Joshua R. Outzen goes from baby brother outlaw to hometown hero as Emmett Dalton in Nicholas Barton’s new film Death Alley. I got to speak with Joshua about this true story, becoming an outlaw, and the absurdity of the heist from the get go.
Death Alley is based on the true story of Dalton Gang who wanted to become the most famous outlaws in the United States, but that turned out to be a nightmare. In 1892, the outlaw Dalton brothers, Bill (Justin France), Bob (Tristan Campbell), Gratton (Jake Washburn) and Emmett, along with the rest of their gang, have set their sights on the impossible: to simultaneously raid both banks in the allegedly ‘No-Gun Town’ of Coffeyville, Kansas during a brazen daylight heist. Already on their trail is the tenacious Marshal Heck Thomas (Mark D. Anderson), and from the beginning their plan goes awry. Nervous that the lawman is so close on their heels and fearful they would be recognized, alterations are made that result in the gang becoming hostages in their own scheme while Coffeyville’s citizens, angered at the boldness of the assault, prove their unwillingness to acquiesce to the desperado’s demands and reveal they aren’t as unarmed as the Daltons believe.
Check out my conversation with Joshua.
How did you come to be a part of this Western?
Joshua: I met Nicholas in New Mexico on his last Western Dead Man’s Ending. I was a production assistant, I was just trying to help wherever I could and he gave me a small role in the film. I had one line and I got a couple scenes in and I had a really good experience with him. And then I think it was about a year later that I got a message from him asking if I could ride a horse, and of course I said yes, obviously. I did two months of horse training and the rest was history. I got very lucky to be able to meet him in New Mexico and he remembered me, I don’t know why he remembered me, but I am very lucky.
Did you actually know how to ride a horse when you said yes?
Joshua: I knew how to ride a horse, but I could not sprint on a horse, so I was definitely limited. There’s an awesome guy out here in South Carolina named Bobby and we did three days a week, two hour sessions, and he whipped me into shape so that I was able to do pretty much all my own stunts for the movie. So, by filming, I was very happy with my riding capabilities.
Did you have to do any weapons training?
Joshua: Yes, they went over gun safety with us, and then we had a short little session where we had a gun expert kind of talk us through what was what and how to use it and all that stuff. I did a little bit on my own out here, I have a neighbor who is a gun expert so I tried to prepare myself as much as possible and do a little bit of weapons training. Not quite as much as with the horse but yeah I was able to get a little bit in so I was prepared.
Did you know about the Dalton gang before going into this film?
Joshua: I’d heard the name the Dalton Gang, and that was all I knew. I just knew they were a famous gang. I had very limited knowledge, but once I got the role, I did my research and I was fascinated by the story. I was very fortunate to be able to portray a real character, definitely some pressure that comes with that but it’s an incredible story.
The fact that these were real people, did that change your approach to playing them?
Joshua: Yes, a little bit. I try to do a little research and just try to get some notes, and there’s different audio books and stuff that kind of describes the characters a little bit. I wanted to do the character justice. I wanted to make it my own somewhat but I wanted it to be based in the real Dalton character.
So, what was it like playing it outlaw?
Joshua: It was amazing. It was definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. Definitely my favorite set I’ve been on. It was just so cool. I mean we’re riding horses, shooting guns, the whole Dalton Gang, the cast, we got really close and it was so cool getting to play that type of character and just really go for it. It was just very high energy and I had so much fun, it was so much cooler than I ever could have imagined.
You have three on-screen brothers in this movie. How did the four of you create that bond?
Joshua: It was very cool. Tristan and I, we were rooming together so we got incredibly close. We went out a couple days before filming started and we’re just hanging out and getting to know each other so that chemistry was really strong. And then staying with Jake and Justin, we were all able to have conversations, we went to a couple dinners before filming and just hung out and connected and I think it shows. We all just instantly clicked. No one had an ego, we were all just excited and wanted to contribute to the best of our ability and we really clicked. It’s been great that I was able to make some friends out of this as well.
So how does it feel being the only Dalton brother that actually got to grow old?
Joshua: It’s very cool! When I was looking over the script, Nick asked me which role I connected with. And I just thought the full life, everything that Emmett Dalton went through, was just so fascinating. And getting to portray that character that it was, it was, it was amazing. I was very happy to get to portray that character because he is a very complex character and he went through a lot, and it was a dream come true to get to play him.
And there’s a very significant character change within him. What do you think of his change from outlaw to town hero?
Joshua: I think it was so cool that he was able to have this transformation. He didn’t take his second chance for granted and he made the most of his life. I thought that it was amazing that he was actually able to put something like that event behind him and move forward. And I think it’s incredible what he was able to do after something so horrific that happened. He just did a complete 180, he’s completely new person.
Did you get to visit Death Alley while filming?
Joshua: I did. I got to stand in the alley and I just kind of stood there and took it in. I walked around the whole area, seeing where all the shots happened and the deaths and just kind of sitting in that, letting the emotions kind of fill you. It was very impactful.
I bet. Just knowing that this was a real event with real people. It’s just incredible.
Joshua: Yes, it’s amazing. I mean, there’s definitely a lot of pressure with it, like, I don’t want to mess this up. There can be ancestors that might get on you for not portraying it right, so I just wanted to do the story justice, we all wanted to do the characters justice to the best of our abilities. And these were real lives. It was so cool to be able to play a real famous American outlaw. You can’t beat that.
I just can’t help but think that this gang is like the epitome of Murphy’s Law. Stepping back into Emmett’s shoes, is there anything that you would have done differently?
Joshua: Yes, I would have put my foot down. Once the hitch was gone, I would have demanded that we left the town because it was already going downhill. Obviously Emmett didn’t want to fight with his brother again right there in town, but once it starts going downhill and you get that feeling, I know he had that feeling in his stomach, that’s when you call it. I mean, he tried the night before, he made a big fuss, and at that point, it was just kind of driving Bob to be more stubborn because it has to be his decision. But I think that Emmett wanted so badly to change the plan but Bob, he’s like, ‘no, no, this is the plan and it’s going to work and we’re doing it because it’s my plan.’ So, that’s unfortunate. I think it was almost a little bit of an ego thing because Bob was the leader and what he came up with was going to make an amazing, two bank, best score they ever got. I just wish Emmett just would have really put his foot down at that moment when they realized they were going to have to adjust. That’s the change I would have made.
To be fair though, the plan seemed pretty far-fetched, even if things did go right.
Joshua: Right. And it’s a true story. It’s just so crazy. I mean, we’ve never robbed a bank before. Yes, we were successful train robbers, so, all right, maybe we can rob a bank, we’ve done trains, we can do this, but to say, let’s just go for two, let’s just do two things, you’ve never even done one bank before but you think two is a good idea. And then you go to a town that you used to live in. It was just so crazy and there’s so many signs, so many red flags, and they just blew right through them all. It’s very intense and you just want to put your hands over your eyes and just like, ‘no, don’t. Don’t do it.’
Is there anything else that you would like to add about the movie?
Joshua: I would just like to say that it was a dream come true to work with everybody. It was absolutely the best crew I’ve worked with, we had an amazing time and we put a lot of work into it. I was able to do all my own stunts (except for one), and I was really proud of being able to do all that because sometimes if you get on a really big production or something, they’ll make your stunt double do it. And I thought, being able to do my own stunts allowed for some cooler shots to actually show me going through that stuff. I’m just really proud of the film. Sure, it won’t be for everybody, I was really glad to be a part of it and I’m excited for everyone to see it.