If Emmys were given out based solely on a character’s unadulterated viciousness, Gerald McRaney would be writing his acceptance speech now.
As cutthroat gold baron George Hearst in HBO’s Western drama “Deadwood,” McRaney’s character attempted to rape a woman, had his men shoot at her in the middle of town, ordered one of his nemesis Al Swearengen’s fingers be chopped off and offered up his own employees for slaughter to make his enemies appear barbaric.
All for “the color,” the camp’s name for gold.
“They wrote me one hell of a character,” McRaney says. “It’s the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on.”
McRaney came to the show on the recommendation of A.C. Lyles, Paramount’s 89-year-old icon who acts as a consultant on the show. He helped set up a breakfast with creator David Milch.
Soon after, without officially having been offered the role, the actor was being called by the wardrobe department to get measurements for his Western duds.
“I did a bit of research on Hearst, but a lot of what we did came from David,” McRaney recalls.
Milch blended Hearst’s plotline partly on the real-life figure and how he fit into the series’ story.
“Hearst was based loosely on reality but was symbolic on whatever statement David was making,” McRaney says. “He could write metaphors inside metaphors.”
The actor, who was a big fan of the show before being cast, says it was a bit off-putting when shooting began, knowing he’d have to hold up his own among such a stellar cast. He specifically refers to Ian McShane in the role of Hearst’s rival Swearengen, as “mind-boggling. It seems like it was a role that was made for him.”
“It was kind of intimidating,” he says of arriving on set, “like going straight from high school football to playing with the Packers.”
Yet it was Hearst who was the most intimidating personality in the camp. And now, more than a year after shooting his last scene, McRaney looks back at the job as an actor’s gold mine.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime role to play,” he says. “I have to be careful not to compare it to other work I do.”
Favorite scene: “When I explain to Odell (Aunt Lou’s son) that unbridled greed and capitalism can save the world.”
Where you’d like to see your character go next season: With Hearst riding off on stagecoach in the third-season finale, it’s doubtful he’ll return for the telepics.
TV guilty pleasure: “The History Channel and old movies on AMC and Turner Classic Movies.”