Earlier this week, Vulture posted excerpts from fifty screenplays that showed how female characters were described in the scripts of the films that made them famous. It was a fun, enlightening exercise in which we learned how the male-dominated field of screenwriting tends to view women (a lot of attention is paid to how hot the writer thinks the character needs to be!). Plus, we occasionally received gems like this description of the protagonist to the early nineties NC-17 drama Showgirls, for which writer Joe Eszterhas was paid $2 million merely for writing the description of the idea down on a napkin:
Her name is NOMI MALONE. She looks from a distance like a kid. She stands along the Interstate, outlines in the shadows of the setting sun. She’s got a big American Tourister in front of her with a sign on it that says: ‘Vegas.’ The suitcase looks like it’s been dropped from a plane or something. She’s wearing a baseball cap, a worn black leather jacket, torn jeans, and time-kissed cowboy boots. She’s got her thumb out.
Isn’t that great? Nomi Malone, cinematic icon defined by her casual attire and her big dreams. Anyway, after reading through all of the descriptions in the Vulture post, we at Texas Monthly decided to play too. As befits our mission, we looked at a number of scripts to see how the Texan-ness of a variety of characters was expressed to readers. Because this is still the film industry, we should warn you that (1) there are not a ton of female characters getting compelling descriptions, (2) most of the scripts are written by men, and (3) a whole lot of these fellas are defined by their cowboy hats, whether or not they’re actually cowboys. Without further ado, here are ten iconic characters from films with Texan heroes, and how they were introduced to the world:
Ron Woodruff, Dallas Buyers Club
The role that earned Matthew McConaughey his once-unthinkable Academy Award for Best Actor was described in vivid detail, with screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack ensuring that his Texan identity was on the forefront of readers’ minds.
RON WOODROOF, early 40’s, handsome, long sandy hair, denim clad, worn snakeskin boots, dusty, cowboy hat, mirrored aviators, is engaged in wild SEX with a WOMAN. He watches the rodeo through open slats in a BULL STALL as the STEER throws the COWBOY violently thru the air; he lands hard on the dirt.
Bud Davis, Urban Cowboy
Director James Bridges and Texan screenwriter Aaron Latham approached John Travolta’s Bud confidently, defining him, appropriately, by his choice of what to listen to on the radio.
A young man in his early twenties. He has a three day growth of beard. He is tired. He keeps looking off toward the various exits on the freeway. Behind him the skyline is beautiful and overpowering. Radio in truck is on, tuned throughout the film to the local country-western station KIKK. (Is there a station called KTEX?) Bud looks off.
Harry Stamper, Armageddon
Michael Bay’s Armageddon has a whopping four credited screenwriters (including Star Wars: The Force Awakens auteur J.J. Abrams). The script that’s floating around online, though, is written by Robert Roy Pool, and the character of Harry Stamper (played by Bruce Willis in the film) is a Texas roughneck tasked with saving humanity—even if he eschews more stereotypical Texas hobbies for golf and classical music in his introduction.
HARRY STAMPER, world’s foremost expert on offshore deep drilling, immaculately attired in golf attire and spikes, stands on a patch of Astroturf with a five iron in his hand. Piped-in MOZART drown out the rig noise.
Lee Scoresby, The Golden Compass
Writer/director Chris Weitz went from small-scale comedies like American Pie and About a Boy to adapting the first (and only film) title in Philip Pullman’s epic fantasy saga. The story is set mostly in a mythical version of England in which people are paired with animal “daemons” that represent their inner selves—but both Pullman and Weitz understood that if you’re building a version of the real world in which larger-than-life characters emerge from places steeped in mythology, you’re gonna want a Texan around, too—hence Sam Elliott’s Lee Scoresby, who was a classic, if incongruous, cowboy battling evil in the snow.
At this, a STRANGER steps up onto deck from the main cabin. He’s dressed in a long DUSTER and a wide-brimmed hat. His daemon is a long, skinny, threadbare hare. This is the Texan LEE SCORESBY. The Gyptians are surprised to see him. As he yawns, the duster pulls back to reveal two Colt revolvers in holsters on his belt.
Michael Bolton, Office Space
On the other end of the “mythical, iconic” spectrum, there’s Michael from Mike Judge’s Office Space, who was introduced to the world listening to Houston rap from within his car.
Inside the car we see MICHAEL BOLTON. No, not the famous singer, just a guy who happens to have the same name by an unfortunate coincidence. Michael Bolton is twenty-six and looks like a young republican. He has glasses, brown hair parted on the side, shirt and tie. He is listening to a gangsta rap song (Scarface — “The Diary”) with his stereo cranked. He sings along, knows all the words.
Jungle Julia, Death Proof
Vulture included the description of the radio DJ character from Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof in its list, and for good reason: It is, er, a striking example of how some male screenwriters seem downright thirsty for the women they’ve conjured. (Ever wonder if Tarantino considers a “big ass” a “good thing”? Wonder no longer!) It’s certainly vivid, detailed writing that succeeds in leaving the reader with an indelible impression of the character.
A tall (maybe 6ft) Amazonian Mulatto goddess walks down her hallway, dressed in a baby tee, and panties that her big ass (a good thing) spill out of, and her long legs grow out of. Her big bare feet slap on the hard wood floor. She moves to the cool rockabilly beat as she paces like a tiger putting on her clothes. Outside her apartment she hears a “Honk Honk.” She sticks her long mane of silky black curly hair, her giraffish neck and her broad shoulders, out of the window and yells to a car below. This sexy chick is Austin, Texas, local celebrity JUNGLE JULIA LUCAI, the most popular disc jockey of the coolest rock radio station in a music town.
Sheriff Bell, No Country for Old Men
The Coen brothers—who for the sheer number of characters with ties to the Lone Star State in their films could be considered honorary Texans—tend to write their scripts in a way that reflects the tone of the film. The screenplay to The Big Lebowski meanders in its descriptions; the script to No Country for Old Men is terse and telegram-like, befitting a project adapted from Cormac McCarthy.
Sheriff Bell, sixties, in uniform, slaps a horse on the ass and gives it a “Hyah!” to send it clattering up the ramp and into the trailer.
LaBoeuf, True Grit (2010)
The Coen Brothers are more vivid in their description of Matt Damon’s bumbling Texas Ranger LaBoeuf in their remake of True Grit.
The room is dim. A man sits facing her in a straghtback chair, faintly backlit by the daylight leaking through the curtained window behind him. He exhales pipesmoke.
The man rises and, spurs jingling, crosses to the window, and throws open the curtain.
Mattie squints at him against the daylight:
The man has a cowlick and barndoor ears and is once again well-accoutered for riding. He steps away from the window and reseats himself.
Sheriff Sam Deeds, Lone Star
In case the title was too subtle for you, John Sayles’s crime masterpiece really wants you to know that this movie is set in capital-T Texas. Check out the way he wrote the opening credits sequence and introduced Chris Cooper’s Sheriff Sam Deeds.
A distant cloud of DUST appears on the horizon MUSIC underscores that we are in Texas, and we SUPERIMPOSE the OPENING CREDITS as the dust takes form around an APPROACHING CAR. The car comes close enough to see it has a County Sheriff’s insignia on the side.
We see SAM DEEDS, the Sheriff, driving. Sam is 40, quietly competent to the point of seeming a bit moody. He sees something up ahead. MUSIC, CREDITS END as Sam pulls off the road and we see the sergeants standing in the scrub.
Bliss Cavendar, Whip It
There are occasionally screenplays written by women that actually get produced despite the extra hurdles they face, and UT grad Shauna Cross’s Whip It, based on her novel about the world of Austin roller derby, is one of them. The script goes out of its way to introduce the readers to Texas as a setting—specifically, the Texas pageant world in which protagonist Bliss Cavendar (played by Ellen Page) finds herself awkwardly placed.
A flock of TEENAGE GIRLS fight for space in front of a backstage mirror. Welcome to the world of beauty pageants—Texas style.
In this high stakes, do or die, pageant prep-a-thon, zits are concealed, hair is teased and lips are glossed.
Bliss herself, of course, isn’t a great match to that world, as we see from her own introduction:
Drowning in a sea of pink taffeta, we find the elusive BLISS CAVENDAR, 16, bent over a sink with her head under the spout.
A pair of duct-taped, Converse sneakers peek from the hem of her frilly pink gown. Despite her pageant-pretty looks, Bliss is flirting with rebellion.
Bonus: Friday Night Lights (television pilot)
While the screenplay to the feature film version of Friday Night Lights isn’t on the internet, the teleplay to the beloved television series is—and let’s take just a moment to reckon with how series creator Peter Berg described the characters of Coach Taylor, Tim Riggins, Tyra Collette, Lyla Garrity, and a few of our other football pals.
Coach Taylor, in the original draft, was somebody called “Coach Eric Long”—hardly an inspiring name—but gentle face, fierce eyes, can’t lose, right?
A lone car pulls into the massive parking lot. COACH ERIC LONG—gentle face, fierce eyes—gets out. Stares silently up at the workmen.
The sequence that introduces Riggins and Tyra is intercut with a few other character intros, and if you’re an FNL fan who enjoys how well developed the show’s female characters are, you may want to avoid thinking too hard about the difference in how Tim Riggins is introduced from how we meet Tyra, whose name is a parenthetical afterthought the first time we see her:
TIM RIGGINS AND A GIRL (TYRA) passed out on the living room floor. The room is trashed: food, Jack Daniels bottles, half-folded piles of laundry.
It actually gets worse for poor Tyra as the script goes on—but shout-out to Adrianne Palicki for finding the depth in a character that was “naked little honey” when she auditioned for it.
Tim’s out cold. The naked little honey starts stirring and purring. The blanket slides down low off her naked young back.
Jesse Plemons’s Landry started off as a garden-variety nerd:
LANDRY CLARKE: Sixteen, skinny and wired with a massive red and black zit on the right side of his nose. Landry clearly doesn’t play football.
The Garrity clan made their debut defined by Lyla’s beauty, Buddy’s belly, and the youngest son’s mercifully-not-spoken-aloud name:
LYLA GARRITY: Dark haired, seventeen and stunning, is in the kitchen dressed for cheerleader practice.
Lyla’s making Rice Krispie snacks shaped like footballs with individual player numbers on them.
Her FATHER, BUDDY GARRITY, a full-bellied West Texas Car Man and Permian’s head booster studies the sports page and eats waffles next to his similarly framed eleven year old son LITTLE BUDDY.