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Lone Star scenes: New Mexico stands in for Texas in modern-day Western

The Land of Enchantment serves as the backdrop for the film “Hell or High Water,” which opens today nationwide.

And the film is already garnering plenty of accolades as one of the year’s best.

The project brought back New Mexico film alums Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster. (Bridges starred in “True Grit” and “Crazy Heart;” Pine in “Carriers” and Foster in “Lone Survivor” and “3:10 to Yuma.”)

The film is a story about the collision of the Old and New West, as two brothers – Toby, played by Chris Pine, a straight-living, divorced father trying to make a better life for his son; and Tanner, played by Ben Foster, a short-tempered ex-con with a loose trigger finger – come together to rob branch after branch of the bank that is foreclosing on their family land.

The holdups are part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that powerful forces beyond their control have stolen from under their feet. Vengeance seems to be theirs until they find themselves in the cross hairs of a relentless, foul-mouthed Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton, played by Jeff Bridges, who is looking for one last triumph on the eve of his retirement.

Ben Foster and Chris Pine wait to film a scene in “Hell or High Water” in New Mexico last year. (Courtesy of Lorey Sebastian)

Ben Foster and Chris Pine wait to film a scene in “Hell or High Water” in New Mexico last year. (Courtesy of Lorey Sebastian)

As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their plan, a showdown looms at the crossroads where the last honest lawman and a pair of brothers with nothing to live for except family collide.

Production for the film began in May 2015 and employed more than 100 New Mexico crew members and more than 850 background talent workers, according to the New Mexico Film Office.

Locations include Clovis, Estancia, Moriarty, Portales, Tucumcari and Albuquerque, though the film is set in West Texas.

Gil Birmingham stars in the film alongside Bridges as Alberto Parker.

And Birmingham is also an alum of New Mexico productions. He was in Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” in 2013, as well as “DreamKeeper” in 2003 and “Into the West” in 2005.

“I always have fun when I’m in New Mexico,” he says. “I get to visit some of my favorite places, and I head up to Santa Fe.”

Birmingham was drawn to the script, written by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote the script for “Sicario.”

“It’s such a brilliantly written film,” he says. “Then there’s the many layered aspects and the subject matter. And of course, working with Jeff, Chris and Ben.”

Another part of the film that drew Birmingham in is that his character is half-Comanche and half-Mexican.

“I’ve done a large portion of playing Native American characters,” he says. “To have a character that was contemporary, it was fantastic. We did have to find our way through and it involved exploring the character some more.”

Birmingham says his character is a man of principle.

“He’s devoted to his wife and family,” he says. “He’s such a strong character.”

Ben Foster in “Hell or High Water.” (Courtesy of Lorey Sebastian)

Ben Foster in “Hell or High Water.” (Courtesy of Lorey Sebastian)

In the film, Bridges and Birmingham’s characters develop a brotherly bond and the pair often joke with each other.

“Jeff’s character had an outlet with mine,” he says. “In the film, Jeff’s character has lost his wife and he’s looking for a bond. That’s where the jabbing comes from.”

Birmingham was in New Mexico for a couple months.

He says director David Mackenzie kept everything on course.

“Chris filmed for about three weeks,” he says. “He had time restraints and then had to move on to the new ‘Star Trek’ film.”

Birmingham enjoyed his time in New Mexico and has since moved on to plenty of new projects.

He recently wrapped the film “Wind River,” written by Sheridan. He also joined the cast for “Transformers: The Last Night.” And one of his most fun roles has been on the Netflix series “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” in which he plays Virgil.

“All of these are great opportunities for me to grow as an actor,” he says. “It always comes down to how well the project is written.”

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