Western Movies

Jonah Hex's Gunspinner Extraordinaire

Joey “Rocketshoes” Dillon gives us a sneak preview of Josh Brolin’s gunmanship in the 2010 Western.

Joey “Rocketshoes” Dillon gives us a sneak preview of Josh Brolin’s gunmanship in the 2010 Western.

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“Rocketshoes!” says Josh Brolin with a huge grin, as soon as I mention Joey Dillon’s name.

“He’s unbelievable. He’s the fastest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Joey Dillon, a.k.a. Rocketshoes, teaches men like Brolin how to look good with their guns. In Brolin’s case, that’s important, because the actor is starring in the film adaptation of DC Comics’ Jonah Hex (due out in summer 2010), and Hex is a 19th-century bounty hunter who lives by the gun.

“I had already done three years on a Western series, so I knew a lot of spins and all that, but he took me further,” says Brolin, who played James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok in the ABC series The Young Riders. Hickok was said to have been pretty good with his guns, so Brolin was far from being an amateur when Dillon was brought aboard. “We spent two or three days together just working through things, and he taught me truly how to draw in a way I didn’t know,” Brolin says.

Some doubted, initially, whether Dillon could be of much use on the film. “Some people said, ‘I’ve read the script, and I don’t see that much gunhandling in this, but it’s Josh’s call, that he wants some training,’” Brolin says.

Dillon told the doubters, “It’s not just about spinning the gun around and cocking it, or spinning into the holster. But you want [Jonah Hex] to do everything as though he’s been doing it all his life. Otherwise you won’t buy that he’s good with his guns.”

The two trained at the Warner Brothers backlot, once home to The Waltons. At the first meeting, Dillon brought with him 14 guns. “I held up a Colt Walker—about as big as it gets—and I said, “You may move up to this in a few days, but for the next few days we’re just going to work with this—then I held out the derringer,” Dillon says. “I had welded a little ring on it for spinning and a fanny hammer, and I handed him the gun. He was like, immediately, ‘Okay, okay,’ dead serious. I had to tell him I was joking.

“And then I started busting out some of my tricks, which he liked. I have one where I throw the gun up in a backward spin, and I balance the barrel on my palm. It took him a couple of tries, but he did it right off. I told him, ‘You’re light years ahead of anybody else I’ve been teaching in the acting world.’ So we were able to go straight to the double-shot stuff, some of the different spins and some bad ass stuff, which he was eating up.”

Dillon, obviously, is fun to talk to, likely because showmanship is paramount in his work; he studied acting and performed stand-up comedy long before he ever applied those skills to his gunspinning.

“I grew up and graduated in a class with 14 other kids, in Don Pedro, California, which is out in 49er country. It was natural for me to get into the history of the West, learn how to ride horses and shoot guns, with my dad.”

Why did Dillon leave Don Pedro behind to move to Chicago? “I always loved making people laugh, always had funny skits and ideas in my head. I was thinking, ‘Where do talent scouts look for talent? They scout in Los Angeles, New York theatre, Second City in Chicago.’ Well I was born in the Chicago area, I have relatives there, and so I was thinking that if I failed, I wouldn’t be out on the street.

“I went from listening to crickets and coyotes as I slept at night straight to the inner city of Chicago. I was a bellman right next to the Sears Tower, and there were fire engines [driving by] every night. I had to sleep with headphones cause I wasn’t used to all the noise.”

In Chicago, Dillon was forced to make a serious career choice, as he measured his own acting talent against those of the people he worked with in class. “I realized, I’m decent at it, people like me, but there’s so many people in front of me who are better at it. When you choose a career, you need to know if God has really blessed you with that ability. Improv was fun, but I’m not like these guys, and they’re going to get way ahead of me.”

Dillon switched to stand-up comedy because he could assemble his routines more precisely. Structure and innate mechanical skills are two of his most important underlying talents. “I thought that with stand up I could pre-write my routines,” he says. “Then I started bringing in stupid inventions as part of the act.”

Fate took a hand when a relative was widowed not far from Donley’s Wild West Town in Union, Illinois. “I was always interested in the West, and I was a closet gunspinner. When my relative offered to let me live out there for free, I decided to audition at this Wild West Show.

“I didn’t...

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