Ian McShane Talks Returning to 'Deadwood' After 12 Years & 'American Gods' Season 2
Starz's trippy fantastical drama, based on the 2001 book by Neil Gaiman, explores the impending battle in the modern world between weakened old deities (like the god of knowledge and the goddess of love), whom Wednesday is desperate to restore to prominence, and more active and popular new ones (the god of technology and god of new media, for example). Add some magic, eccentric characters and dazzling special effects, and Gods takes viewers on a roller coaster of equal parts danger and adventure.
A wild ride is apropos when looking at McShane's colorful career in TV and film. Along with Gods, he reprises arguably his most famous role, the foul-mouthed and ruthless bar proprietor Al Swearengen, this spring in HBO's can't-miss Deadwood movie.
On the big screen, he'll be seen as Professor Broom, adoptive father to the demonic hero, in the rebooted Hellboy (April 12); and he returns to the role of Winston, owner of the boutique hotel catering to the criminal underworld in John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum (May 17). "I love the work, love acting," McShane says. "But I'm not fussy about it. I really love doing television drama when it's different."
Growing up in Manchester, England, the son of a soccer player, McShane, 76, started out in theater. "The first time I got on the stage, it was like, 'I know where I am,'" he recalls. He worked steadily in the U.K. and the U.S. with roles as Heathcliff in a 1967 TV adaptation of Wuthering Heights; as cockfighting aficionado Sir Eric Russell in Roots (1977); and various guest spots, like his 1981–82 appearances on the original Magnum, P.I.
But popular British drama Lovejoy took his career to new heights and cemented his heartthrob status. McShane played the mystery-solving antiques dealer for six seasons and also served as a producer. The one genre he never expected to inhabit: an American Western.
"I'm a good actor, but I'm not the first name you think of doing a Western," he says of the 2004–06 Deadwood. "But somehow parts have your name on them." (Swearengen is such an iconic bad guy he landed at No. 6 on TV Guide Magazine's 60 Greatest Villains of All Time list in 2013.)
So how have the years treated Al? "I could grow the beard, grow the mustache," McShane says of prepping for his return to the Gem saloon. "Al's [old] costume fit the same, though the jacket was a little looser," he recalls. "He's a little diminished since I saw him last time — Al's maybe had one [drink] too many — but he's still the same." The two-hour film, which picks up a decade after the series finale and includes most of the original cast, is built around the town of Deadwood celebrating South Dakota's statehood.
While McShane had no qualms about revisiting Swearengen, he believes most of his characters should stay in the past. "You can’t put genies back in the bottle," he says of a proposed Lovejoy reboot. "Who wants to see me 25 years later playing that character? I know how to revive it, but not with me."
Like Deadwood, American Gods was originally out of McShane’s comfort zone. "Then I read the script and I thought, 'Wow, it's really quite an amazing bit of writing,'" he says.
One person relieved that McShane signed on is author Gaiman, also an executive producer. "The key to being a con man [like Wednesday] is that people want to like you," Gaiman says. "Ian gives us a monster you hope is going to come out on the side of the angels in the end."
By Wednesday's side on his unpredictable journey is his wonderstruck human bodyguard, ex-con Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle). Turns out Shadow is more important to the old gods' cause than anyone realizes. "Wednesday wants something from Shadow and he wants something for Shadow," McShane teases.
The actor is glad that Season 2 stays true to the book. "You get to know the individual gods more, as well as the modern gods and how they operate," he says. But, McShane warns, winning the war will involve unexpected surprises for both sides. "It's like a game within a game, which is what makes it interesting."
No matter what transpires, you can bet McShane will be at the center of it all, enjoying the ride.
American Gods, Season Premiere, Sunday, March 10, 9/8c, Starz
Deadwood, Movie Premiere, Spring 2019, HBO