As New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson continues to draw headlines for considering granting a posthumous pardon to outlaw Billy the Kid (and angering the family of Pat Garrett, the lawman who’s believed to have shot Billy down in a blaze of glory in 1881), we can’t help but appreciate the timing: Young Guns II, which reignited the debate over whether The Kid died at Garrett’s hand that day at 21, or had lived to be an old man as “Brushy Bill” Roberts, was released 20 years ago in August 1990. We recently chatted with John Fusco, screenwriter of both Young Guns movies, who reminisces about the sequel — and Jon Bon Jovi nabbing it a surprising Oscar nomination, for Best Original Song — in the issue of EW out today. Because we love us some good movie trivia — and stories that involve Bon Jovi being wrapped with explosives, Viggo Mortensen carrying a rifle, and a 35-year-old retired horse — here are a few of his best stories about the making of Young Guns II:
• Fusco used Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” as “mood music” while writing the first film because it captured the contemporary rock ‘n roll cowboy feel he was going for in his telling of the Billy the Kid story. He told star Emilio Estevez that on a research road trip, and Estevez asked his pal Jon Bon Jovi if they could use the song over the end credits of the first movie, but Jon thought the song was too contemporary — the steel horse he rides is the band’s tour bus — and said he’d rather write something new. That never happened, but the seed was planted. Jon became a fan of the 1988 Brat Pack Western after its release and borrowed Estevez’s script for the sequel. One day he showed up on the Galisteo, New Mexico set of Young Guns II, acoustic guitar in hand, and Estevez introduced him to a surprised Fusco and said Jon had something he wanted to show him. They went into Estevez’s trailer, and Jon played “Blaze of Glory,” singing the lyrics from a crumpled sheet of notebook paper. “It had the edge and outlaw spirit of ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ but no anachronisms, and I loved it,” Fusco says. “I went out on-set and got my coproducers, and Jon played it a second time. It was pretty much a done deal right there. He told us about his plans to do a solo album and maybe write some other songs that were inspired by the film.”
Later that night, as Bon Jovi, Estevez, and Fusco sat around celebrating, Estevez convinced Jon to film a cameo in the dramatic prison break scene: “Bon Jovi said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it. But can I get shot? I want to get shot in this thing.’ They all want to get shot for some reason. Like Tom Cruise was shot off the roof in [a cameo] in the first one,” Fusco says. “So we wrapped Jon in explosives, and he’s got an electric detonator in each hand so he can trigger and blow himself up. I remember he goes, ‘How many times are you gonna shoot this guy?’ ‘Hey, you know, blaze of glory.’ I’m hanging out watching this, like this guy’s gonna go up like the Fourth of July, and they talked me into going into the pit. It was a prison break from a giant pit in the ground, which was historically accurate. So I went into makeup, and they put a prosthetic cattle brand, JC, on my cheek, which was for John Chisum, the role James Coburn played. They threw me into dusty buckskins, and I went down into the pit with Bon Jovi, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips and a bunch of extras. In the scene, I come up out of the pit and strangle the deputy with my handcuffs, and Bon Jovi comes right up behind me and gets blown away…. When you look back at Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Bob Dylan was part of that movie, and he did ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ for the soundtrack. Having Jon, that was kind of our Bob Dylan for the new Billy the Kid.”
“Blaze of Glory,” which became the title track of Jon’s first solo album (released the week after the film), eventually went to No. 1, won a Golden Globe, and earned an Oscar nomination. “A few months after the film opened and the album was out, I received this big package from Jon in the mail and it was a framed platinum record to commemorate a million units sold of Blaze of Glory. It was really moving,” Fusco says. The album ultimately went double platinum. “He also gave me that crumpled sheet of notebook paper with the original lyrics, which I still have.”
• Two more things Fusco still has: Chato, the horse Jack Palance rode in the first Young Guns movie and the one who carries the naked Jane Greathouse [Jenny Wright, pictured] away side-saddle from the burning brothel in the sequel. “I retired him on my ranch,” Fusco says. “He’s now 35 years old, and as I’m speaking with you, I’m looking out at him grazing, and you’d think he was nine years old. He’s got the same great memories.” And the mint 1879 Colt Lighting Estevez bought himself to use in the films. “I was always bugging him to look at it and to hold it, and after our final shot of Young Guns II, he walked up to me, he pulled the gun out of his holster, he twirled it, he handed it to me then walked away,” Fusco says. “He said, ‘That’s yours. You’ve been bugging me to look at it for so long, take it home.”
• Another actor who took a special interest in his weapon: Viggo Mortensen, who has a small role in the sequel as a bounty hunter riding alongside William Petersen’s Pat Garrett. “It’s amazing what he brought to that role,” Fusco says. “I remember I was in my hotel room in Santa Fe, and there’s this knock on the door pretty late at night. I open it, and there was Viggo holding a rifle. He said, ‘I got some ideas about the scope my character would have on his rifle. Do you have a minute?’ He came in, and he sat down dead serious and showed me this conversion he’d done to an historically accurate scope. He said, ‘With all the copper mining in these parts, I think it would be copper.’ I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this guy is serious. He’s really got it.’” Years later, the two ended up doing Hidalgo together. “He took an Hidalgo horse home, and I took one home who’s out there with Chato. Every now and then Viggo threatens to send me his horse from Lord of the Rings,” Fusco says. ”Horses can be a pain in the ass when you’re traveling, and he knows I run this kind of movie retirement home for movie horses.” (In addition to Hidalgo and Chato, who was also in Three Amigos – could we possibly love this horse more? — Fusco had Three Moons from Silverado, who died this past summer.)
• Estevez was equally detail-oriented. To become ol’ “Brushy Bill” Roberts, he had to be in makeup at 3:30 a.m., Fusco remembers. “He didn’t want to go to bed. He said, ‘I need to have my eyes look good and bloodshot.’ We went out and stayed up all night drinkin’ tequila and he looked pretty weathered, pretty haggard. His voice was good and horse.” It’s easy to understand why actors were drawn to the film. ”When we started Young Guns II, I got a call from James Robinson, who was the head of Morgan Creek. He said, ‘Look, we got to get Charlie Sheen back in the sequel. Charlie really wants to do it. And I said, ‘But Dick Brewer, his character, is dead. We had this shocking killing 20 minutes into the first movie.’ And James Robinson said, ‘Look, you’re really into that Indian stuff. Isn’t there some sort of mystical way you can revive him?’ I said, ‘I don’t think so,’” Fusco recalls with a laugh. “And still, Charlie showed up on the set and hung around just to see the guys, to see his brother [Estevez], getting into mischief with us, taking us all to Mexico for the weekend. It was that kind of movie. It just attracted people to the fun of doing a Western, and the whole spirit of the ensemble was contagious.”
• Young Guns may one day ride again — on the small screen. “When I go into pitch meetings today, 20 years later, a lot of people running studios will say to me, ‘You know, that film was such a part of my childhood.’ I say, ‘Childhood? Ohmygod,’” Fusco says, with a laugh. “On a personal level, that means a lot to me. I wrote Young Guns on spec because I really believed that the young age of these guys historically, the whole legend of Billy dying at 21, would attract a young staple of stars, and that would be the game-changer. It has its place in pop culture. It broke the Western out again, made it accessible. Lately, there’s been a little buzz of people contacting me about the possibility of doing Young Guns as a TV series. They are very attracted to the idea of rebooting it with today’s young stars.” Fusco, who’s set to write and exec produce a soon-to-be-announced “epic historical action-adventure” TV series produced by Harvey Weinstein and Ben Silverman for Starz, says he could be game. And so might someone else. “Old Chato’s still got some life in him,” Fusco says.