John Wayne: One Famous Co-Star Explained How the Cowboy Icon Would ‘Intimidate You’ in 2013 Interview

by Emily Morgan

The late and legendary John Wayne wasn’t far from the characters he played in movies. His brutal honesty, unrelenting courage, and ferocious pursuit of justice were just a few of his characteristics both on and off camera. Despite his good intentions, he was also known for being extremely intimidating. 

During an interview with the AV Club from 2013, The Duke’s former co-star, James Caan, opened up about how nerve-racking it was to be in his presence. Together, the two actors played opposite each other in the classic Western El Dorado. 

“Oh, did he? Well, you can imagine how big it was for me, then. [Laughs.] Here I am, I’m like, 23, and I’m with him all day long. Between him and Robert Mitchum, I immediately went and got three-inch lifts in my cowboy boots so I could stand next to those guys,” he said. “Yeah, that was quite the experience. But I was always kind of a punk, you know? A real New York guy. John Wayne was always calling me “kid,” and he was a guy who, if he could intimidate you, he would. But I just kept laughing at him. And, thankfully, he respected that.”

Actors Weigh In on Working With John Wayne

In addition to Caan, fellow actor Dennis Hopper once commented on what it was like to work with Wayne. Hopper starred alongside the Western legend in 1969’s True Grit

“This one day he arrived on the set of True Grit, and he wanted to know where ‘that Pinko Hopper was hiding.’ He was walking around with a gun at his hip, but I think he wanted to have a political discussion, as opposed to committing actual manslaughter! (laughs) Anyway, nothing ever came of it. That was just Duke.”

Before El Dorado, Caan landed his first starring role in Howard Hawks’ drama Red Line 7000, but it was not a commercial success. However, after he impressed Hawks, he put him in El Dorado, playing Alan Bourdillion Traherne, also known as Mississippi, with Wayne and Robert Mitchum.

James Caan started his acting career in the 1960s, nearly three decades after Wayne. Caan got his start appearing on TV shows such as “Naked City” and “Route 66.” Later on, he made his movie debut when he landed El Dorado alongside legends such as Wayne and Robert Mitchum. 

Afterward, he got a significant blockbuster movie role when he booked Sonny Corleone’s part in The Godfather. As a result, Caan cemented himself as an actor and maintained his notoriety ever since.