On HBO's Deadwood, which premieres its third season this Sunday at 9 pm/ET, amid all the badasses and noblemen, weasely E.B. Farnum does his best to stay out of Swearengen's crosshairs while keeping watch over (and occasionally swindling folks at) the Grand Central hotel. William Sanderson, who plays Farnum, spoke with TVGuide.com about adding the daft Deadwooder to his résumé; and teased what's ahead in the new season.
TVGuide.com: I had to laugh at the pitch your publicist e-mailed over, talking about your career playing "simpleminded backwoods men and snide ne'er-do-wells."
Well, there is a reason for that, and it's [a pattern] I didn't examine as much until I got older. But to use something I stole, "better to be typecast or not cast at all." That's the way I feel, anyway.
TVGuide.com: Your official website breaks your career down into five sections: Drama Guy, Western Guy, Sci-Fi Guy, Comedic Guy and Disturbed Guy. Which is your favorite to play?
Well, the easiest is Disturbed Guy, I guess. [Laughs] I've had one too many auditions [for that], I think.
TVGuide.com: "Disturbed" is also a safe play. I mean, it's not like there's some antidefamation group that'll come after you.
Yeah. And you can hide behind it. My brother-in-law, who is one of my heroes he's on the SWAT team in Pennsylvania once said I did a good job playing a psycho.
TVGuide.com: How did production go on Deadwood's third season?
It took upwards of nine months. William Goldman, the screenwriter, once said, "You always have three issues: weather, money and egos," and we ran into some rough weather at the end. Although it makes you feel like you're right there in Deadwood, it slows the process down. But it was, if anything, more fun this year than before. We have new guest stars coming through that are great. Plus, you learn how the creator of the show [David Milch] works. Scripts come out at the last minute, so you had better adapt. I've had some fun seasons.
TVGuide.com: At the end of last season, Farnum seemed to be going a little mad there, and sold the hotel to George Hearst.
I'll confess to you, if people don't like Farnum, they won't want to miss the first episode. He's still on the edge. Hearst is prominent throughout [Season 3], and my god, Gerald McRaney did a great job. Farnum has a run-in with Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), another really fine actor I don't want to sound like I'm running for mayor, but I'm amazed, especially at the younger actors, because they're so much more poised than I was [at that age]. Look at that girl [Kristen Bell] who has her own show, Veronica Mars. I got a late start, after a couple of years in the Army and going all the way through graduate school, and arrogance carried me at first.
TVGuide.com: Last season ended with Cy Tolliver knifed in the street. How are things looking for him?
He's recovering from that.... I don't want to give any stories away. Isn't Powers Boothe a good villain? I don't want to sound self-serving, but when you're in a scene with an actor you respect, one who makes you better, you count your blessings, you know? If he were here, he'd say, "Oh, you f---ing suck-up." [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Thus far, Farnum has been a bit of a lapdog to Al, this small-time schemer who's just smart enough to know how low he is on the food chain but too stupid to change anything about it....
Exactly! It's not fun to hear, but... Farnum is scared of the world. He's afraid of Hearst, he's afraid of Swearengen, but he's surviving, and that's what I'm doing in real life. I'm just a journeyman.
TVGuide.com: Can we expect any change in his allegiances?
Hmm.... great question. He gets insolent with Al, but he's still under his thumb. He's under a lot of people's thumbs. He's under Hearst's, Bullock's.... They treat him like he's a disease. But listen, we don't often see ourselves like other people. I was on a sitcom [Newhart] and that guy, Larry, was an innocent, if nothing else. Farnum is not an innocent. Farnum is pathetically funny, though I never approach characters trying to be funny.
TVGuide.com: If you weren't on Deadwood, is it a show you'd watch?
Being cynical and jealous of the fun they were having, maybe not! [Laughs] But I do like Westerns, and I do think they've put together great actors myself excepted so yes, I'd watch it.
If I can force something on you, we are trying to develop democracy on this show , and not unlike in Iraq, it's not pretty. There was no law, and there was a lot of violence.... [As for the] language, I'm sorry, but I trust my boss David Milch, who researched it. He's always said these types try to distance themselves from a dominant class. If you've been around thugs and the kind of losers and gamblers and misfits who drifted in and out of [the Wild West], they talked pretty rough.
TVGuide.com: You mentioned your Newhart character. What do we hear from Darryl and the other Darryl?
When somebody asks me, "Do you talk to them?" I say, "I try not to" but in truth I'm very very fond of them, and I do talk to them sometimes. One of them [John Voldstad] is raising a teenager by himself, and the other [Tony Papenfuss] is in Minnesota, and just worked on a picture with Matt Dillon.
TVGuide.com: What did you think of Newhart's "It was all a dream" series-finale twist?
It was a great surprise. I was glad it came in at No. 1 [in the ratings]. It was bittersweet [to see it end], but that sets in later. Gosh, I sure was lucky to have that job. These hours [on Deadwood] are a little more demanding.
TVGuide.com: As someone who was in Blade Runner [as lonely genius J.F. Sebastian], what was your take on the whole director's cut/narration-versus-no narration debate?
I didn't get it. Because I'm a fan of Ridley Scott, I want to say to a degree "leave him alone." Ridley told me himself, "I couldn't get through the book [Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?]." [Laughs] I was just happy not to be cut out!
Additional reporting by Michael Peck