Deadwood: three seasons, 36 episodes, every other word a “fuck”. David Milch’s superb HBO Western series took the real history and many genuine characters from the South Dakota territories of the 1870s, and crafted a series that was riveting, brutal, often hilarious and always astonishingly written. The series was cut off in its prime for reasons never really explained (the official word seemed to be expense), and while there was talk of a couple of TV-movies to wrap up the storyline, these never materialised. Thankfully, we do at least have history to tell us some of what happened next. Deadwood burned to the ground in 1899, and Al Swearengen was found dead from a massive blow to the head on a Denver street in 1904.
If you’re looking for more, Milch based much of the show’s research on the work of historian Watson Parker. And while it’s not an official source for the show, you could do a lot worse than read Pete Dexter’s novel Deadwood too.
Timothy Olyphant (Seth Bullock)
An ex-marshal, Bullock came to Deadwood not as a lawman or prospector, but as the co-owner of a hardware store with his compatriot Sol Star. It wasn’t long before he became the sheriff. He was set up as one of the only honest men in the entire Deadwood camp, but nothing’s quite that simple, and while he was an honourable man he was also prone to fits of violent rage. Instinctively not a fan of Al Swearengen, the two reached an uneasy understanding by season three.
After the series, Olyphant starred in the romantic comedy Catch And Release; as the villain in Die Hard 4.0 and the hero of the disastrous first Hitman; as an Iraq war veteran with a possible secret in David Twohy’s Perfect Getaway; and as another sheriff in The Crazies. His biggest success has been back in TV Western territory though (albeit modern-day), as the charming bad-ass Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens in the excellent Justified.
Ian McShane (Al Swearengen)
Swearengen ran the Gem Saloon, a hotbed of gambling and prostitution. Some people even drank there. If he didn’t literally lead the town he was at least a significant power within it, and willing to use violence and murder to shore up his power base. He remained scurrilously likeable and weirdly moral, though. The arrival of rival bar owner Cy Tolliver and, later, mining magnate George Hearst, demonstrated that there were people far worse than him.
Before Deadwood, McShane was best known as the roguish antiques dealer Lovejoy in the BBC series that ran from 1986-94, but he had also made inroads into American television in the likes of Dallas and Roots. Since Deadwood there’s been voice work for Shrek The Third, Coraline, The Golden Compass and Kung Fu Panda, and appearances in Death Race, as a dwarf in Snow White And The Huntsman, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, where he played Blackbeard. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for the mini-series Pillars Of The Earth, and was most recently seen in the second season of American Horror Story.
Brad Dourif (Doc Cochran)
Much put-upon and frequently exasperated, the Doc was nevertheless a kindly soul at heart. Since he seemed to be the only sawbones in the district, he was also uniquely able to argue with people who usually wouldn’t put up with such ornery back talk. Reflecting the less-than-cutting-edge medical technology of the time, his treatment for kidney stones was truly horrifying. Taking his Hippocratic oath seriously, he treated any and all comers, but wasn’t above sending the occasional inconvenient corpse to Mr. Wu for disposal.
A well-known, prolific and instantly recognisable character actor, Dourif “arrived” in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975 and subsequently showed up in the likes of Heaven’s Gate, Dune, Blue Velvet and Mississippi Burning. Among countless appearances in projects large and small, in the ‘90s he was a TV regular in Babylon 5, Star Trek: Voyager, The X-Files and Millennium, and on the big screen in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection. He’s Grima Wormtongue in Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and Sheriff Brackett in Rob Zombie’s Halloween films. Deadwood scored him an Emmy. Most recently he’s been off-Broadway in Tennessee Williams’ The Two Character Play (with Amanda Plummer) and returned to the Child’s Play series for a sixth time, voicing the killer doll once again in Curse Of Chucky.
John Hawkes (Sol Star)
Sol was Bullock’s partner in the hardware store venture, and kept a level head while Bullock raged through his dramas with Swearengen and Alma Garret. He had a frustrating relationship with Swearengen’s loyal madam Trixie, helped Alma set up Deadwood’s first bank, and eventually ran for mayor against the odious E. B. Farnum.
Hawkes was given a "Rising Star" award by the Texas Hall Of Fame in 2011, despite something like a hundred credits on his CV stretching back to Future-Kill in 1985. Prior to Deadwood you might have seen him in something like From Dusk Till Dawn, Congo or The X-Files. Afterwards came work with Michael Mann (Miami Vice), Ridley Scott (American Gangster) and Steven Spielberg (Lincoln); massive critical recognition for the role of meth-addict Teardrop Dolly in Winter’s Bone; and more indie cred for Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Sessions.
Molly Parker (Alma Garret)
Alma came to Deadwood with her husband Brom, who didn’t last long on the violent frontier, buying an apparently worthless mining claim in a deal brokered by Swearengen, before getting himself murdered. And then it turns out that the claim was for a gold-rich seam after all, leaving Alma to fend off Swearengen’s attempts to reappropriate. Opting to stay in town and try her luck rather than head back east, she befriended Wild Bill Hickok; had a steamy, guilt-ridden affair with Bullock; got addicted to laudanum; struck up an unlikely friendship with Trixie; opened a bank; adopted the orphaned Sofia; and attempted a chaste married life with Whitney Ellsworth.
Parker’s film roles had generally been in below-the-radar fare, but following Deadwood, she was slightly more visible in the likes of Neil LaBute's Wicker Man remake, Hollywoodland and The Road. Her major gigs have been back on televsion though, with recurring parts in Swingtown, Shattered, Dexter and The Firm.
Robin Weigert ("Calamity" Jane Canary)
Very much not in the wholesome, thigh-slapping Doris Day mould, Jane Canary (never explicitly named “Calamity” in the series) was a foul-mouthed, fall-down alcoholic with lesbian leanings. Formerly a scout for General Custer, she entered the Deadwood camp with Charlie Utter and Wild Bill Hickok, and didn’t deal well with Hickok’s untimely demise. She remained friends – just about – with Utter, and formed new allegiances with Doc Cochran and Joanie Stubbs.
Best known as a New York stage actress in the decade before Deadwood, Weigert’s roles afterwards included Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York and Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German, as well as The Sessions with John 'Sol Star' Hawkes. But she’s been most prolific on TV, appearing in - amongst many others - Lost, Life, ER, The United States Of Tara, The Mentalist, various Law & Orders, Hawthorne, Grey’s Anatomy, American Horror Story, and in Sons Of Anarchy as the gang’s lawyer.
Dayton Callie (Charlie Utter)
Hickok’s business partner and fiercely loyal to Jane – even when she was at her most abusive towards him – Utter set up a postal service in the camp, and acted as a deputy for Bullock. He helped evacuate Joanie’s prostitutes from Deadwood in the wake of three murders, but his obvious love for her remained unrequited. Utter was a genuinely nice guy, but tough when riled, as George Hearst and Francis Wolcott discovered.
Callie’s acting credits stretch back to the mid ‘80s, with appearances on Seinfeld, NYPD Blue, The Practice and Roswell. Prior to Deadwood, he’d worked with pilot director Walter Hill in the boxing drama Undisputed. Other supporting roles in film and TV followed, until he too nabbed steady work on Sons Of Anarchy as corrupt police chief Wayne Unser.
Paula Malcomson (Trixie)
Madam of the whores at Swearengen’s Gem saloon, Trixie maintained a fractious romantic relationship with Al, which became an equally troublesome love triangle when she also starts getting involved with Sol. She befriended Alma and Sofia, helping the former kick her laudanum addiction, and tried to murder George Hearst – unsuccessfully. Hearst ordered her death, but Swearengen replaced her with a somewhat unfortunate lookalike.
No stranger to Western territory, Malcomson played Allie Earp, wife of Sam Elliott’s Virgil (so sister-in-law of Kurt Russell’s Wyatt) in 1992’s Tombstone. There were also appearances in The Green Mile, Hamlet (the Ethan Hawke one), A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Star Trek: Enterprise before Deadwood. Afterwards, there were recurring roles on Lost, ER, Caprica and, yet again, Sons of Anarchy. Most recently she’s played Mrs Everdeen in The Hunger Games movies.
Geri Jewell (Jewel)
Jewel was the disabled woman that Swearengen employed to mop up the blood at the Gem saloon. Typically verbally abusive towards her – he said he kept her on hand in case someone could only afford a nine-cent whore – it was nevertheless clear that his position regarding her was actually a protective one. She gave as good as she got from Al, and the strong suggestion is, with a history growing up in the same orphanage, that they settled into a kind of sibling relationship earlier in life.
Geri Jewell has a background in stand-up comedy. She starred in the US comedy series The Facts Of Life between 1980 and 1984 – officially the first actress with cerebral palsy to score a regular role on TV – and had a recurring role on The Young And The Restless. Since Deadwood there’s been an episode of Alcatraz, and she’s currently at work on web series Child Of The ‘70s, which she also co-writes.
Kim Dickens (Joanie Stubbs)
Joanie arrived with Cy Tolliver as Trixie’s classier opposite number at the Bella Union, and later her own brothel the Chez Amis. When that original plan for her independence went violently south, she repurposed the Chez Amis building as a school. She gained a loyal protector in Charlie Utter, and bravely embarked on a romantic relationship with Calamity Jane. She looked good in a top hat.
Dickens made her screen debut in the post-Reservoir Dogs ‘90s drama Palookaville, and also appeared in Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man, Sam Raimi’s The Gift, and Jake Kasdan’s excellent, under-seen Zero Effect. Since Deadwood she’s had roles in Thank You For Smoking, Friday Night Lights, Lost, The Blind Side, the Footloose remake, Treme and, wouldn’t you know it, the most recent series of Sons Of Anarchy.
Powers Boothe (Cy Tolliver)
Tolliver ran the Bella Union saloon, therefore establishing himself as major competition for Swearengen. He wasn’t as cunning as Al, but equally ambitious, willing to ally with the Tongs and George Hearst, and not averse to getting his way with brutal violence. He loved Joanie – he actually bought her from her father – but it wasn’t reciprocated, and he eventually, grudgingly let her go.
Though he wasn’t in Walter Hill’s pilot episode, it seems likely that Boothe came to Deadwood through his past Hill connections, having starred in the classic Southern Comfort and the Wild Bunch-homaging Extreme Prejudice. Like Paula Malcomson, he was also in 1993’s Tombstone, playing Curly Bill. Following Deadwood he sent up his tough-guy screen personal in McGruber, appeared in 2012's Nashville, Hatfields & McCoys, and plays Senator Roark both in Sin City and its sequel A Dame To Kill For. Incredibly he was never in Sons Of Anarchy.
William Sanderson (E.B. Farnum)
One of Deadwood’s more overtly comedic characters, the hapless, self-important, weaselly Farnum ran the camp’s optimistically named Grand Central Hotel, and installed himself as the town’s self-appointed mayor. He was instrumental in introducing Cy Tolliver to the town, but spied for Swearengen and later sold his business to Hearst, which he came to regret. His relationship with Hearst also indirectly earned him a mighty beating from Bullock in Season Three.
Sanderson probably remains most immediately recognisable as Blade Runner’s J. F. Sebastian, and also had roles in Fletch, The Rocketeer, Babylon 5 and The X-Files. Perhaps most significantly in Deadwood terms, he’d been in the famous Western mini-series Lonesome Dove, and in Walter Hill’s Last Man Standing. More recently he’s shown up in the likes of True Blood, Lost and Bones.
Jeffrey Jones (A.W. Merrick)
The camp’s only journalist, Merrick was the sole writer and editor of The Black Hills Pioneer. Not a physical fighter, he nevertheless took a tough stance on printing only the truth, which got him on the wrong side of Hearst and Tolliver, but the right side of Swearengen and Bullock. Swearengen’s support of Merrick was partly about manipulative self-interest, but you sensed there was also a genuine admiration there for an honourable man.
Jones, of course, is the Dean in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and a Tim Burton regular, appearing in Beetlejuice, Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow. Sadly, his post-Deadwood career has been blighted by a conviction for sex offences with a 14 year-old boy.
Keone Young (Mr. Wu)
Wu was the unofficial leader of the camp’s Chinese population, with a profitable line in opium dealing, and an efficient method of corpse disposal (he fed them to his pigs). He spoke no English aside from the word “cocksucker”, which was sometimes extended to “white cocksucker” or “San Francisco cocksucker” if he was feeling verbose. Names were less of a problem, particularly his own, Hearst’s, and Swearengen, which he pronounced “Swedgin”. His Season One “conversation” with Al about some stolen drugs is a series highlight. He doesn’t like the Tongs.
Young is a prolific voice actor for kids’ animations, but turned out for live-action roles in (among many others) Alias, MacGyver, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Curb Your Enthusiam prior to Deadwood. Afterwards there were roles on The Young And The Restless, True Blood and - here it is again - Sons Of Anarchy. At the movies he was Don Kim in both Cranks, and a different Mr. Wu in Men In Black 3.
Garret Dillahunt (Francis Wolcott / Jack McCall)
Dillahunt played two completely unrelated roles on Deadwood: so good they cast him twice! In Season One he was Jack McCall, the vengeful drunkard who shoots Wild Bill Hickok in the back during a card game and is run out of town (later to be tracked by Bullock and Utter). And in Season Two he was the deeply unpleasant geologist Francis Wolcott, part of Hearst’s advance guard and a man with a murderous appetite for prostitutes.
A stage actor by training, Dillahunt started picking up TV work in the mid-‘90s on usual suspects like NYPD Blue and The X-Files. Post-Deadwood there were more Westerns and more killers: No Country For Old Men, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, The Last House On The Left and The Road among them. He was also in Winter’s Bone with John Hawkes, and recently completed work on Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, with Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Gerald McRaney (George Hearst)
The long-heralded Hearst finally arrived as the big villain of Season Three, attempting to stamp his considerable authority on the entire town. A mining magnate, he subdued his workers’ unionising with murders, and succeeded in forcing Alma to relinquish her lucrative claim. He used the Pinkerton agency to sew discord in the camp, and allied with Tolliver and Farnum, though he did so with contempt, and with few concessions to anyone’s interests but his own. He was, in short, Swearengen’s greatest challenge and most significant threat.
A veteran TV actor, McRaney’s earliest appearances were in ‘70s staples like Alias Smith And Jones, The Waltons and Gunsmoke, where he was the last actor ever to have a gunfight with the even more veteran James Arness. He starred in and exec-produced his own sitcom, Major Dad, from 1989 to 1993, and was in the family drama Promised Land from 1996 to 99. After Deadwood came Jericho, Southland, Mike & Molly, and House Of Cards, while in the cinema he had gigs in Get Low (with Robert Duvall and Bill Murray), The A-Team and Red Tails. An enthusiastic NRA member, he’s also recently had a gun-based self-defence show on Spike TV called Practical Tactical.
Jim Beaver (Whitney Ellsworth)
A gold prospector and a regular at the Gem, Ellsworth was almost a background character until he was charged by Bullock with looking after Alma’s claim. This he did with dogged determination – at one point facing down the odious Wolcott – and developed a strong affection both for Alma and her adopted daughter Sofia. He and Alma later married, but Ellsworth left again when he took her laudanum relapse as a sign of his failure to make her happy. One of the more genuinely and immediately likeable characters in the cast (i.e. he’s not an absolute bastard or a killer or a coward) and one of the most quietly tragic.
Beaver’s full life has included tours in the Vietnam War as a US Marine, stints as a film journalist and biographer, stage acting, and writing for stage and television. His first major film role was with Bruce Willis in ‘Nam drama In Country, and he had a small role in Walter Hill’s Geronimo: An American Legend. On TV, before Deadwood, he’d appeared in The Young And The Restless, Days Of Our Lives, The X-Files and The West Wing. Subsequently there was John From Cincinnati, Harper’s Island, Breaking Bad and Supernatural, and he also followed Timothy Olyphant onto Justified. In 2006 he was able to use years of research for a still-unpublished book on TV Superman George Reeves for a behind-the-scenes role as a consultant on Hollywoodland.
Keith Carradine (Wild Bill Hickok)
Arriving at the camp for a date with destiny early in Season One, Hickok was portrayed as a man weary of his reputation as the fastest gun in the west. His short time in town saw him befriend Bullock and get involved in protecting Alma’s claim. He did little to back up the notion that he himself is in Deadwood as a prospector however, preferring to play cards at the Gem. His game with Jack McCall sealed his fate.
Carradine came to prominence in the ‘70s, working with Robert Altman in McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville and Thieves Like Us, and with Ridley Scott on The Duellists. Significantly for Deadwood, he’d also starred in two of Walter Hill’s best films: The Long Riders (with his brothers David and Robert as the Younger clan) and Southern Comfort (with Powers Boothe). Since Deadwood he’s been Penny’s dad on The Big Bang Theory, FBI agent Frank Lundy on Dexter and a sheriff in Cowboys & Aliens.
David Milch (The Showrunner)
Milch began his career as a writer and later exec-producer on Steven Bochco’s Hill Street Blues. He later co-created NYPD Blue and Brooklyn South with Bochco, and was the sole force behind another New York cop show, the short-lived Big Apple.
After Deadwood’s cancellation he went on to co-create John From Cincinnati, in whose ten episodes he found roles for Deadwood alumni Jim Beaver, Garret Dillahunt, Dayton Callie and Paula Malcolmson. He also channelled the knowledge he’d earned as an owner of thoroughbred racehorses into the HBO drama Luck, in cahoots with Michael Mann and Dustin Hoffman. The show was well-received, but cancelled after a single season over animal safety concerns from PETA. Milch’s next project, currently at the pilot stage and again at HBO, is The Money, “a show about the corruption of the very wealthy��� starring Brendan Gleason. He’s also written a screenplay for a possible film adaptation of the videogame Heavy Rain.
The legendary Walter Hill was brought in to direct and consult on Deadwood’s pilot. No stranger to Westerns, he’d previously made The Long Riders, Geronimo: An American Legend, Last Man Standing and the TV miniseries Broken Trail (as well as transposing the form to many of his modern-day action films). He’d even already filmed the story of Wild Bill, casting Jeff Bridges in the role of Hickok in 1995. Seeming to have retired disillusioned from filmmaking after 2002’s boxing drama Undisputed, he made a surprise return last year, directing Sylvester Stallone in Bullet To The Head.
Ed Bianchi (also producer) had worked on Homicide: Life On The Street, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and The Wire. His credits since Deadwood include John From Cincinnati, Brotherhood, Heroes, Bates Motel, The Killing and Magic City.
Daniel Minahan cut his teeth on Six Feet Under and The L Word, and went on to more sweary violence on True Blood and Game Of Thrones.
Davis Guggenheim (also producer) has directing credits on NYPD Blue, ER, 24, Alias and The Shield. After Deadwood he was an exec-producer and occasional director on comedy legal drama The Defenders, and most recently has been a director and producer of documentaries (An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting For Superman). He's currently at work on a doc about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban in 2012.
Gregg Fienberg (also exec-producer) had previously worked as a producer on Twin Peaks, Seaquest 2032 and Carnivale, and went on to John From Cincinatti and True Blood. The two Milch series' remain his only directing gigs to date.
Mark Tinker (also exec-producer) had been a writer / director / producer on St Elsewhere, LA Law and NYPD Blue. He went on to John From Cincinnati, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal.
Steve Shill worked on Emmerdale, Eastenders, Casualty and The Bill before defecting to the States for gigs on Law & Order and The Wire. After Deadwood came the reboots of Knight Rider and V, The Tudors, Missing, Dexter and Dracula. In 2009 he directed the movie Obsessed, with Idris Elba and Beyoncé Knowles.
Alan Taylor came to Deadwood via Homicide: Life On The Street, The West Wing, Six Feet Under and Sex & The City. Afterwards came The Sopranos, Mad Men and Game Of Thrones, and most recently there was the small matter of Thor: The Dark World. He's now at work on Terminator: Genysis.