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

Masterpiece VH1 Set visit DC streaming service Christmas cinemax E! composers CMT Valentine's Day Acorn TV The CW USA Musicals President Watching Series romance supernatural Starz Pirates Food Network political drama Sundance Now Spring TV Nat Geo zombies TV psycho Red Carpet transformers Trophy Talk NYCC TBS WGN Netflix OWN Polls and Games Music 21st Century Fox festivals Star Trek Super Bowl 2016 Calendar American Society of Cinematographers 2019 See It Skip It DC Universe cats Countdown Character Guide Toys Country Winter TV golden globes Showtime Sneak Peek FXX mutant dc Rocky X-Men Infographic Black Mirror SDCC unscripted Election GIFs technology Podcast comic Video Games jamie lee curtis Pop Universal SundanceTV dramedy Fox News Paramount Network FOX Animation USA Network facebook medical drama streaming TCM Emmys TV Land Apple ESPN Disney Channel Star Wars Warner Bros. historical drama Marvel robots cops Marathons BBC America miniseries Grammys Spike Creative Arts Emmys CNN politics Western serial killer VICE Ghostbusters YouTube Red what to watch Comedy Central Trivia TNT PBS Walt Disney Pictures Hulu Tomatazos harry potter RT History Crackle cooking Syfy Cosplay TCA Ovation Mary Poppins Returns Rom-Com Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ABC Family comiccon ABC Year in Review San Diego Comic-Con diversity Song of Ice and Fire LGBTQ period drama TruTV crime New York Comic Con IFC 24 frames Photos Shudder Mary poppins Sci-Fi FX CBS Superheroes crime thriller Horror anime PaleyFest Esquire Action Freeform Teen APB Reality Competition The Arrangement Mindy Kaling 2018 dceu crossover war spy thriller boxoffice Nickelodeon blaxploitation Opinion Martial Arts Disney DirecTV Extras Comedy MSNBC E3 award winner NBC Winners Epix singing competition Adult Swim Certified Fresh Ellie Kemper finale Logo First Look green book Musical Columbia Pictures IFC Films MTV discovery adventure 20th Century Fox YouTube Premium Mary Tyler Moore Shondaland Summer Trailer Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Amazon Fall TV GoT doctor who Premiere Dates HBO Bravo A&E Quiz sports Lifetime Dark Horse Comics CBS All Access travel Paramount Holidays Reality docudrama History police drama justice league 45 Lucasfilm thriller GLAAD 2017 AMC social media ITV Sony Pictures Superheroe Oscars Biopics binge crime drama TLC Schedule 007 DC Comics Lionsgate Comics on TV Pixar Cartoon Network Britbox Tumblr cults Nominations Awards Tour BET YA Drama ratings sitcom Rock Thanksgiving BBC SXSW Best and Worst television zombie El Rey Mystery hist vampires Interview science fiction Comic Book based on movie Writers Guild of America National Geographic Kids & Family spider-man Fantasy TCA 2017 CW Seed talk show Awards 2015 Sundance aliens Box Office TIFF biography