'On Stranger Tides' star Ian McShane talks swapping music with Johnny Depp and the (possible) return of 'Deadwood'

Ian-McShane-Pirates

Image Credit: Peter Mountain

Over the phone from London, British actor Ian McShane is talking about his homeland’s perennial obsession: the weather. More specifically, he is explaining how he fell ill when the U.K.’s recent Indian summer was replaced by conditions of a more briskly autumnal nature. “I’ve been sick,” he says. “I’ve a chest infection, where you just want to go around coughing. Anyway, luckily, I have the week off.”

Rare is the actor — even the plague-ridden one — who regards having a week off as “lucky.” But then McShane has been enjoying his own professional Indian summer over the last half decade or so. McShane can claim one of thespian-land’s more colorful and varied careers, one that has wandered between movies (1971’s Richard Burton-starring Villain, 2000’s fabulous Sexy Beast), television (Dallas, the BBC show Lovejoy) and stage (the 2007 Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming). But it was his unforgettable performance as the foul-mouthed Al Swearengen in HBO’s late, lamented Deadwood that made Hollywood bigwigs sit up, pay attention, and, somewhat oddly, decide to cast him in pretty much every family-friendly project around. Indeed, these days McShane is very much the belle of the blockbuster ball. He voiced the villanous Tai Lung in 2008’s Kung Fu Panda, recently finished filming Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Killer, and is currently playing a dwarf in Snow White and the Huntsman (That’s the one with Kristen Stewart). He also, of course, essayed the role of Blackbeard in this year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which is released on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow.

Below, McShane talks about Pirates, Deadwood, and the awesomeness of Frank Zappa.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When I spoke to Johnny Depp earlier this year he said that, while making On Stranger Tides, the pair of you bonded over a shared love of Captain Beefheart.
IAN McSHANE: Yeah. Johnny’s got quite quirky, eclectic musical tastes and so do I. I’m a huge fan of [Frank] Zappa and Beefheart. Johnny’s very versed in that time. We were talking about a very brilliant but erratic American actor called Timothy Carey. He was in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing but he was clearly off his trolley. And he made this film, The World’s Greatest Sinner. I’d never seen it. Johnny said,”I’ve got to get you this movie.” And he sent it to me. It’s a wacko film. And who did the music for it? Frank Zappa. I just started his biography again, Zappa. I was reading it and it was one of those funny things that came out of nowhere. He wrote the music for The World’s Greatest Sinner.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. Johnny’s a great guy and now he sends me CDs of music and old blues stuff and I send him some stuff. He’s a good man, Mr. Depp, very fine. It was a great shoot. Johnny is very easy company and so is Penelope [Cruz] and Geoffrey [Rush]. It was just too long. Those movies, they just go on too long. You know, six months. You want them to finish after four.

Did you have much sword fighting experience before making On Stranger Tides?
Sword fighting? Oh, yeah. Well, you train at that at drama school. I hadn’t done much for many years. But the amount you do is pretty minimal. You do it [once] with cameras and if you’re smart you let the stuntmen to do the rest of it, so you look good. Really really good. I love those actors that say, “I’ll do all of it!” You say, “Are you sure? I don’t think so. Come on, that’s what the guy gets paid for, making you look good!” Victor Mature was the original guy who never did [stunts]. Apparently, he was injured once. Do you remember him?

I do. Samson and Delilah.
Yeah. He wouldn’t do anything. Apparently, he was famous for it. They were filming in California somewhere and there was a stream and [the director] said, “Run across the stream.” He said, “No, no. Alligators.” They said, “This is California! And it’s a stream!” He said “No, no. You never know where alligators could get to.” They said, “Before we say ‘Action!’ we’ll fire into the stream to make sure there’s nothing there.” There was a pause and Victor Mature said, “What about the deaf ones?”

mcshane

Image Credit: Doug Hyun/HBO

Many Deadwood fans — myself included — were horrified at the unexpected departure of Al Swearengen from our television screens. Is there even the slimmest possibility of seeing him again?
Well, you never know with that. Never say never with something like that. It was such a great experience. The best ever. I mean, three years of maybe the finest show ever on television. Everybody talks about The Wire and whatever. I’ve watched all of them and I just think Deadwood has something the others didn’t. It concentrated on the town. It was as big a character as anybody in it.

David Milch, who created it and who I love dearly, he still wants to do it. I guess it will come down to if it’s feasible. It was a hugely expensive show. That was the reason why it was taken off. It wasn’t just HBO involved, it was Paramount TV and David and the contracts. There was a load of stuff that went down. But he would love to see it come back. He would like to do two two-hour movies to finish it off.

When was the last time you spoke with him about this?
I speak to him on a regular basis, as a friend. I had lunch with him a couple of months ago and he was wishing that, you know… But he’s got this new show coming out with Michael Mann called Luck on HBO. So we’ll see. You never know!

You can see Mr McShane swashing some buckle in the trailer for On Stranger Tides below.

Read more:
Johnny Depp’s ‘Lone Ranger’ officially rides again
Captain Beefheart dies at 69
Box office report: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ posts year’s best opening


Comments (36 total) Add your comment
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  • CatDog

    Deadwood was one of the best shows. I really hope they pull an “Arrested Development” and make a short comeback just for us devoted fans.

    • haisu

      Loved him in the short lived nbc show Kings. I could be wrong on the title though, sorry. I’m currently on the list for deadwood at my local library. What a fine actor.BTW,I wanna share a good news to you.My best friend ,she just has announced her wedding with a millionaire man who is a celebrity !they met via Millionaireloving.℃ óM ..it is the largest and best club for celebrity and their admirers to chat online.You do not have to be rich or famous. ,but you can meet one , It’s worthy a try,Maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends!

  • PDDB

    When Deadwood was cancelled, there was talk of closing out the series with two made for tv movies. Glad to know they are still being optimistic about making them.

    • bhm1304

      “Deadwood” wasn’t ever canceled, Milch left it to do “John from Cinicinnati” and that was the end of “Deadwood”.

      • KS

        Which means it was cancelled.

    • Margarita

      Here is a non-paywalled link to .Shouldn’t your ref to Mann et al 2008 Figure 1c be to Figure 2c? It’s the green curve you need to look at for comparison.Yes, their RMSE valeus vs. Mann’s RE looks weird

  • Swearengen

    Please, please, please bring Deadwood back to HBO. This show is sorely missed.

    • C**ksucker!

      Yes please! I need closure!

  • lizzieb

    Deadwood. What a great shoe. The GOP candidates could learn from Al Swearengen, “declare or shut the f**k up”

  • Pisces228

    Deadwood was profanity at it’s poetic best. I pray for it’s return.

  • NedPepper

    Best. Show. Ever. God, Deadwood was just brilliant. I’d love to see that cast together again for a series of movies. Why cancel brilliance?

    • T’Boo Ted Marshall

      Deadwood is the DVD collection with which I’d be stranded on a deserted island. The sheer Shakespearean dialogue, the brilliant character development, the gut-wrenching moments of pathos – there is no equal available now. Al Swearengen’s character was phenomenal; all actors should be as fortunate as Ian McShane, who brought subtlety and over-the-top charisma in equal parts, in spades. Thank you for such a glorious experience…

  • Q

    I loved Deadwood. I’m glad Timothy Olyphant was able to find yet another terrific TV role in Justified. It has helped to ease the pain after Deadwood’s cancellation.

    • Robin

      “Justified” and “Deadwood”–two terrific shows that do not insult the intelligence of the viewer!

      A couple of points–why no mention of McShane’s great performance in “Pillars of the Earth”? I realize that not as many people saw that series as did “Deadwood”, but McShane’s character in that series made Al Swearengen look like a choirboy!

      And I hope that there are the “closure” movies for “Deadwood”; in the meantime, how about a guest role for McShane in “Justified”?

  • Daddyoh

    Loved that Show! Al Sweargen out Tony Soprano’ed Tony Soprano…and that was something!

  • M

    Loved him in the short lived nbc show Kings. I could be wrong on the title though, sorry. I’m currently on the list for deadwood at my local library. What a fine actor.

  • sam

    Is he available for a guest role on Justified? That would be great while we are waiting for the Deadwood movies.

  • LR

    Maybe Deadwood is not the best show ever, although in terms of dialogue it’s hard to put it second to anything.

    But it does have the most iconic villain ever:

    Al Swearengen. No one comes close. One of the best, if not the best TV performance ever.

  • LR

    I forgot, conversations between Al and Wu were always EPIC.

    • Wu

      Swedge-in!!

  • Mia

    Deadwood was amazing. Utter brilliance. I miss that show so much. I keep trying to get friends to watch it. Must buy DVDS.

  • orville

    I’d love some closure through a couple of movies. And while they’re at it, how about a little closure on Carnivale too?

  • walt

    Deadwood. Carnivale. Arrested Development. Television has never been better than these 3 shows.

    • Amedeo

      I’ll simply note that the McShane and Wyner meanilill reconstruction has a pronounced hockey stick shape, albeit with a higher Medieval Warm Period and wider error bars than the norm seen in various spaghetti graphs (apparently attributable to the Bayesian “path” approach).The wider error bars are due to taking annual errors instead of much smaller 40-year errors. This is a particularly embarrassing mistake for statisticians to have made.

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