From series creator David Milch and director Daniel Minahan, Deadwood: The Movie continues the story that first began in the critically acclaimed TV series that debuted 15 years ago. Celebrating South Dakota’s statehood has its own share of problems, when it comes to the inevitable changes that come with progress, and alliances are tested while rivalries are reignited and old friends are reunited. The movie stars Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Molly Parker, Paula Malcomson, John Hawkes, Anna Gunn, Dayton Callie, Brad Dourif, Robin Weigert, William Sanderson, Kim Dickens and Gerald McRaney.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Kim Dickens (who plays Joanie Stubbs) talked about the roller coaster ride to finally making this movie, how painful it was when they didn’t know whether it would actually happen, why she thinks the fans just wouldn’t give up on it, the worry of not being able to recapture the magic, cherishing every day of the shoot, favorite moments, getting to wear these incredible costumes, her keepsake from the movie, and what she’ll take away from her experience of working with David Milch.
Collider: As the years passed, I doubted and worried, as I’m sure all of the fans did, that we’d never see a final chapter of Deadwood. With all of the talk of a movie, over the years, and then no movie getting made, did you feel like it might never actually happen, or did you always try to hold onto faith that it would eventually happen?
KIM DICKENS: It was kind of a roller coaster ride, to be honest. There were moments, especially right when we were first canceled, which was horrifying for everybody. We’d been unofficially told that we were picked up, and that’s why (show creator) David [Milch] didn’t wrap it up, at the end of Season 3. So, we all went on our break, three of us bought houses, two actors got pregnant, and people made plans, based on the fact that we were going to have another season, and then we found out, shortly thereafter. Right after that, there was so much heat and attention, that there was a lot of rumblings about two movies, and that promise and hope lingered for a little while, and then we just let go of hope. There would be periods where rumors would come up, and then you’d hear, “Absolutely not. It’s never gonna happen. It’s over.” That was painful. And then, when the rumors would come back up again, you’d just believe that it wasn’t real. I sat with David Milch at lunch, about two years before we even went into production, and he read scenes to me. So, it was in the works for a long while, and I really didn’t believe it until they called and asked for our dates and made our deals, and then we showed up on set.
No show lasts forever, and a lot of shows end before their time. What do you think it was about Deadwood, specifically, that not only kept the fans and critics wanting more, and the cast, willing to come back?
DICKENS: Gosh, I don’t know. That’s a really good question. You can’t just say, “Oh, it’s because it’s great,” because there’s so much more to it. It’s such a beautiful piece of art. I think it surpasses television. It feels like you’re walking around in a novel. And as far as the actors, performing it, I’m sure you’ve heard so many of us talk about the experience of working with David. You work with him, on a daily basis. He comes to set and talks about the spirit of the scene and what should be played, and what the subtext or undercurrent is, and he infuses that with stories and teachings, and it’s just fascinating. The crew and everybody would sit around, and you could hear a pin drop, except for his voice. You would just learn so much about life. He sees the things that are oftentimes the things you try to fix in yourself, as an actor or a person. He can see deep inside any artist, and he reaches in and takes those things, and dusts them off and uses them. I think the show just speaks to humanity. It resonates with an audience. You say, “There’s this fractured, flawed character, but he’s also full of hope.” For the actors, we just loved the experience of it. It’s that kind of experience, and that kind of collaboration, that’s the reason I wanted to be an actor. For the audience, it’s just a very effective piece of art and, in watching it, you feel a part of something. It feels good, at times, and it feels sad, at times, and it feels funny, at times, but it feels hopeful. It’s also just beautifully done. So, maybe those are the reasons why.
What do you remember about the first time you read your first script for the series? Was it just unlike anything else you’d read?
DICKENS: Yeah, it definitely was. Joanie Stubbs was not in the pilot, so I got to go to the ranch (Melody Ranch where the series was shot) and see the pilot first. She showed up in Episode 3. And I had worked with David Milch, a few years before Deadwood, on a series called Big Apple, that was on CBS, with Ed O’Neill and David Strathairn. That was my first engagement with David, and his writing style and process, so I was familiar with how delicious and deep and layered his scripts are. I think the third script of the season, when Stubbs and Cy Tolliver come to town, may have been the last full script written. Everything else, from that point on, was in pages. So, I’d seen the pilot, and I just couldn’t wait to jump in. I was so glad that David asked me to come be this character, and yet he didn’t have her fully drawn yet. He picks people that he knows he can work with and play with, and you have to show up, very willing to just lift up your skirt and jump. You show up to set and you don’t know what you’re gonna be asked to do that day. You just trust him, and it’s an amazing experience. I remember showing up to set once with no pages, and he said, “Well, Stubbs is gonna go to the hotel, sit on the bed, and put a gun to her head. I just need you to help me think about what she might say to herself, in that moment.” And so, we walked around the ranch together, and he told me a story about an experience, and we were almost to the end of circling the ranch when I said, “Well, maybe she would say that.” It was something that he’d said in the story. And then, he was like, “Well, I think that’s perfect.” So, he wrote it down on his legal pad, and gave me the piece of paper. I still have it, and I’ll probably frame that little penciled-in sentence. I just went to my trailer and tried to wrap my head around what those moments would be like. I’d wonder, “How do I get there? How do I get myself out of it?” That was part of the fun of it.
It sounds like that initial experience on the TV series was magical. When you do three seasons of a TV series like that, that has that kind of an atmosphere, is there also a worry about returning for a movie and screwing it up, and not being able to capturing that original feeling?
DICKENS: Oh, yeah. The bar is so high that we’re sure to fail, but we’re just gonna die trying. That was pretty much the feeling. What can you do, but just show up and do your best? The expectations are so high and so grand, and the bar is so high. Plus, we’re all a hundred years older. What are you gonna do, but just show up and do your best? Honestly, so much of the story is told on our faces. But, it’s also different. We were certainly adept at telling a long form story, and that was really the way we excelled, so to put it into a two-hour format is gonna change it a little bit. I said to my friend, Robin Weigert (who plays Calamity Jane), “You know, it’s gonna be different as a film, but if they said, ‘Let’s go do Deadwood: The Animated Series, or Deadwood: The Radio Play,’ I’d be like, ‘Sure, let’s do it. We can do that.’” The characters are so rich that it could translate anywhere. There was definitely that feeling, but I don’t think it made anyone pause a beat.
As much as I loved seeing these characters return and the cast playing them again, and I’m grateful to have this movie because it is a great film, in its own right, it made me long for even more time with them. Did having the experience of shooting this give you a sense of closure with Deadwood and the character that you didn’t feel at the end of the series, or did it make you wish that you’d had more episodes and gotten to do another season, instead of just a two-hour movie?
DICKENS: A little bit of both. It was a 32-day shoot, which is quick for a two-hour film of that scope. And I was in one of the first few days, and the last day, and actually the last shot, which was at about 5am. When we got there, it was just so exciting, even my first fitting with (costume designer) Janie Bryant, and follow-up fittings when I actually put on the costume that she’d built. And then, walking the set, and walking through the Bella Union again, and getting in the thoroughfare, it was just like, “Oh, my god!” Everybody’s face was just broken in two from the grin. As soon as I saw Molly Parker filming, on the first day, it had just been such a long time coming. It felt so good and so exactly right to be back. Everything felt perfectly normal. It was almost like seeing an ex-lover and you’re like, “What happened to us? We were so great together!” But at the same time, as it started to move on, we cherished every day because we knew it was fleeting and that it was gonna be over in a few weeks, and nobody liked thinking about that. It was a little bit of feeling like, “We just want more.” I understand how you feel. You see those characters and it’s still not enough because they’re such delicious characters. I think we had feelings like that, as well. And then, there were times when the work was so hard and challenging, and you were like, “This is hard to do. How could we ever come back for another two-hour movie?” It just seemed so hard to get to that point, but all I know is that we got over the finish line, and I couldn’t be more proud of the piece. I’m sure that, if David’s inspired and he creates another story, and they pull the trigger on it, by some miracle, we would all show up again, without question.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the wedding and party because we get to see everybody together, having a great time. How was that sequence to shoot, getting to just dance around and have fun?