Honest lawman

Timothy Olyphant reveals how much he enjoys playing the iconic town sheriff,Seth Bullock, in Deadwood. 

After three intense seasons of playing Seth Bullock, the mean and moody lawman of the award-winning HBO drama Deadwood, Timothy Olyphant was ecstatic at wrapping the critically acclaimed production for good. He can now finally sort out his tricky facial hair dilemma once and for all. 

“After eight months, it was truly liberating being able to shave off that f***ing moustache,” joked Olyphant during a recent phone interview from California, the United States. 

“They don’t just put those things on and take them off at the end of the day. And that’s a pretty huge moustache too. We’re not just talking about two, three weeks of growth. Thing is, there’s just not a lot things in my wardrobe that go with the moustache. (Laughs)  

“Around five, six months into the production, my wife starts asking me when we are going to wrap, really just asking me when that thing is coming off.” 

Born in Hawaii but raised in California, Olyphant first sprang to prominence with a critically acclaimed turn in the indie flick, The Girl Next Door, opposite 24’s Elisha Cuthbert.  

The actor’s other film and television credits include Doug Liman’s indie sleeper hit Go, Dreamcatcher opposite Morgan Freeman, and the HBO original movies, When Trumpets Fade and High Incident

Timothy Olyphant: "With (Sheriff Seth) Bullock, I explored the burden of his responsibility and the rage that he feels. To be honest, when I first played him, all these things were not that clear."

His most recent projects include the eagerly awaited fourth instalment of the popular Die Hard series, Live Free or Die Hard alongside Bruce Willis and Maggie Q, romantic comedy Bill with Jessica Alba and Aaron Eckhart, and Catch and Release alongside Jennifer Garner and Juliette Lewis. 

Despite having appeared in some well-received productions over the years, it is his unforgettable performance as Seth Bullock, the honourable, reluctant sheriff of Deadwood, which put him on the acting map. 

For Olyphant, Deadwood’s appeal is in its ability to find light and black humour in the bleakest of surroundings and toughest of situations. 

“Oddly enough, I think the show is pretty funny,” offered Olyphant. “What makes any really great heavy drama work is its sense of levity and within that, I think there’s wonderful humour to the show. It doesn’t always hit you on the head, but the humour is definitely there.” 

The final season of Deadwood, which premieres on Feb 5 on HBO, finds the lawless era in the town on the verge of becoming a part of history.  

As the town’s first elections approach, the strategic alliances that have protected hard-earned interests in the past become more critical than ever before.  

Facing down an unexpected threat from a powerful outsider aiming to reshape the town in his own image, the founders of Deadwood must put up their strongest front yet if they expect to survive. 

“For me selfishly, the third season was my favourite because I felt Bullock was so burdened by rage and his inability to see the big picture early in the story. As an actor, I always want to paint with more colours.  

“I really felt like I had the opportunity to do that in the third season because you see some of that burden being lifted and the effects of what he has learned over the course of the story.  

“I feel the third season is more simplistic in a good way. The first and third seasons were definitely the easiest to digest.” 

The way Olyphant tells it, what attracted him to the Bullock character primarily was the chance to play a lead role, something he had not had the opportunity to do earlier.  

Another attraction was the opportunity to play an honest, honourable man with a wild streak who is somewhat conflicted in his emotions.  

“It was such a complex character,” recalled Olyphant. “Like always, you get hold of a piece of material and the first thing you ask yourself is what do you think of it before you even get to whether there’s a part in it for you.  

“Ten pages in, what David (Milch, Deadwood’s creator and lead writer) had written was so fascinating that it was unlike anything that I had ever read before. When I got together with David and he started speaking, I realised quite quickly that this was a part of a lifetime.” 

The opportunity to work with a talented writer like David Milch was also another reason for him to commit wholeheartedly to the project.  

“David’s the ace in my pocket,” enthused Olyphant. “He’s there everyday and at every rehearsal and he’s our guide. I don’t think I’ve ever had a job where I just show up to try and service another guy’s vision until this one.  

“This is one job where I really don’t feel like I have to show up and protect my ideas. This is one of those jobs where you show up and say, ‘what do you want me to do?’ He’s given me and everybody involved such delicious rich characters. David is such an inspiring figure to be around.” 

One of the most distinctive things about Deadwood is Milch’s liberal use of rich, poetic, almost Shakespearean, language for his dialogue. According to Olyphant, one of the biggest challenges of playing Bullock was getting to grips with the eloquence of the script.  

“I think I came away from this whole experience with a whole new appreciation for the language.  

“It’s funny because not only was it such a rich and really unfamiliar language – by my and most people’s standards – we also only got to use that language for a few hours during shooting.  

“So we’d have these rehearsals where I didn’t understand a word I just said!” (Laughs

To properly nail a complex character like Bullock, Olyphant opted to focus on “the humanity of it all” in a bid to try and have an understanding about how he might feel about the things going on in his life.  

“With Bullock, I explored the burden of his responsibility and the rage that he feels. To be honest, when I first played him, all these things were not that clear and I don’t know if it was that clear with David also. We sort of found it in the first few episodes together.  

“When I got the role, I felt that there was more of an iconic character there and I don’t think I really saw how far we were going to take it in terms of his emotional range.  

“But once we tapped into that, it really became so rich and complicated and it was great. As for similarities between Bullock and me, I’d like to think of myself as someone who likes to do the right thing and at the end of the day, that’s really what this guy is about.” 

The third season of Deadwood premieres on HBO (Astro Channel 40) on Feb 5 at 11pm. 

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