It has been far too long since Ian McShane was fronting a series. Instead he's been doing voiceover work (Coraline, Kung Fu Panda) and acting in such stellar movies as Death Race. Clearly, a fine use of his talents. Not to say that he doesn't have the perfect voice to bring an eerie lilt to animated fare, because he does. And not that he wasn't the best part of Death Race, because he was. But those of us who watched him on Deadwood, as the tough Al Swearengen, know that he can throw someone in a pig pen while rattling off a speech that Shakespeare would have loved. So we're glad that he's back on TV in Kings, a modern-day retelling of the David and Goliath story, with McShane in the juicy, slippery role of the commanding King Silas. While not a perfect series, it is a far better use of his time than any sort of Death Race sequel that might have existed. We got a chance to talk to Mr. McShane on a recent conference call about his new show (which starts on Sunday at 8 on NBC), and we're passing on the highlights to you.
On playing another serious character like Al:
"I don't think Al was serious all the time; I think he was very funny. I think 'quirky' is the word... I mean, dark but funny. I think Silas is the same; he's got quirky moments. But that just shows you how versatile I am. How nice that you can play a few different kinds of things? I think this show tackles the big themes and, like any terrific show, be it Deadwood... they're all about those big themes, like opera. If you take opera or Shakespeare or the Greek Tragedies, they're all soap operas on a different level. They deal with tragedy, love, betrayal, lust, grandeur... all those big things that we go through in life every day on a smaller, smaller scale."
His role in a nutshell:
"Silas is a character that's been king too long. Anybody that does something for too long, eventually it overtakes them. And he sees in David a rival, maybe a protégé -- both of which are conflicting to him, because nobody wants to give up the reins of what he's got. And that's the journey in the first season that happens."
On why he's really glad the show is modernized instead of a period drama:
"I hate sandals."
On the miniscule possibility of those Deadwood movies ever happening:
"I think the Deadwood movies were a myth to begin with, and I don't think that myth is about to be revisited. I think that was a panacea to real fans and it hasn't worked out."
On if he thinks Deadwood fans will dig Kings:
"I would hope that [Deadwood fans] would follow absolutely to Kings. Al became king in a different kind of a way. David [Milch explored] big themes on a small scale, in a town. He dealt with powerful figures coming together who couldn't escape, but they knew it was their last chance at some kind of humanity. This goes on from there in a big situation of people dealing with bigger -- if you like, but they're not bigger because all our lives are important, every human being is important. It's a bigger canvas, but it's [building on] those same big things, which are terrific to play."
Why he found the show appealing:
"It's a very original -- a hugely original show, I think. [Michael Green]'s a very gifted writer. The situations have been extraordinary. And it's been a pleasure to say the words. I haven't modeled [Silas after anyone]; I didn't need any much more modeling than reading the book of Samuel for a bit and realizing that these people haven't changed through the ages. That, obviously, fear still rules. Life [can be] brutal and short and nasty."
On the kind of research he did to get into character:
"I take it as it comes. Michael [Green] presented me with a 20-pound, 18th-century German bible. Not in German, of course, but produced in Germany. The book of Samuels... I love it. The Bible is a great read, so it gets better all the time. Saul, I've found -- or Silas, Saul/Silas -- has been a tremendous part to play over the last six months. Leaders have their fallibilities, and they have their moments of great clarity, and they have their moments of [being] down. And I think the story is fantastic, of a king with a young guy who he thinks could be a protégé, could be an enemy, could be a rival, who knows, but he takes a chance with him. And, of course, it's ordained by somebody else; it's got nothing to do with what Silas does in the end. Far greater forces are at work, like fate, kismet, you know, Sanskrit, Karma, whatever you want -- whatever language and whatever religion, whatever you can refer to. We all have things in store for us we don't know about."
On if he's a leader in his own life:
"No, I prefer the word 'rebel outsider,' rather than leader. 'All right, chaps, we're all going now to the Mets ballgame.' No, I never organized things like that."
Why he decided to do this show:
"At the time, the last thing I wanted to do was, you know, some network show that was simply a procedural, and this seemed something that was a carry -- more fitting to cable, if you'd like. Which I think the regular networks have to face up to; they've got to do shows that are ambitious and have a broad appeal. And there's this [study] that came out the other day that 35% of people don't believe in evolution. I mean [America's] a God-fearing nation, so I think they'll be watching."
Will you be tuning in? Swear on it below.
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