I'll keep this intro short. It's no secret I'm a big fan of DEADWOOD (and really, who isn't?) and over the last year or so I've gotten to know W Earl Brown a little bit. He played Dan Dority, who was my favorite character. Dan was Al Swearengen's right-hand man, steadfast and devoted. The most loyal character on the show.
Well, Earl was cool enough to do an interview with me. I find I am even more of a fan now than I was before.
1) Got Pulp? You grew up in the south. So my first question is, how did a country boy from Murray, Kentucky, end up in Hollywood? Had you always aspired to be an actor?
W Earl Brown: When I was 12 years old and loading hay bales on my Granddad’s truck, the thought hit me, “I can NOT do this for the rest of my life.” So I guess you could say an aversion to backbreaking physical labor and a highly tuned imagination lead me to where I am today.
I always had a fascination with movies and television since I was a toddler. My great-grandmother babysat me. She was always going on about, “Now them TV cameras is downright magic. You can do all sorts of things with ‘em.”
2) Got Pulp? What kind of movies did you watch growing up? What actors were your heroes?
W Earl Brown: I could only see whatever the wide releases were. Or the southern drive-in circuit fare. There were no videotapes. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I’d ever heard of HBO, and since I lived out in the country, we could not get cable TV. So, whatever was at the Capri/Cheri Theater or at Murray Drive-in, was what I saw.
My freshman year of HS, three movies blew me away: STAR WARS, ANIMAL HOUSE, and HALLOWEEN. Saw each multiple times. It was only second or third viewing of AH, in the scene where Belushi pours mustard on himself at the party, that I had the cognizant thought, “Man, I’d love to work in the movies…”
Actor heroes – to many to mention. But Belushi was really the one who first made me want to be in movies, so I’ll say Belushi. John.
3) Got Pulp? You’ve portrayed many different characters in both television and films. Are there any certain types of roles you enjoy playing the most, or certain types of roles you go after?
4) Got Pulp? What would be your dream role?
5) Got Pulp? You’ve played a lot of characters. Earlier this year you popped up on an episode of the X-Files I was watching. You went to school with Gillian Anderson, what was it like to see her shoot to super stardom, and then get to work with her again years later?
W Earl Brown: Gillian? To see her become a Fanboy’s Wet Dream as the ultra-serious Dana Scully was odd to observe. In school, Gillian was best known as a comedienne, her greatest successes were in comedies. Plus, she was a big punk rock chick. She and I did an A.R. Gurney show, SCENES FROM AMERICAN LIFE, together at the end of my time at The Theatre School/DePaul. I didn’t really know her well until then. We became friends during that show. I’d lost touch with her for years though. She had nothing to do with me being cast on X-Files. It was a very pleasant surprise for both of us to get to work together again.
6) Got Pulp? There’s a lot more to Earl Brown than meets the eye. You are also a screenwriter and a producer. At what point did you make the jump from acting to screenwriting and producing? What prompted the move?
W Earl Brown: I’ve always written, just like I’ve always played music and drew pictures and took photographs. I am a Dilettante Supreme and a Raging Megalomaniac.
7) Got Pulp? So, you wrote and produced the film BLOODWORTH (adapted from the novel, Provinces of Night, by William Gay). I know that was a personal project you felt passionate about, and with most personal projects they are never easy. They can be long drawn-out gut-wrenching acts of love. What was it like to bring your vision of the novel to the screen?
W Earl Brown: I read CATCHER IN THE RYE when I was in college. Unlike many fellow classmates, I did not relate to it. When I first read PROVINCES… I found my Holden Caufield in Fleming Bloodworth. Fleming’s viewpoint was how I saw the world at that age.
8) Got Pulp? I am a huge fan of William Gay and was truly devastated when he passed away. I always thought one day I would get to meet him. I know you two were friends. Care to tell us a little bit about your relationship with him? What was he like?
W Earl Brown: William Gay. I met him through my wife, Carrie, who interviewed him for a project she was working on in 2002. She brought home a copy of PROVINCES for me to read.
9) Got Pulp? We have to talk about DEADWOOD. Dan Dority, in my opinion, was probably the most three-dimensional character on the show – as far as unpredictability and depth go – because one minute he’s cutting another man’s throat and the next minute Al has just hurt his feelings. What was it like to play Dority?
W Earl Brown: DEADWOOD was a dream job where we could not wait to get there everyday, because we never knew what was going to happen. It is not like it was all hugs and butterfly kisses, but we knew it was something no one had ever seen before.
10) Got Pulp? David Milch: I cannot say enough about this guy. In a world where the term ‘genius’ is tossed around so casually, I truly consider this man to be a genius when it comes to writing characters and scenes. You wrote an episode(s) of Deadwood. What was it like to work with him? Do you feel like you learned a lot about the craft of writing from Milch?
W Earl Brown: Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that David is a genius. I’ve never encountered another mind quite like his. As for writing, truth is we all wrote on every episode – the entire staff. David, in turn, rewrote us all. “My” episode might have 7 lines in it that are as I actually wrote them. I’ve been complimented on that beautiful scene at the end with Jane and Joanie, I agree it is a beautiful scene. I didn’t write a word of it – Regina Corrado did.
Likewise, there are things I wrote of which elements would show up in other scripts. So, it was a group effort guided by the strong hand of The Maestro.
11) Got Pulp? On top of acting, writing, and producing, you’re also a musician? Let’s talk about your band and the music you play.
W Earl Brown: My megalomania knows no bounds … Sacred Cowboy are a country band with heavy guitars – a Motley Cruegrass if you will. The band has mothballed for a few years. We made an album “Hard Country” and played all over LA and the surrounding areas with our crowning achievement being on the bill for Stagecoach 09. It truly was a really good band, and hopefully will be able to play; it is just trying to juggle schedules.
12) Got Pulp? You have to drive from New York to LA. You can only bring three CDs. Name them.
W Earl Brown: For a cross-country drive? This would be different than my “Top Deserted Island” list because I’d need driving music plus I can’t stop at 3, so here are 5:
W Earl Brown: I saw Pantera on the first Ozzfest, they were touring behind the Southern Trendkill record and then I saw Reinventing the Steel opening for Sabbath. I became really good friends with Rex and through him have met Phil, Vinnie, and Rita. Both Rex and Rita were in the background on separate DEADWOOD episodes.
14) Got Pulp? What are some jobs you’ve had over the years in between acting gigs? What was the worst job you’ve ever had?
W Earl Brown: I finished school in 89. I was the production coordinator at DePaul Theater School for two years and I also painted houses on the side. I got a run of picture deal on THE BABE (Babe Ruth baseball pic) in 91 and made enough money on it that I didn’t have to do anything else. I’ve not had a job outside of the industry (acting, writing, and to a small degree playing music) since then. But hands down the hardest work ever is farm work – hauling hay and cutting tobacco will bust your ass. I know my granddad had a farm and I had to help out growing up. Luckily for me, he lived fifteen miles away so it wasn’t like I was saddled with daily chores. Summers and weekends were enough to make me realize farm work was not for me. My vivid imagination is too strong and my propensity for prolonged manual labor is too weak.
W Earl Brown: No. Are you kidding me? I get paid to play. I get to travel to cool places and have unique experiences. It’s a life I dreamt of having and I have it. To quote Oscar Wilde, “Every bone in my body cries out against the vast in humanity of normal employment.” I have gone through dry spells, and have gotten a tad bitter every now and then, but my wife knows how to set my ass straight. She is my biggest fan, my best critic, and my Muse. I guess if I were broke (and I’ve been close on occasion), I would work whatever job I could find to pay the bills, but so far, that has not happened.
W Earl Brown: THE MASTER is an Oscar shoo-in and I think THE SESSIONS will definitely be on the short list. THE MASTER makes you think. THE SESSIONS makes you feel. Both are Oscar bait.
THE LONE RANGER is going to be kick-ass, popcorn awesome. My stock answer for “when did you start acting?” has always been, “when I was 5 playing Lone Ranger in my backyard.” That is literally true. I still own one of my original Lone Ranger Fanner Fifty cap guns and, thanks to eBay, I also have the gun belt. So, I followed the LR remake from the time Bruckheimer got the rights six years ago. I HAD to be in that movie. Luckily, Gore cast me. While shooting the movie, I had an epiphany – I am doing the exact same thing, EXACT, that I was doing 43 years ago. Only now, I am getting paid to do it.
W Earl Brown: Yes. We beat the shit out of each other. I tried to pull punches by loosening my wrist when I threw them. But one time, my wrist landed solid right on his temple. I know that had to hurt like hell. But Joaquin wanted it that way. I ended the day with a sprained toe. Don’t know how the hell that happened after getting punched, shoved, and slapped all day, I got a toe sprain…go figure.
W Earl Brown: Dozens of times. The worst – standing at a urinal during the intermission of a Merle Haggard/Bob Dylan concert. The men’s room was packed, shoulder-to-shoulder with dudes at the piss trough. Dude next to me, keeps giving me the eye – I think he’s a pecker checker – he says, “Hey.” Now I’m pretty sure that assumption is correct. Without making eye contact, I return the “hey.” Upon hearing my voice, “Well GODDAMN it IS you!!! Cocksucker!! FUCKING COCKSUCKER!!! (yells to his buddies) “It IS him. I fuckin’ told you cocksuckers!”
Thanks, Earl. I’m a big fan of your work and it was a pleasure to interview you. If you’re ever in the deep woods of rural Missouri I expect a phone call. I’ll have good music and cold beer waiting.