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

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