Interview: Historical consultant Clay Landry opens up about The Revenant

DIY spoke with Clay Landry, a historian based in Wyoming who ran a 19th Century boot camp for the actors.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s highly anticipated follow-up to the Academy Award-winning Birdman, The Revenant, opens in UK cinemas on Friday 15th January and stars Leonardo DiCaprio as legendary explorer, Hugh Glass.

Set in the 19th Century, The Revenant is inspired by true events and depicts Glass’ survival against the odds when an expedition into the uncharted American wilderness goes horribly wrong. Attacked by a bear, Glass is betrayed by one of this fellow fur trappers, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and is left for dead during the harshest of winters. What spurs him on is his determination to survive and bring Fitzgerald to justice.

To celebrate the release of the film, DIY spoke with the film’s historical consultant Clay Landry, a historian for the Museum of the Mountain Man in Wyoming who, amongst other things, ran a 19th Century boot camp for the actors.

Your primary task was to run a boot camp for the actors. Can you describe what that entailed?
The director first asked me to develop a training schedule over a two week period and to describe the types of training and the blocks of time needed to cover each topic. The topics covered in the boot camp schedule were beaver trapping and fur processing, Loading, shooting and care of the flintlock rifle, trapper camps and equipment, making fire with flint and steel and trapper horsemanship. We ended up having one week in which we covered all of these topics with the actors and then periodic revisits to the gun training and horsemanship once filming began. I could not have asked for a better attitude and determination to master these skills than was reflected in this group of young men. While we surely had fun, their efforts in the boot camp made for a more realistic portrayal of the trappers’ life and shows in the film.

I understand you had to teach Leonardo DiCaprio to throw a tomahawk, how did he take to it?
When I began to work with Leo on the tomahawk I very surprised at how quickly he mastered the skill throwing the hawk and hitting the mark. In visiting with him later on he explained that he had to master knife throwing for a previous film and had gotten quite good at throwing the knife. That previous training gave him a head start when it came to throwing a tomahawk.

You also consulted on the historical accuracy of the sets and costumes. How did the level of authenticity compare on this film to others set in a similar period?
The trappers camp set used for the Indian attack sequence was about historically accurate as possible. The types of shelters, fire pits and cookware, fur press and beaver skinning and processing area were historically accurate. The fort was another set that was very well done. The size, scale and appearance of the log palisades and buildings were very historically accurate. The keel boat used in the film was also had a very authentic appearance. For me the authenticity expressed in the sets, costuming, props and actors portrayal of the fur trappers life coupled with the majesty of the country put this film in a class by itself.

What difficulties did you entail when filming in such extreme weather conditions?
The cold and snow presented difficulties for everyone. There are so many instances in which the crew and the actors had to overcome an issue caused by the elements that it is hard to focus on any one. It appeared to me that both the crew and the actors felt the realism contributed to the film by harsh winter conditions made dealing with them worth it.

What is it about the 19th century era fur trade that fascinates you so much?
Because I live in the Rocky Mountain West I have always had an interest in the history if this region. The Rocky Mountain fur trade of the early 1800’s occurred in lands occupied only by a few native tribes and largely unseen by anyone else. The trappers who venture into this land to make a living saw the West in its last natural state and experienced a life style of freedom rarely seen in history. I study and research the history of that era in an attempt to understand the culture and lifestyle.

As someone who runs horse trips across the Rocky Mountains have you found an upsurge in bookings since the film’s release?
Because we are in the middle of winter just about all of the mountains in Montana are plugged with snow so we will not be taking any rides into the mountains for a few months. It is too early to tell if we will experience an increase in interest in mountain horse trips. I can tell you that both of the two fur trade era museums which I consult for are seeing more visits to their websites and Facebook pages. We are hopeful that this interest will translate into more museum visits this summer. Personally I am very hopeful that seeing this film will increase American’s interest in this exciting and unique part of our history.

The Revenant is released in UK cinemas on Friday 15th January.