John Lee Hancock
The director of the new Alamo movie takes on the storied battleand the eyes of Texas are upon him.
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You’re from Texas. What’s your own history with the Alamo?
My father was from San Antonio, and his mother lived there. Every summer, we’d make an annual trip from Texas City, where I grew up, to see her. Always when we were there, we’d spend at least a day at the Alamo. I remember being in the church and having a strong sense of history.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned in researching the revolution to prepare for the movie?
That the men inside the Alamo were not necessarily fighting for the same thing. They all had different ideas of what they were fighting for.
You know, of course, that Alamo historians disagree about almost everything that happened. Are you choosing sides or are you presenting a mix of the prevailing views?
I’m not trying to build a consensus among the historians, but I am drawing from many of them, and then I’m going to make my own version of the Alamo story. It’s probably safe to say that the script will be an amalgam of points of view and facts. It will be a truthful telling—a telling of both the factual truth and the emotional truth. Factual truth by itself is one thing, but you can’t understand what happened unless you tell the emotional truth.
The thing people worry about when they hear a phrase like “emotional truth” is theatrical license—things that never actually happened showing up on-screen.
When you take license, you have to make sure you understand why you’re taking it. It shouldn’t be wrong without your knowing the truth behind it. Sometimes, to move things along, you have to combine three scenes into one. The economics of the film business and the tiredness of our butts won’t allow for a fourteen-hour movie. This is not meant to be a history lesson. There were lots of historical inaccuracies in Lawrence of Arabia, but it still got me interested in the subject. That said, my sincere hope is that this will be the most historically accurate Alamo to date. I can tell you that there’s nothing in the script that’s been manufactured out of whole cloth.
How will your Alamo differ from the John Wayne—Laurence Harvey—Richard Widmark Alamo?
That Alamo was terribly exciting to me when I saw it. But I’m more interested in the idea of this being a civil war of sorts. I’m very drawn to characters like [Juan] Seguin on the Texian side and [Juan Nepomuceno] Almonte and [Manuel Fernández] Castrillón on the Mexican side—the moral bellwethers of the story.
What’s it like to be the guy in the crosshairs? Do you feel as if you have the burden of Texas history on your back?
I think we all do. Each of us working on this movie does. What I tell people is, If everyone in Texas made his or her own Alamo, there would be that many different versions of the story. It’s like somebody making a movie about my mother: I’d want the facts to be right, but I’d want it to be shiny in some places and dull in others. I’d be protective. I hope everyone who sees the movie will understand that our hearts are in the right place. evan smith