The Glorious Tragedy of “Deadwood”

Screen Shot 2019-05-31 at 10.17.12 AMFifteen years after its debut on HBO, Deadwood, the Western series set in a 1870s mining boomtown in what is now South Dakota, will reappear on screens tonight, this time as a feature film. In its three seasons and 36 episodes, Deadwood treated viewers to a depiction of humanity at its most brutal and feral—and its most magnanimous. The primary currencies in Deadwood were gold, blood and whiskey; the relentless body count ensured that the town’s flesh-eating pigs were treated to near-daily feasts. Legendary figures such as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Sheriff Seth Bullock were brought to vivid life onscreen and wielded expletives as expertly as they did their shotguns and Colt 45s. Eight Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award followed, so when the series was abruptly cancelled in 2006, both Deadwood’s cast and fans were left bewildered.

For years rumors circulated that the series might be reprised, fueling the hope of dedicated Deadwood devotees in need of closure. And now their hopes have been fulfilled. Set 10 years after the culmination of the series, as the characters reunite to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood, Deadwood: The Movie will also introduce a new generation of viewers to its raging world. The project carries a special poignancy; Deadwood creator David Milch—whose linguistic virtuosity has earned him countless comparisons to Shakespeare—was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2015. This film, which was written and executive produced by Milch, presented the last opportunity to revisit the Deadwood world as envisioned by its original maestro.

On the eve of the film’s release, Blume sat down with three of the show’s principal cast members: Ian McShane (the murderous yet benevolent saloonkeeper Al Swearengen), Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood’s quick-tempered sheriff Seth Bullock) and John Hawkes (the frontier entrepreneur Sol Star) at HBO’s Santa Monica, California offices.

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