News

How Godless Helps Revive the Western, According to Its Stars

Jeff Daniels, Scoot McNairy, and Merritt Wever discuss the Netflix period drama, a seven-part limited series.

by | November 17, 2017 | Comments

Scoot McNairy grew up watching Westerns — so when he read the script for the movie that eventually became the Netflix miniseries Godless, he was thrilled at the prospect of living out a childhood fantasy.

The Man From Snowy River; Silverado; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly — me and my family had a farm outside of town in Paris, Texas, so we spent a lot of your summers up there and holidays … just [watching] old VHS Westerns,” McNairy, who plays sheriff Bill McNue, told Rotten Tomatoes recently. “We only had maybe 20 of them underneath the TV, so we obviously watched the same ones over and over and over.”

Godless, however, is different from those films he watched as a kid.

“I think the Westerns back then were probably a little bit more polished, a little bit safer,” McNairy said. “And I just think that sort of, the medium of entertainment or television or storytelling has broadened in regards to making things a little bit more real or showing things that society or people or the viewers aren’t necessarily ready for … I definitely think that this is a lot more grittier of a Western than some of the John Waynes and polished-off stuff.”

Like McNairy, star Jeff Daniels was wondering how the feature film script he read would turn into a series (he was originally interested in the project 15 years ago in the role that eventually went to the younger actor). But once he read the episodes, he knew the project was special.


“You go through every script and you stop every 10 pages and you go, what happens next? Guess five things. And if it’s well written, what happens isn’t one of those things. And [creator Scott Frank] is really good at that. So now you’ve got this town inhabited by primarily just women, because of whatever, the mining accident and all that, and you’ve never seen this before. Right? Certainly not in a Western,” Daniels said. “Let’s write towards something no one’s ever seen before. That’s what makes it. It’s just good writing.”

Godless takes place in the 1880s in the rundown mining town of La Belle, New Mexico, a town inhabited nearly entirely by women after a mining accident kills most of the town’s male population. Jack O’Connell plays Roy Goode, a man on the run from his outlaw boss, Frank Griffin (Daniels), and winds up in widow Mary Fletcher’s (Michelle Dockery) La Belle barn. McNairy plays Mary’s widowed brother, Sheriff Bill McNue, and Merritt Wever stands out as a La Belle resident who tries to unite the women of the town so they can support each other and themselves.

“It’s a more realistic version of a Western,” McNairy said. “The women back then did all the work. The men, they would go to the mines and they would go and obviously hunt and whatnot, but it was really the women who were the foundation of these towns, raising kids, and cooking the food, doing all these things that are obviously in this world view, ‘being in the kitchen.’ But without that at that time during these harsh environments of the Wild West in the 1880s, if you didn’t have these women around, I don’t know that the people of the town could thrive.”


Added Wever, “And the idea that the women in these towns weren’t tough to begin with? I think they were all pretty tough.”

The filming of the series was also literally tough — the locations were remote, and the actors filmed scenes from hours’ worth of material completely out of order over the course of the shoot. That means it was difficult to maintain a through-line for where her character was at any given point in her development.

“Understandable — because I don’t know how you would get the cast even together in the room on the same date for a read-through — but I had a hard time navigating my way through where Mary Agnes was on what day and at what point in the story because of that,” Wever said. “And I told Scott I’d never left a part before wishing that I had another stab at it so badly. I always feel like that, but never like this, where I got to the end and sometimes I would realize something from doing one scene in episode 2 that we’re shooting month three that would inform the whole rest of the piece that I just did.”


While the show is called Godless and Daniels plays a ruthless killer, his character is also a religious, church-going, scripture-quoting man. Daniels said he thinks religion is his character’s way of coping with the dysfunction in his life.

“He was stolen by a guy and taken away and raised by this guy who was brutal. He’s completely in need of a team of shrinks, which they didn’t have in the 1880s. So, his only therapy, I think, was the Bible. He’d put a bullet in a guy’s head and then quote the Bible,” he said. “I never played it as any kind of conscious, ‘And now I’m going to cleanse myself.’ It’s just, out of desperation, he would start to hang on to the good while he did the bad. And then, cause that’s the way life is. I didn’t make sense of it. I wanted to be as confused about it as he was. So, every time he’s quoting the Bible, he’s absolutely talking to God.”


Godless premieres on Wednesday, November 22  on Netflix.

Tag Cloud

Countdown DGA X-Men Starz indiana jones what to watch GLAAD Pixar remakes Sony Pictures Image Comics Best and Worst video The Arrangement BAFTA blaxploitation ghosts wonder woman concert PaleyFest Elton John mcc Drama aapi fast and furious best japan 2017 Ellie Kemper aliens VH1 Lionsgate Shondaland new star wars movies pirates of the caribbean rt labs MCU posters Film Festival Disney Pop Turner festival Film Star Trek romantic comedy rt archives directors Arrowverse Writers Guild of America toy story award winner indie live action Amazon spy thriller 45 History natural history Trailer Crackle American Society of Cinematographers cults Character Guide Spike APB Biopics historical drama Amazon Studios spider-man vampires IFC Films ID child's play AMC Pacific Islander San Diego Comic-Con 2019 Paramount Plus BBC Pet Sematary composers FX on Hulu Vudu adenture streaming movies hispanic biography E! Action dc USA Network CBS All Access independent DC Comics Creative Arts Emmys superman Photos Comedy Central kong parents Quiz Holidays Comic-Con@Home 2021 australia psychological thriller Hulu godzilla DC streaming service technology nature Mystery dexter kids New York Comic Con movie Teen golden globe awards festivals disaster Chernobyl Emmys lord of the rings VOD marvel cinematic universe 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards popular elevated horror Toys video on demand DC Universe romance Superheroe OneApp Chilling Adventures of Sabrina The Witch Walt Disney Pictures stoner football Avengers Disney+ Disney Plus Comics on TV ViacomCBS Academy Awards Binge Guide Mary poppins Baby Yoda diversity 99% dceu SundanceTV Mindy Kaling marvel comics asian-american binge comics Pop TV First Reviews Musical Marathons Valentine's Day The Walt Disney Company TCA Winter 2020 Lucasfilm 24 frames Pride Month Pirates Ovation rotten movies we love TV renewals satire Masterpiece Musicals new york Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt HBO SXSW joker space LGBT Legendary Warner Bros. Grammys Cosplay spanish language 1990s SDCC politics high school Awards Tour critic resources Christmas sequels series slashers National Geographic Women's History Month Rocketman theme song comic Wes Anderson BBC One screenings Video Games Extras ESPN new zealand young adult worst OWN docudrama 72 Emmy Awards Epix The Purge documentaries Ghostbusters james bond Tumblr children's TV 2015 political drama game show El Rey films Lifetime Christmas movies blockbusters A24 docuseries Infographic chucky YA hist scene in color obituary emmy awards GoT MTV die hard Peacock hollywood basketball revenge Interview transformers reboot a nightmare on elm street finale stand-up comedy Reality Competition boxoffice Freeform MSNBC Comic Book dragons rt labs critics edition spain harry potter Disney streaming service TCA 2017 foreign anime cops Lifetime cars true crime feel good social media TLC news Opinion halloween streaming teaser golden globes BET period drama strong female leads NBC nbcuniversal 71st Emmy Awards ABC hidden camera Red Carpet reviews TNT royal family Election Shudder batman trailers TIFF cancelled TV series saw BET Awards Super Bowl The Walking Dead Amazon Prime Video Set visit sequel Marvel Studios PBS hispanic heritage month cancelled TV shows psycho jamie lee curtis name the review Acorn TV Mary Poppins Returns RT History Mudbound mutant ITV halloween tv Thanksgiving sag awards Apple TV Plus werewolf Hear Us Out Summer Sundance TV robots green book Cannes TCA monster movies telelvision Box Office Britbox tv talk Rock 90s legend anthology Music canceled Amazon Prime ratings cinemax Universal scary movies mission: impossible 2021 Marvel Television king arthur Rocky target Crunchyroll science fiction sitcom YouTube Red witnail Martial Arts spinoff Oscars Television Academy Apple sports superhero know your critic WGN cartoon 2018 Brie Larson movies Stephen King WarnerMedia dogs BBC America A&E laika kaiju Watching Series criterion Tomatazos jurassic park venice USA canceled TV shows breaking bad Showtime Fox News FOX animated Comedy archives cancelled Horror CBS blockbuster Superheroes japanese Columbia Pictures LGBTQ Tokyo Olympics Mary Tyler Moore comic books Discovery Channel Trophy Talk Sci-Fi Nominations 2020 HBO Max cooking Spectrum Originals game of thrones DirecTV olympics Certified Fresh deadpool Trivia crossover serial killer worst movies Polls and Games television Sundance Now HBO Go TV Nat Geo 73rd Emmy Awards Endgame cats comiccon FX Nickelodeon fresh Schedule YouTube Premium FXX TV movies all-time Sundance Family mockumentary debate comic book movie Star Wars prank zombie Tarantino singing competition TruTV screen actors guild 4/20 talk show Netflix Syfy CW Seed Rom-Com action-comedy Black Mirror adaptation adventure based on movie Dark Horse Comics Country Alien casting Sneak Peek book adaptation 20th Century Fox miniseries Captain marvel comedies italian Calendar TV Land Paramount crime thriller Hallmark nfl rotten scorecard renewed TV shows police drama women Holiday YouTube rom-coms razzies travel Song of Ice and Fire E3 Cartoon Network medical drama Emmy Nominations Podcast latino CMT Spring TV GIFs facebook 21st Century Fox biopic Fox Searchlight war Marvel Awards doctor who See It Skip It twilight Funimation Fall TV PlayStation 2016 Black History Month south america TV One spanish unscripted international First Look Premiere Dates documentary Winners Logo free movies ABC Signature comic book movies The Academy 93rd Oscars quibi supernatural Broadway Heroines Esquire zero dark thirty christmas movies Classic Film boxing ABC Family dramedy TCA Awards franchise NBA zombies Turner Classic Movies black The CW Animation Paramount Network Year in Review crime Netflix Christmas movies classics Reality Tubi versus Apple TV+ CNN discovery NYCC justice league critics slasher IFC Hallmark Christmas movies VICE Anna Paquin Travel Channel stop motion Exclusive Video Western universal monsters RT21 Bravo Adult Swim dark 007 king kong Food Network french thriller Winter TV toronto TBS crime drama Kids & Family Fantasy TCM book President Disney Plus cancelled television gangster Television Critics Association Disney Channel suspense heist movie richard e. Grant