When Deadwood fans tune into the long-awaited two-hour revival movie on Friday, May 31 (8/7c, HBO), they will encounter a strikingly — in some cases hauntingly— different Al Swearengen. “You can’t drink that much and not have it affect you in some way,” Ian McShane cryptically tells TVLine of his brash, foul-mouthed alter ego’s gaunt appearance in the film, which picks up a decade after the conclusion of the acclaimed drama’s third season. “His brain is as sharp as ever, but physicality takes a toll. He’s facing a lot of things, [including] his own mortality.”
Below, McShane elaborates on Al’s evolution while also weighing in on the franchise’s death-defying journey at HBO.
TVLINE | What took so long to get this thing off the ground?
The difficulty was always getting a script that took the best episodic parts of Deadwood and translated them into a two-hour movie. Because they’re very different creatures. It’s a delicate balance… Everyone wanted to get the story right, the plot right. I think hanging [the movie’s narrative] on [South Dakota’s statehood] gives it a legitimate reason for people to come back who don’t live there anymore.
TVLINE | Did you feel like you had unfinished business with Al?
I look at it very much like [co-star] Tim [Olyphant] does: If it was gonna happen, it was gonna happen. It wouldn’t happen by us [sitting around opining], “Oh, weren’t we good in that show? You were so good on that show!” You get on with life. Would a [Season 4] have been great? Sure. But we were given those three years and they were an extraordinary three years.
TVLINE | Were you aware of how cheated fans felt when the show was abruptly cancelled at the end of Season 3?
I never connected with social media in its fullest, but of course you [hear about] the groundswell [of support]… I think people just really wanted the show to come back again. And I’m just glad that HBO — in their infinite wisdom — decided that this is the right time. And it is the right time. Twelve years later, people have changed… [we have] a new perspective on it.
TVLINE | What did you do to prepare to slip back into Al’s shoes?
I had about a month between finishing American Gods Season 2 [and starting Deadwood]. I grew the facial hair and lost a bit of weight to play Mr. Swearengen again. And I got back in the mood by doing my usual morning mantra [wherein] I would get up and say “c–ksucker” and “motherf—er” around 50 times… [Laughs] He’s a little different. If he was the same it would be boring.
TVLINE | I hear there are some nice Al-Trixie moments in the movie, which makes me very happy.
They are a complicated pair. I think [series creator David Milch] has written a little bit of a love letter to Al and Trixie, even though she’s now with the redoubtable Sol Star, who I think Al always thought was a good choice for her. If he had to pass [on] the love of his life, which I think Trixie is, he wants to see her happy. And he knows what will make her happy.