the 1970s and ‘80s, one of the three children of former model Lorna Hogan and professional golfer Peter Townsend. He studied at the Gaiety School of Acting in his native city and made his stage debuts in Ireland and England in the early 1990s. Although the Dublin-set film “About Adam” (2000) raised his American profile, he is perhaps best known for playing Dorian Gray in the 2003 comic-book adaptation “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” He also wrote and directed “Battle in Seattle,” a 2008 political action-thriller about the protests at the 1999 WTO Ministerial Conference, and starred in the short-lived TV shows “Betrayal” and “Night Stalker.”