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Monday, October 22, 2012

Interview with W Earl Brown

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.”

That seed was planted early in life but it wasn’t until I went to college at Murray State U, and took an acting class on a whim, that the idea began to blossom that I could actually do it.

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…”

In the 90s, I did SCREAM and SOMETHING ABOUT MARY – that generations AH and HALLOWEEN. To say the least, that was pretty cool.

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?

W Earl Brown: Wherever the writing is. Writing is the foundation for everything. Without it…

4) Got Pulp? What would be your dream role?

W Earl Brown: Dream Role? I dunno… I can think of a Dream Paycheck, but not really a role. There are numerous stage roles that I’d love to play. But as for movies, there are stories I’d like to tell as a writer, but I’ve never purposely written anything for myself. Even in BLOODWORTH, we offered my role to a well-known actor first. When we realized that his schedule would not work, I came off the bench and played it myself, but that was not the initial plan.

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.

Seriously though, most of my biggest inspirations have been artists who work in many areas: Kris Kristofferson, Shel Silveretein, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell. These guys are my heroes. One art feeds the other, so I guess you could say I’ve got a big ol circle jerk of creativity going on in my mind at all times.

As for producing: If we were going to get BLOODWORTH made, Shane Taylor (director) and I were going to have to do it ourselves. So, we did. I enjoy the creative problem solving aspect of it. The number crunching, organization part of it is not necessarily my cup of tea. But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and as BW proved, Shane and I can do it. So, we continue to lead the charge. We are going to make more movies together: we make a good team.

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.

As for what the process was like, it was painstaking. One has to tear the book entirely apart and rebuild it again. To be so emotionally tied to a story makes that process all the more difficult.

I am happy with the result of our film, I can only think of one movie I like better than the novel it was based on (FORREST GUMP) and our movie is no exception. I only scratched the surface of PROVINCES OF NIGHT.

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.

I’d never met William face to face until Shane and I flew to Nashville to attend the Southern Book Festival to try to convince him that, while we didn’t have a lot of money, we’d not fuck up his book too bad. Mind you, this was before DEADWOOD. William only knew my work from SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and that was not exactly proof positive that I could pull off PROVINCES.

I knew William was a fellow music nut and a baseball fan. The Yanks/Red Sox playoff game was on in the bar. Eventually our conversation got around to Steve Earle, I said that Steve was a good friend. William was skeptical, “You KNOW Steve?”

Not long afterward, I stepped outside the bar and called Steve. He was watching the game also. As we were talking, Manny Rodriguez beat up 72-year-old Don Zimmer. William was watching it in the bar. After the roar died down, I said to Steve, “I need a favor…” I put William on with Steve and they talked for a good long time.

When William hung up, he said, “I reckon y’all can have the book…”

After that, William and I began to correspond with one another, mostly over the phone. We’d have these rambling conversations about the oddest topics. William was like a character right out of the pages of Faulkner. He had a thick as molasses drawl and he spoke slowly. Couple that with his natural shyness and he really seemed like a Snopes at first glance. But as you listened closely, you could see an immense intelligence and generous spirit. He was a walking enigma. I miss him.

 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:

13) Got Pulp? Great list. I saw Pantera 3 or 4 times in the mid 90s, when they were really on fire. Phil Anselmo was angry and Dimebag Darrell was electric. Then, sadly, I remember getting off work late one night and hearing the news that Dimebag had been shot by some stupid asshole. Did you ever get a chance to see them live? 

W Earl BrownI 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.

15) Got Pulp? Have you ever thought about throwing in the towel? Just saying, “Fuck it, I’m going to go out and get a real job?"

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.

16) Got Pulp? I know you’ve been a busy guy. You’re working a lot these days and you have a shit load of films coming out. Everything from THE LONE RANGER to A SINGLE SHOT to THE MASTER. You also got to work with John Hawkes again in THE SESSIONS (Sol Star, from DEADWOOD). I’m saying it now: a few of these films could be Oscar contenders.

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.

17) Got Pulp? There’s a great scene in THE MASTER where you and Joaquin Phoenix appear to really get physical with each other. Did you actually hit him? Because it looks like 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.   

Last question: What is the strangest experience you’ve ever had with a fan? Have any DEADWOOD fans on the street ever called you a cocksucker?

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!”

That was A Socially Awkward Moment.  

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.

1 comment:

jedidiah ayres said...

Great conversation fellas