'Godless' Director Says the Cast "Had to Go Through Cowboy Camp"

Godless_Scott Frank_Inset - Publicity - H 2018
Ursula Coyote/Netflix; Steve Granitz/Getty Images

Scott Frank — who also "rode the horse a lot" — talks about why his long-in-the-works film transformed into a limited series and why he cast so many British actors in the Western.

Scott Frank spent years trying to make Godless — a Western that follows a town full of women (widowed when a mine collapsed) who find their homes threatened after the arrival of an injured outlaw — as a movie. It finally came to fruition as a seven-part Netflix series, starring Jack O'Connell, Michelle Dockery and Jeff Daniels.

Frank, 58, spoke to THR about his star-studded cast and their horse-riding abilities.

How did this project end up as a limited series?

I wrote it in 2004 as a film and tried to get it made forever. Westerns just were not in fashion and they didn't do well overseas in particular, which was a key part of the decision. Steven Soderbergh had just done Behind the Candelabra on HBO and said, "It's like a whole other world right now. Maybe [TV] is a good place for you."

You have a lot of British actors in your cast. Was that a coincidence?

I just cast people based on if they would just feel right to me. Even Michelle Dockery, who I was resistant to at first only because I only knew her from Downton Abbey — when I saw her audition, she was so clearly exactly what I had in my head. I completely forgot about anything she had done before and can't even see her doing Lady Mary anymore.

What sort of preparation did the actors need?

Every actor that was on a horse had to go through a little bit of cowboy camp. Jack O'Connell spent a good two months before we started shooting working with the horses and Jeff Daniels also worked a lot. He was always riding a horse. He would come to set on a horse. He would have one by his trailer all the time. Sometimes I'd see him riding barefoot.

Did you get on a horse?

I rode the horse a lot. Sometimes the camera would be really far away from the action and it would be faster to just jump on a horse and ride out to where everybody was. I was just always praying, "Don't fall off in front of the actors, don't fall off in front of the actors."

This story first appeared in a May stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.