It’s been nigh-on 13 years since HBO’s incredible Shakespearean Western series Deadwood was unceremoniously cancelled before getting to end it’s tale of the South Dakota mining town denizens. It felt, to fans and cast alike, that the camp candle had been snuffed far too soon for the David Milch masterclass of a show in 2006, and it’s taken this long for a proper sendoff.
Rumors swirled for awhile that perhaps HBO and Milch would find common ground and do a 2-hour mini series to bring the series closure, but that didn’t really happen until a decade later when a film was greenlit. The majority of the remaining cast (minus those we’ve sadly lost along the way) returned to Deadwood, and the release of the movie is just around the corner (Friday May 31st!).
We were lucky enough to be able to speak to the actress behind one of our favorite characters in the series, Robin Weigert, who brought Martha Jane Canary aka Calamity Jane to life on the show.
Mab: When did this movie really become….real, for you? there’s been talk for so long about a possible continuation, another season, another series, a movie, a mini-series, when did it really become real this time?
Robin: I think it really started to be real for me when I had lunch with David Milch, and he showed me some pages. He pulled out some of the speech I have as it relates to Bill Hickok, had me read it. He was clearly at work, and I sat and kinda put voice to the words on the page, literally reading them from the page, and I thought ‘oooh, this is happening.’ I knew, once he put his own creativity to it that it’d come to pass. I wasn’t like some of the skeptics in the cast who thought it was never ever going to happen. Once there started to be a script- there was too much love and too much brilliance in his work for it not to come to pass. There were some nail biting moments along the way, right up to the very end really. A bunch of us were signed on, but not all of us, then there was that part where everyone was signed on except one of us. There were all these stages. Wishing something something to be so is a very powerful force in the universe I’ve come to find out, and we were wishing for it very passionately.
Mab: How hard was it for you to dive back into the character, putting that fabulous hat back on, as it were. Has she been with you all this time or was it more of a-
Robin: That’s what I discovered! That she had been. I think that Jane is kind of a shadow self. She is a creature of some allowed-to-be manifest aspect of my own nature in there somewhere. There is an unbridled quality she has, and my own sense of self restraint were at odds with each other, and I think I like her way better. In some funny way, i like the go for broke- that thing that happens when someone thinks there’s no lower they can go- I think i’m much more precious in my own life about holding onto and keeping safe, but it’s something I can admire about her. She’s someone who I believe had a very low self esteem for most of her life.
Where I found her most deeply was in that thing that happens in middle life- recognition that it’s now or never. When you’re younger, you’re trying this, trying that, hoping something will stick. And you get to that point where you KNOW it’s about the choices you make. It becomes much more I’ll either have the courage to, or it’ll never happen. That starts to the be the thought in the middle, it has much more gravity. You’re looking down two roads, where one is a slow and ugly death, and the other is a chance at some happiness at the end- I think that’s where Jane is in this story- and you’re really clear on that. I think that’s where she is in this, in the movie.
Jane comes to understand by the end of the film- she always suspected she was incapable of rescue, even as she was saving many souls along the way. In some ways, certainly during the plague, she was able to do a lot of good. But she always suspected that when danger was coming straight towards her, that she’d turn tail and run. And there is this lovely moment in the film where she proves that wrong. And I love the movie for giving her that, putting the period at the end of that ‘can I, can I, ever show up to rescue’….with the answer being a resounding YES.
I ended up with this fantastic hat that looks like a cross between Petruccio and Cyrano de Bergerac it’s this slopey feathery thing, with a pop of green in the vest, things that show she’d taken a turn.
Mab: Is there a particular scene in the film that you really loved?
Robin: I think part of it, was that David was on set, and he brings his own magic with him when he’s just behind the monitor. It was that first scene in the Bella Union that I had with Joanie, that scene between us meant a lot to me. Finding her there, in a state, everything she hoped wouldn’t have been the case, the way we played it, may have been my favorite to play.
There were so many little tiny beats, things the camera didn’t see that I hold with me. There’s a scene where I come face to face with Alma Garrett [Molly Parker], and we didn’t have anything written, and I just loved seeing that sparkle in her eye at encountering Jane there in that moment, things that will be with me. Such a richness with every interaction, verbal and nonverbal because these characters know each other so well.
And other moments, when the cameras weren’t rolling. What it was like to reconnect with all the women of the show in the hair and makeup trailer for the first time. Looking around at the radiance that was there, thinking ‘God, how have I ever let myself lose track of so many of you over the years’. We’ve really re-cemented so many of these friendships, time is amazing that way. You do different jobs as an actor, and with no intention, you sort of slip away from each other. But now I feel solidly back in with this whole group of people, such love there.
Mab: Maybe it’s strange to say, but that love, that love really does come through in this film. Even though it’s not really about you as people outside these characters, it IS at the same time, because we see it, and we feel it.
Robin: It’s interesting you say the characters, because it was really different to encounter these characters again. There’s reencountering the people, and there’s reencountering the characters. And they too, become these beloved old friends again. Like Dayton [Dayton Callie, who plays Charlie Utter], who I’ve seen a handful of times, but it was such a different thing to reencounter Charlie Utter in the thoroughfare than Dayton. Suddenly, there he was, there was Charlie. They’re people, they’re people to me. And I really got a full hit of everybody. I’m so glad to hear that that comes across. It’s the most important thing to me, in the movie, because it so flies in the face of the culture right now, that sense of division and alienation that’s driven into us by our current politics, it’s the absolute antithesis of that. The real thing here is community, and the connection amongst us, it’s really the hidden story there. The fabric of these people, the story of connection. The misfits and outcasts, not just the heroic figures, even the tough fit, there all somehow a part of it. I love David for respecting that so much, us as human beings, that we’re most valuable in the connections we make with each other, not in the wars we win. I think that’s what I’ll miss the most about this.
Mab: Was there any regret for you that you didn’t get to, lets’ say do any of Jane’s horse tricks or rope and gun tricks?
Robin: Oh it’s vanity for me to say, but I got pretty good with the gun. Spinning it and doing things with it, because by this time Jane was out doing shows with Buffalo Bill Cody, so I’d better get good at this. But I never got to use it fully, absolutely meaningless to what we were about. [laughs] I can crack a bullwhip, that was something I learned how to do in the series. I was very proud of that, being a city girl. When someone gives you a shot of doing that, with a horse or a gun and you figure it out, you feel like ‘yeah I’ve earned my place here.’ It’s fun being an actor when it works, a fun way to live your life.
Mab: Do you feel you were able to say a proper goodbye to the character, through this film?
Robin: [after a pause] Yeah, if there ever is such a thing. Do we ever feel perfect closure in life? I don’t know. You’re very glad to have a moment or two, to sort of…consecrate something. It makes a big difference in real life, when someone is dying, to get that moment with them at their deathbed. To have that important conversation, even if it’s just looking into each other’s eyes again, you know you’re real to each other. It’s a little like that. Does it make you feel done? You’re still haunted by and think about that person all the time. I think it’s more like being grateful for having had that time, that’s what it’s like for me.
Mab: Thank you so much for your time, Robin. For your time with Jane, for your work with this character, for your care of her, thank you.
Robin: Thank you for your time with it all. I can tell, you really got it, what it was intended for.
Thank you again to HBO for facilitating, to Robin for her time, to David Milch for his amazing creation.