How the West was done

Cast members reflect on working with Milch

When HBO released “Deadwood” cast members from their contracts last month — which in turn became a hold for a pair of two-hour movies — a simple round of interviews to christen the third-season premiere suddenly turned into a makeshift elegy, not to mention an unscheduled victory lap for its creator. To quote Shakespeare, the man to whom showrunner David Milch’s rancid iambic pentameter is most often compared:

“His life was gentle, and the elements/
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up/
And say to all the world, ‘This was a man.’ “

Ian McShane
(Al Swearengen)

“I can imagine what it’s like in his own tortured head, because World War III goes on in there. There’s a lot of honor and a lot of self-worry, and also David’s perversity of being a half-teacher caught up in showbiz. I think the funniest anecdote is when they asked him how we do ‘Deadwood,’ and he said, ‘We hold our balls and jump.’ He’s a very gifted man, and he’s still angry enough to realize that gift sometimes. It’s a privilege to have worked for him.”

Powers Boothe
(Cy Tolliver)

“Let’s see if I can do this without gushing too much. He’s one of the most brilliant men I’ve met in my life. But it’s not just that, it’s also his understanding of humanity. I’ve been more raw and risk-taking in this show than in anything I’ve ever done in my life, and I have no regrets. I’m still holding out hope that somehow, some way, someone will come to their senses and we’ll be able to continue this extraordinary piece. I wish him the very, very best.”

William Sanderson
(E.B. Farnum)

“I should say first that I can die now. It was like going to a church service every day working with him, if a church service were obscene. Boxers are my heroes, and when they accused Floyd Patterson of being knocked down too much, he said, ‘Yeah, but I got up more than anybody else.’ So I’m sure David will, and I hope I can. I was proud to be David Milch’s buffoon.”

John Hawkes
(Sol Starr)

“It’s not the sense that he’s ticking, exactly, and he’s going to explode, but you don’t want to be the fool he’s not going to suffer. Yet he’s also an incredibly generous guy in a very private, often secretive way. He’s the son of a doctor, so I don’t think he had a great deal of privation as a kid. But he’s someone who went so far beyond what he was equipped with in both directions — the deepest, darkest parts of life as well as the most artistic and lyrical. And if you put those things together, it’s kind of what ‘Deadwood’ is — the Victorian and pioneer clashing.”

Kim Dickens
(Joanie Stubbs)

“Contemporary speech is so much different from his. They call it ‘Milchian.’ And he completely shares himself, flaws and all, for the benefit of the work. I think he can see right into a person, all the way back to their childhood. I’m a little heartbroken it’s not going to continue.”

Timothy Olyphant
(Seth Bullock)

“He’s the 3,000-pound gorilla in the room, if for no other reason, intimidating because of his intellect. But he also has these incredible life experiences. He always did what he said he was going to do, and the show was everything he promised and more. It may be, when all is said and done, the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.”

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