Occasionally overlooked when people talk about The Wire, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad and the rest of series among this Golden Age of television is David Milch’s amazing, brilliant, profanity-fueled Western, Deadwood. There’s a reason it’s not as popular, and it’s not because it wasn’t as good. It’s because, while everyone catches up on Mad Men and Breaking Bad on Netflix, or The Sopranos and The Wire on HBO GO, few are as likely to invest in Deadwood because, brilliant thought it may be, it was cancelled before it was given a proper ending. Talk about a show that got royally screwed by its network, David Milch wasn’t even given the opportunity to wrap the series up with a final two-hour film. HBO pulled down the sets, and let the fate of the show languish until most people just gave up on it.
Still, Deadwood provided one of the richest, most complex dramatic universes in all of television, and practically invented a language of its own. What it was also well known for, however, was the talent: David Milch basically assembled 75 percent of Hollywood’s very best character actors, and plopped them down in Deadwood, Montana. It seems like the only two prolific character actors missing from Deadwood are Stephen Root and Gary Cole, who Milch was probably saving for the fourth season.
I had planned, initially, to rank the best character actors from the series by talent level, but that is an impossible task: They’re all so good, some of the very best actors on television (and you’ll notice that many of them have appeared on Sons of Anarchy and Justified since). Instead, I ranked them by how prolific they have been over the course of their careers, i.e., the number of roles they have taken. That means, however, that some of the show’s best character actors — Robin Weigert, Powers Booth, Garret Dillahunt, etc. — have been left off, because they only have 50 or 60 roles on their CV, instead of the bare minimum of 66 to make it on the list.
I also attempted to sum up the roles they are most often cast in, which was also much more difficult than I thought it would be (John Hawkes, for instance, is usually either cast as “trusting friend” or “insane hillbilly cult leader”). But you get the gist: The point is to appreciate the depth of character actor talent involved in one of television’s all-time best-acted series.
20. Jeffrey Jones — 66 credits, including Ferris Bueller Day’s Off, Dr. Dolittle 2 , Heartbreakers, and an arrest for soliciting a 14 year old boy for sex.
19. Ray McKinnon — 74 credits, including Mud, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, and The Blind Side.
18. Dayton Callie — 78 credits, including Sons of Anarchy, Archer, The Cape and John Crom Cincinnati .
17. Molly Parker — 82 credits, including The Road, Dexter, Swingtown and Six Feet Under.
16. Zach Grenier — 82 credits, including The Good Wife, Fight Club, Zodiac and 24.
15. Titus Welliver — 94 credits, including Sons of Anarchy, Argo, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Gone Baby Gone.
14. Pruit Taylor Vince — 95 credits, including The Walking Dead, Justified, True Blood and The Mentalist
13. W. Earl Brown — 101 credits, including There’s Something About Mary, Rectify, The Lone Ranger and Scream.
12. Ian McShane — 118 credits, including Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Snow White and the Huntsmen, American Horror Story and Kings.
11. John Hawkes — 118 credits, including Eastbound and Down, 24, Winter’s Bone and Lincoln