A version of this story about Timothy Olyphant first appeared in the Movies & Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
More than a decade after David Milch’s series “Deadwood” completed its three-year run on HBO, the profane period Western has come back as a two-hour movie with much of its original cast intact. Timothy Olyphant, who in the interim has starred in “Justified” and “The Santa Clarita Diet” and played the bad guy in “Live Free or Die Hard,” returns as righteous lawman Seth Bullock, 10 years older and a little wiser than he was the last time we saw him butting heads with Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen.
Did you get a kick out of being back in the world of “Deadwood?”
Oh, my God, yeah. I went from thinking it was a terrible idea and I didn’t want to do it to going completely 180 and thinking, “This is the best job ever and I don’t know why we’re not doing more.” I loved it.
So has the mustache been sitting in a drawer for all these years?
Yeah, that’s right. That mustache — I’ve wanted to have a mustache in just about every job I’ve ever had. Nobody lets you have a mustache. Amazing.
When you put it back on, was that the key to Bullock?
No. You just gotta say the words. Say the words, David takes care of everything. That’s the cool thing about acting: They tell you what to say, they give you your wardrobe. You need a wife, they supply one. You need little kids, they give you kids. You don’t have to do a lot.
Did you have to sit down and work out what’s happened to Seth Bullock over the last 10 years?
No, I don’t do that. (Pause) I mean, to immediately contradict myself, David and I had conversations about the story we wanted to tell, and you inevitably talk about what must have transpired.
His kids, for example, came out of those conversations. We thought, “Should he have kids? Historically, he had kids. Sure, let’s do it.”
Do you feel at all tied to what happened in the life of the real person your character is based on?
I don’t think of it that way. I just think of the story we’re trying to tell. I’ve always been fascinated with what David decides to honor historically and what truths he decides are in the way of the story. He sometimes seems to be willing to argue with history, and I’ve always admired that and been fascinated by it.
I’m certain we’re doing things the real guy never did, but I think we’re honoring the type of man he was — the type of man that made this country.
Was the experience different this time not just because of the form – a two-hour movie as opposed to an open-ended series – but because of where you all are in your careers now?
I think both those things are true, yes. It was very different, for sure. David’s always been very engaged with who you are — arguably, he’s maybe more aware of who you are more than you are yourself. David has a way of uncovering truths about yourself you didn’t know were there.
In the past, you’ve been dismissive of your performance in the original series. Are you better this time around?
Just between you and me, what I did was genius. That was just something I’ve been telling all others. But if you go back, I think you’ll see that what I did was quite brilliant.
(Laughs) Look, I don’t know what the f— I’m talking about. I haven’t seen the g-ddamn show since it’s been on TV. Maybe what I did was great. I only know what I remember, and what I remember is just trying to keep my head above water. I remember trying to get it right. That’s the kiss of death, and that’s a pursuit that no longer interests me. Getting it right is the worst.
But I enjoy the job more now than I did then, which is what I was hoping for along the way. And I like to assume that I’m better at it now than I was then, so maybe the work will be better.
Read more from the Movies & Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.