‘We’re not calling it “Young” anymore’

Emilio Estevez didn’t just want to play any cowboy, he wanted to play Billy the Kid.

“At the time, I owned a house in Montana, so I was around horses and guns,” the now 61-year-old actor-turned-filmmaker explained during a recent Role Recall interview when asked about Young Guns. “So for me, the opportunity to get on a horse and actually get paid for it, and play this historical character, [was great].”

The problem was, director Christopher Cain didn’t have Estevez in mind for the lead role in the Western focusing on the adventures of outlaw William H. Bonney (aka Billy the Kid) and associates like Doc Scurlock and Jose Chavez y Chavez during the Lincoln County War in 1870s New Mexico. The film, starring some of the periods hottest pinups, was released in theaters 35 years ago.

But Estevez, who had traveled the world as a child visiting father Martin Sheen’s film sets and who shot to fame in such seminal 1980s films as The Outsiders and The Breakfast Club, was bullish.

YOUNG GUNS, Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, Lou Diamond Phillips, 1988.

Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Lou Diamond Phillips star in Young Guns. (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Courtesy Everett Collection)

“I lobbied hard because I was not the first choice,” Estevez continued. “The director was looking at a lot of other actors to play that role. I actually called the director who I knew I’d worked with before [on 1985’s That Was Then… This Is Now], and I said, ‘I was born to play Billy the Kid.’ And he says, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘I was born to play this role, and you can go on and audition whomever you want.’ I said, ‘I’ll come in, I’ll audition, whatever you want, you’re going to end up casting me in this film.’

“And he says, ‘Well, what about you playing Doc? You’re more of the sensitive guy. I’m really thinking about Kiefer Sutherland to play Billy.’ I said, ‘You got it the wrong way, bro. You got it the wrong way. Switch ’em.’

“And he did. Sorry, Kiefer.”

Sutherland, whose had gained fame in The Lost Boys and Stand by Me, didn’t seem to mind. “That was the most fun I ever had on a film,” the actor said of the testosterone-fueled set during a 2016 Role Recall interview. “We hung out in the bar together, we hung out in the restaurants together. We were really good friends.”

 Lou Diamond Phillips, Casey Siemaszko, Dermot Mulroney, Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez and Kiefer Sutherland in Young Guns

Clockwise from the back left: Lou Diamond Phillips, Casey Siemaszko, Dermot Mulroney, Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez and Kiefer Sutherland in Young Guns (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Courtesy Everett Collection)

In addition to Sutherland as Doc, the film also starred Lou Diamond Phillips (Chavez), Estevez’s brother Charlie Sheen (Dick Brewer), Dermot Mulroney (“Dirty” Steve Stephens) and Casey Siemaszko (Charlie Bowdre), with Terrence Stamp as John Tunstall, the English cattle rancher who employs Billy and his fellow “Regulators.”

“It was a [tight-knit cast],” Estevez agreed. “We had three weeks of just horse training where we would just ride, and the wranglers got us more comfortable on horse playing tag. So again, you have to get real close to people, if you want to touch ’em and tag them. But, you know, the horse doesn’t necessarily want to get that close. It was always running in and cutting one way and cutting the other. And so it was three weeks of kind of a boys camp of learning how to ride and shoot better and really train at that.”

Arriving in theaters on Aug. 12, 1988, Young Guns opened number one at the box office and ultimately earned $56 million, over five times its budget. It was the 19th-highest-grossing movie of the year, just a few shades under other ’88 favorites like Scrooged, Bull Durham and Twins.

While critics didn’t think the film fired on all cylinders (“Young Guns rounds up a posse of attractive young leads, but this cheerfully shallow Brat Pack Western ultimately has too much hat and not enough cattle,” reads the consensus at Rotten Tomatoes, which scores it 42%), but audiences gave it an A- CinemaScore.

A sequel, 1990’s Young Guns II, was quickly greenlit, again scripted by John Fusco but this time directed by New Zealander Geoff Murphy. Christian Slater joined the cast as “Arkansas” Dave Rudabaugh and Alan Ruck played Hendry William French. (The characters played by Sheen, Mulroney and Siemaszko didn’t make it out of the first film alive.)

While Estevez admits he pilfered his co-star’s role in the first movie, he says it was Sutherland who “made the mistake” when it came to Young Guns II.

“He insisted if he come back for Young Guns II, that he only was available to play a smaller part. I think he was only available for three or four weeks,” Estevez recounted. “And that he had to be shot in the shootout at Stinking Springs, which is a historically documented shootout between Billy the Kid’s gang and Pat Garrett. Well, Doc Scurlock wasn’t there. It was Charlie Bowdre. Doc Scurlock lived on to be a 90-year-old man. So Kiefer made sure that he’s not in Part III [laughs] by getting himself killed in Part II, which again, is historically inaccurate.”

And yes, Part III, 30-plus years later, is still in the works.

In 2021, Phillips told us Estevez showed him a first draft of the script, which seemingly returns Chavez to action despite the character’s (apparent) death in Part II.

“What I think is really wonderful is John Fusco, the original creator of both Guns I and II, is doing a polish on the script,” Phillips said. “It’s in a good place, but as far as I know there’s not a green light yet.”

As Estevez told Yahoo earlier this year: “It is now [still in the works]. Part III is something that we’ve been on and off on, working on the script for the better part of a couple years, and trying to figure out all the legal on it, who would be the distributor. … So I think we’re finally there to a certain extent. But that remains to be seen. I certainly think there’s an audience for it. I think nostalgia is now at a premium, so that’s a story that we can get a lot of mileage out of still.

“But we’re not calling it Young anymore, we’re just going to call it Guns.”

Young Guns is available to stream on The Roku Channel and FreeVee.

Leave a Comment