‘The Revenant’ wins Oscars and the hearts of Alberta cowboys

Innisfail’s Ivan Daines and friends proudly did their bits on screen and now celebrate film’s success

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When rodeo legend Ivan Daines tuned into the Academy Awards last month, he was as joyous as any cowboy could be when “The Revenant” claimed best actor and director honours.

“‘The Revenant’ is such a great movie. I was very proud when Leonardo (DiCaprio) won, and proud Alejandro (González Iñárritu) won,” said Daines. “It’s almost a western movie and I enjoy that kind of stuff, the action and drama of the outdoor Wild West movies, you know.

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“There are not a lot of great westerns around.”

Daines’ cheerleading for “The Revenant” is understandable because the retired national saddle bronc champion from Innisfail played a small but important part — a special skilled extra along with 40 other Alberta cowboys.

Before the shooting of the blockbuster film began in the fall of 2014 in the Canadian Rockies, he and his best cowboy pals were recruited by famed Longview wrangler specialist John Scott, whose resumé for adding the special cowboy touch to the silver screen includes work on the Oscar-winning movies of “Legends of the Fall” and “Unforgiven.”

“I have been doing the movie business for over 45 years and I have a core that work with us,” said Scott, a former rodeo man before becoming Hollywood’s leading cowboy production specialist, a role that includes providing the best livestock and cowboys.

“I hired all my retired cowboy friends because it’s important to be able to get away from a horse. It’s one thing to get on a horse but when a horse gets into trouble you have to have skill and knowledge to get away from him so you don’t get hurt or hurt other people.”

High Prairie’s Mel Hyland was asked to play a grizzled old trapper — and grow a beard. “I grew it but it was as white as snow. I had to darken it,” he said.

High Prairie’s Mel Hyland was asked to play a grizzled old trapper — and grow a beard. “I grew it but it was as white as snow. I had to darken it,” he said.
photo: Supplied

Along with Daines, his selection of cowboys included two-time world saddle bronc titlist Mel Hyland from High Prairie, former Canadian calf rope champion Mark Nugent of Water Valley, and renowned Innisfail-area horse trainer Bob Leggette.

“He (Scott) likes to get a big group of rodeo guys. It takes a lot of people to handle those horses, and put all that on,” said Nugent, who was hired by Scott as a wrangler captain. “He’s got everything so organized and has such a great group of horses it makes such a great difference.”

The cowboys faced long, arduous days of filming but it did not matter. They had a job to do.

“It is not the most important thing to see Leonardo. He’s a great star but everyone is working,” said Daines. “It’s continuous, and you want to be prepared because when they say rehearsal they want you there and going. They don’t want you saying, ‘Well, give me 10 minutes or half an hour.’”

The cowboys remain proud of the parts they were asked to do, whether it was just riding along in the background, bringing in the mules, organizing a herd of 100 horses, or just sharing good old cowboy camaraderie by a Rocky Mountain campsite fire.

“You get guys like Mel and Ivan and all the rodeo guys who have been around pressure situations, they know and can spot a wreck before it happens,” said Nugent. “They know how to look after the actors. It was easy. Everybody just did their job.”

The making of the movie has also been immortalized by Daines, an avid lover of country music who was inspired while on the set to write a song he’s called “Ivan Daines — Movie Song Track 2015.”

“The movie people really liked the chorus,” said Daines, whose tune, now uploaded on YouTube, honours the cast, crew and film. “They said, ‘Ivan, that chorus will live forever in movies.’”

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