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

zombie facebook Showtime war Character Guide disaster tv talk Christmas cars Holidays Sundance space technology 2018 Nat Geo Superheroes Reality Competition VH1 Starz elevated horror cops FXX anime DC streaming service Biopics Masterpiece casting Song of Ice and Fire LGBTQ Ovation police drama Sony Pictures Lucasfilm blaxploitation MSNBC zombies Schedule Disney Logo Calendar GLAAD PaleyFest Pet Sematary Ghostbusters Shondaland CNN theme song SundanceTV Election Trivia romance TCM comiccon medical drama Rom-Com movies hist toy story Best and Worst travel Fantasy DGA TV Land diversity Britbox sitcom CBS All Access Box Office animated TLC adaptation Disney streaming service DC Universe Shudder NBC Captain marvel Spike Sci-Fi A&E Warner Bros. green book WGN psychological thriller Nominations jamie lee curtis San Diego Comic-Con crime HBO Max game show dceu Photos Binge Guide YA Infographic award winner Adult Swim AMC Family Thanksgiving witnail Countdown zero dark thirty boxoffice Reality 2019 YouTube Red Music cinemax singing competition sequel Universal political drama what to watch supernatural The CW anthology ESPN The Arrangement strong female leads BBC Western Star Trek Premiere Dates Emmy Nominations CMT GIFs natural history PBS festivals quibi ghosts Lionsgate Comics on TV Tarantino Trophy Talk DirecTV Mary Tyler Moore Summer social media RT21 Film Festival ratings APB Netflix Year in Review Action TV docudrama Hulu cats dc psycho Elton John crime thriller SDCC Star Wars Certified Fresh Valentine's Day Stephen King Nickelodeon Brie Larson BET Cannes IFC Films Film Mudbound Epix vampires television streaming miniseries Cosplay justice league Superheroe Martial Arts Ellie Kemper Mary poppins Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Winter TV cults dragons spider-man spinoff cooking serial killer Heroines Opinion Animation WarnerMedia El Rey See It Skip It book Fall TV Disney Channel American Society of Cinematographers Columbia Pictures Dark Horse Comics binge harry potter CW Seed Lifetime Oscars 007 discovery transformers Polls and Games ITV Pop Tomatazos stand-up comedy richard e. Grant Musical Food Network President Super Bowl Rocky Amazon Prime Video crossover Rocketman Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Chernobyl Drama 2016 Black Mirror Comedy Creative Arts Emmys DC Comics ABC Family Set visit First Look Kids & Family TCA 2017 Walt Disney Pictures mockumentary dramedy Musicals Marathons Apple E! children's TV Tumblr Sundance Now Winners GoT historical drama Amazon science fiction Esquire unscripted Spring TV based on movie ABC Mary Poppins Returns History MCU crime drama Grammys Pixar The Witch Extras Comedy Central Rock LGBT VICE Crackle kids FX sports TBS revenge comic FOX Freeform Awards X-Men Cartoon Network Trailer Fox News NYCC Country 2015 Amazon Prime E3 talk show Paramount Network doctor who 2017 MTV 24 frames teaser composers thriller adventure Watching Series Anna Paquin Writers Guild of America Emmys Toys period drama IFC golden globes Syfy Spectrum Originals Vudu Pride Month RT History Pirates USA Podcast 21st Century Fox BBC America Mindy Kaling SXSW HBO Mystery Video Games biography aliens robots true crime CBS Women's History Month Teen spy thriller Marvel OWN Acorn TV mutant Horror TNT politics TIFF TCA Interview TruTV finale USA Network Paramount Comic Book Bravo series Red Carpet Awards Tour 20th Century Fox YouTube Premium 45 nature Quiz Sneak Peek New York Comic Con National Geographic