Deadwood Social

In this series, we speculate on what actors would be the perfect choice to play an upcoming character, or what type of character a particular actor is best suited for. Feel free to unilaterally agree with all our picks voice your opinion in the comments!


David Milch created a very strange and wonderful pocket universe with his HBO show “Deadwood,” comprised of lofty, profane backwards-Shakespeare dialogue, grimy revisionist portrayals of western legends, and an overarching theme of community in a time and place where such a thing was viewed as naive at best. Sadly, the show was cut down in its prime with no proper ending after three seasons. In some way, the lack of a proper ending and the disappointment and emptiness it created for fans was a retroactive meditation on what endings really are.

But now, all of that can be thrown off the balcony of the Gem Saloon into manure. Reports suggest that a Deadwood movie might be happening, either theatrically or directly on HBO (where such a thing as “Deadwood” is a lot more viable as a streaming option than it was as appointment television in 2006). Not only is this great for fans, it’s great for anyone with a familiarity with the historical material that the show tackles, as the show unfortunately missed several key characters and events from the strange days that turned the outlaw mining camp into a proper fixture of society in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Naturally, all the fan favorite actors are hoped to return. Ian McShane’s slimy/regal Al Swearengen, Timothy Olyphant’s earnest and sanctimonious Seth Bullock, Robin Weigert’s sewer-mouthed Calamity Jane… this article would be an extra 1,000 words if every essential actor and character were listed. These people – the real thespians and their on-screen personas – simply are “Deadwood.” But who should join them, and who would they play? The show was a bastion of remarkable late-in-the-game additions like Brian Cox and Gerald McRaney, and there’s plenty of room for more.

Nick Searcy 2013 (cropped)

1. Nick Searcy as Judge Squire P. Romans

The real-life Romans is credited with bringing Edison’s patented electricity to Deadwood, along with being an arguably very myopic man of the law. And if there’s anything Al, Cy Tolliver, and the rest of Deadwood’s criminal elite have learned it is that big business is terrible for their small businesses, as is law and order. Romans could take the form of a comical faux-authority much like the Yankton commissioner Jarry before, or he could be a vague menace that reveals himself as much dirtier and more despicable than even George Hearst. Or both, even.

Either way, Nick Searcy is the perfect man for the job. Well known for his role as Art on “Justified,” his homespun glib wisdom has always belied what Rooster Cogburn had: true grit. Searcy knows how to have fun at his own expense, so he could easily play a subject of disdain or ridicule. But he also has a Carolina twang in his voice and a glint of steel in his eye that says, “I haven’t done this in a real long time, but I’m thinking about kicking yer ass.” Perfect fit for “Deadwood,” I say.

Katey Sagal by Gage Skidmore 2

2. Katey Sagal as Poker Alice Tubbs

The “Deadwood” casting directors never had qualms about sharing talent with contemporaries like “Breaking Bad” and “Sons of Anarchy.” And now that SoA creator Kurt Sutter’s thoroughly unwatchable mess “The Bastard Executioner” has been cancelled due to creator-butthurt, I guess that means his longtime spouse Sagal is free! And Milch’s people should snap her up in an instant. Sagal has spent decades on television proving her comedy chops (“Married with Children” and “Futurama”) and her dramatic displays on “Anarchy.” She’s tough as nails, gorgeous, a stunning singer, and primed for all that bastardized Shakespearian stuff. After all, Gemma Teller is essentially Queen Gertrude.

Alice Tubbs, meanwhile, was a prodigious old west card player who worked as a dealer in one parlor or another in Deadwood in the 1880s and boasted that she had won over $250,000 playing cards. Which is insane, even if you don’t use an inflation calculator. “Poker Alice” was known for her cigar smoking and acerbic comments, usually starting her card games by saying, “Praise the lord and place your bets. I’ll take your money with no regrets.” Segal would play the hell out of this colorful real-life character, and could even be a narrative match for McShane’s Machiavellian saloon proprietor. Much like Calamity Jane or Doc Cochran, she could elevate the character from a simple plot device or joke into a three-dimensional soul.

Peter Dinklage by Gage Skidmore

3. Peter Dinklage as Potato Creek Johnny Perrett

Johnny Perrett would eventually become famous in the late 1920s for finding the biggest gold nugget ever and reigniting the mining boom in the Black Hills. Until then, he was mostly known as a local fixture searching for his fortune. He was also 4 feet 3 inches tall, which was fairly memorable back then. While history smiles on “Potato Creek Johnny,” the tendency for the HBO show to tear down legends would probably come through here. Just as Wyatt Earp was portrayed as a carpetbagger thug and Wild Bill Hickok was a jaded misanthrope, Johnny would be interesting as a duplicitous bottom-feeder.

Enter Peter Dinklage, who not only has experience playing underestimated strategic minds, but also can enter the role of a dead-eyed sellout with no morals to hold him back. Some may think I’m talking about his character in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but I could also be taking a slight shot at him for his monotone vocal work on Destiny. Or neither. You decide!

Still, Dinklage is an incredibly versatile performer, able to pontificate on the capability of dragons in politics on “Game of Thrones,” express a profound and real sense of loneliness in The Station Agent, and don a mullet wig and collect a paycheck for Pixels. I would not stop smiling if his precise delivery of George R.R. Martin’s dialogue were applied to “Deadwood” and its trademark syntax.

Neal McDonough 2015

4. Neal McDonough as a Congressman

McDonough is a journeyman actor. He’s been in dozens of projects ranging from the sublime (“Band of Brothers,” Captain America: The First Avenger, the aforementioned “Justified”) to the dark and twisted underbelly of alleged entertainment (I Know Who Killed Me, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li). But in all these roles, he has consistently been professional and brought everything he has to the table. Typically tapped to play psychos, businessmen, or psychotic businessmen, McDonough’s hypnotic pale blue eyes and genial voice have been utilized as a charming facade draped over unhinged personalities. Equally, he’s also played slightly aloof but generally decent men. I conclude that this actor is perfect to play a politician, and an old west politician would be icing on that cake.

Deadwood was annexed to the Dakota Territory during the seasons of the show that we got to see, but now that we are ten years out from that it would be interesting to see the opportunistic power struggles that actually occurred when Dakota was being considered for statehood. McDonough would do well as the outsider coming into the tiny world he doesn’t understand and believes he can master. Because the two Dakotas were separated due to a perceived imbalance in Democratic and Republican representation in the territory, it would be fun to watch an outwardly humble and beatific man of the people try to run our resident outlaws, whores, and cowboys out of the Black Hills so that his political party could claim the more valuable lands. It sets up someone like McDonough to have fun as the generous man-of-the-people and also squint smarmy intelligence as the cold, patronizing dandy from Washington.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead by Gage Skidmore

5. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Elaine Goodale

Elaine Goodale was a young woman so willing to educate the disenfranchised Sioux in the Dakota lands that she toured the entire span of the tribe trying to spread the English language and other traditional white schooling. The intent behind this is highly debatable, but the act itself was quite important to the fluid political landscape at the time. When the Dakotas were up for statehood, it was a rather unattractive setting with the gold mines drying up and estimates of seventy-five percent of the land being claimed by the Sioux and other tribes. So, the gentrification of the native people may have been seen as a strategy to assert dominance over the land before statehood. Regardless, Goodale was considered an ambassador between the tribes she taught and the government, dubbing herself the “Sister to the Sioux.”

Winstead, best known as the ethereal Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, has shown in various action roles a determination that matches Goodale’s as well as a waifish innocence that would make her stand out from the omnipresent corruption and mud and sweat and animosity that “Deadwood” has cultivated. While playing Flowers she pulled off the duality of the oft-labeled Manic Pixie Dream Girl with a weary sarcasm that the character construct can’t normally maintain, and in the 2011 remake/prequel/whatever of The Thing there was the requisite fear and adrenaline in her performance, but also a brooding awareness instead of all-out panic in her voice.

All this could be her bag of tricks as Goodale. Much like Pinkerton agent Miss Isringhausen before her, there would be a constant shifting of her mannerisms and bearing until her adversaries and allies would wonder if any of her educating madonna persona was real, or if she serves someone else’s agenda.


Agree? Disagree? More ideas? Let us know in the comments.

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Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.

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