'Deadwood's' Ian McShane on HBO Movie: "I Think We've Made It Work"

Timothy Olyphant and McShane tell The Hollywood Reporter that slipping back into character came relatively easy on the long-awaited HBO movie.
Warrick Page/HBO
Timothy Olyphant (left) and Ian McShane on 'Deadwood'

The Deadwood movie that fans of the HBO series have hoped for since the series ended almost 13 years ago arrives Friday. True to the sometimes brutal nature of the show, star Ian McShane advises not to get hopes up for more.

"This is finite," McShane, who reprises his role as Al Swearengen in the film, told The Hollywood Reporter. "This isn't like an episode end. There's no more after this, this is it."

With that out of the way, both McShane and fellow star Timothy Olyphant told THR they were easily able to resume the roles they left behind in 2006 for the film, which is set a decade-plus after the events of Deadwood's third season. Mostly, anyway.

"I found it to be a contradiction. On one hand it was just like yesterday, and on the other hand it felt like a brand-new challenge," said Olyphant. "When you revisit something you haven’t done in 12 years, it's hard not to challenge yourself to identify the growth, to try to confirm what you hope, that you’re somehow a little better at it than you were before."

The film, written by series creator David Milch and directed by Daniel Minahan (who helmed four episodes of the series), brings Al, Olyphant's Seth Bullock and a large portion of the show's regular cast together to celebrate South Dakota gaining statehood. Old antagonist George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), now a senator from California, also returns, stirring up old feuds and resentments.

"God, I love Gerald," McShane said. "That pedantic tone which makes you want to smack Hearst before he opens his mouth, you know. He's great, he's great. I watch the actors, and I'm just thrilled that everybody came back and everybody is as good as they were."

The passage of time has left some characters worse for wear — "You don't drink like Al does without some cost," McShane noted — but Deadwood itself is prospering, having rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1879 (a real-life incident that occurred two years after the events of season three). Telephone wires line the main street, and the town is (almost) respectable.

Bullock, meanwhile, is an outwardly more mature and measured lawman, but the mix of Swearengen, Hearst and Deadwood is likely to bring the character's temper bubbling back to the surface.

"That's one of the central questions of the movie," Olyphant said. "He's married, he's got three kids, but some old demons will be visiting him, and we'll be wondering if he succumbs — does he regress, or has he gained any kind of wisdom? That's one of the cool things about the project."

As highlighted in the movie's trailer, the central relationship of Deadwood between Bullock and Swearengen hasn't changed much. Olyphant believes the characters are "two sides of the same coin."

"One could make an argument that they were each allowed to exist because of the other," said Olyphant. "Perhaps Seth didn't have to do certain things because he knew Al would and vice versa. One of the questions in the movie is, what happens if one of those two men can't hold up their end of the bargain? How does that affect the other man and the choices he has to make?"

Said McShane of the uneasy partnership, "Bullock is a lawman, but crazy as a loon inside. He knows he has the thing that Swearengen has let go in the past. Swearengen, I think, has now let go of that, and he's the one who says, 'Bullock, you know, come on, take it easy.' But it's lovely revisiting them again, and I think we've made it work."

McShane is aware that other TV revivals, whether one-offs like Deadwood or continuations of series, have fallen short of the original work. He doesn't think, however, that the movie will leave a sour taste for fans of the show. He also noted that while the movie is likely the end for Deadwood, not every story wraps up neatly.

"You want to give the impression of the end without it being the end; obviously, that's what everybody wants to do," said McShane. "But everybody wants to say, 'Oh, I'd love to see more of that' or whatever.

"So we're striving towards striving. … Making a two-hour movie is, OK, people want to see it, but at the same time you don't want to be wallowing in it so people go, 'Oh, they should never have made it.' You run that risk. 'Now they've ruined it.' No, I don't think we've ruined it."

Deadwood: The Movie bows Friday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.