SAN ANTONIO — In “The Alamo,” to be released
nationwide today, Billy Bob Thornton gets to play one of the most
mythologized Americans of all time, Davy Crockett. Only this is not
the Crockett most Americans have read about. Call him David.

In his famous Arkansas drawl, Thornton explained, “What I
tried to do in this movie was play him as a regular guy as opposed
to the image we usually have, the John Wayne sort of
thing.”

A whole generation knows the story of the 1836 battle from the
1960 film“The Alamo,” directed by and starring John
Wayne as Crockett, then called Davy, sporting the famous coonskin
cap. The real David Crockett was practically nothing like the
fictionalized version, and John Lee Hancock’s “The
Alamo” makes that clear. Moreover, at a time when the story
of the Alamo is barely taught in most schools anymore,
Hancock’s action-packed education lesson does not stop
there.

“A lot of people don’t know about the Alamo, but
kind of almost worse than that, there are so many people who
don’t know that Texas used to be part of Mexico,”
explained Hancock (“The Rookie”), a Texas native.
Initially, Ron Howard intended to direct this new account of the 13
day encounter where 189 Texans (both American and Mexican citizens)
found themselves under attack by 1,400 members of the Mexican army.
When he dropped out, both Disney, the film’s distributor, and
Howard asked Hancock to fill his place.

Even after directing the story of the Alamo nearly 50 times as a
youngster in his backyard, Hancock could not immediately commit to
the task. “I have such respect for the story and everything,
that I thought this one I really can’t screw up,”
Hancock recalled. “You know, there’s a responsibility,
being a Texan, to the story and so I just tried being as honest as
I could be in deciding if I was the best person to do this
movie.”

Hancock finally agreed to make the film. The first actor he
approached with the project was Thornton, with whom Howard had also
had discussions for the role of Crockett.

While many actors might find the legendary role of Crockett
imposing, Thornton, who portrayed a dead ringer for James Carville
in Mike Nichols’s “Primary Colors,” found a more
historical figure as a comfort. “With playing Davy Crockett,
the pressure is more about living up to this legendary guy,”
Thornton explained. “You see, no one knows what Davy Crockett
was really like. So that takes some of the pressure off of
you.”

With Thornton aboard, Hancock proceeded to cast Dennis Quaid as
Gen. Sam Houston, Jason Patric (“Narc”) as Col. James
Bowie, Patrick Wilson (“Angels in America”) as Lt. Col.
William Travis and Emilio Echevarria (“Amores Perros”)
as Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

Neither Patric nor Wilson knew the story of the Alamo beforehand
and neither spent much time reading historical documents for help
with the roles. Wilson took the script as fact and Patric explained
about the knife-wielding Bowie, “He never left a paper trail
because he was always scamming somebody.”

Thornton drew on the wealth of literature available about Davy
Crockett, both fictional and true, to create his character, as
difficult as it might have been for him. Thornton remembered,
“I was given some books by some of the historians on the set.
Some of them were very dry.”

“I have a hard time reading anyway.” Thornton
added.

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