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Most of the characters (Seth Bullock, Al Swearengen, Sol Star, Reverend Smith, the Metz family, et cetera, in addition to the more famous Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, and Jack McCall), have real-life counterparts.
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Wild Bill Hickok was portrayed as an older man in the series, when in fact he was only thirty-nine years of age when he died.
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The series takes place from 1876 to 1877.
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The word "fuck" and its derivatives are used 2,980 times throughout the series.
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Powers Boothe was originally cast as Al Swearengen. But Boothe fell ill before the pilot was to start filming. Boothe was replaced by Ian McShane, and then was given the supporting role of Cy Tolliver.
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For a long time, there was a bar called "Bullock's Tavern" in Amherstburg, Ontario, which was originally owned by Seth Bullock's parents, and was also the place he was born.
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A feature film based on the series has been rumored for many years, but the cast has cited the difficulties of coordinating the schedules of everybody involved as a main obstacle. In 2016, HBO head Mike Lombardo said David Milch had pitched a general script, and that the network is fully committed to the movie. The movie finally aired on HBO (Where the show initially aired) May 31, 2019.
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David Milch originally created the role of Al Swearengen specifically for Ed O'Neill. O'Neill screen-tested for the role, but HBO executives did not want to cast him, because of his fame as Al Bundy from Married... with Children (1987). After Deadwood was canceled, Ed O'Neill was cast in David Milch's next project, John from Cincinnati (2007).
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The show's cancellation was a shock to the cast. During the third season, Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane successfully renegotiated their contracts for higher pay, and HBO retroactively paid them the increased rate for the nine episodes of the season already shot. The show was cancelled a few weeks later.
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Keith Carradine was grateful that he had time to grow a real mustache for his role as Wild Bill Hickok, thus sparing him the hassle of gluing on a fake one every day. However, he did have to wear blue contact lenses to simulate Hickok's eye color. Ultimately this helped his performance. The contacts hurt his eyes, and helped him achieve Hickok's perpetual foul mood.
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George Hearst was the father of William Randolph Hearst, the famous newspaperman on whom Citizen Kane (1941) was based, and the great-grandfather of Patricia Hearst. When Hearst tells Merrick that he will start his own newspaper in Deadwood to tell lies for his side, it is a reference to the fact that W. R. Hearst is largely credited with the creation of the concept of "yellow journalism", and the use of his own newspapers to shape, and even create political and social opinion and actual events. The most famous example of this was what many historians characterize as W. R. Hearst's whole cloth creation of the Spanish-American War through his newspapers' inflammatory and lucrative headlines.
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Over the course of the series several actors originally hired as extras were given recurring speaking roles. This stemmed in part from David Milch's habit of rewriting scenes on the fly during production. He would decide on set that a line of dialogue was needed and then assign it to one of background actors who was already there. If he liked their performance, the character would get more scenes in subsequent episodes.
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Until the end of season two, the character of Ellsworth did not have a first name. When it was decided to give him a first name, the actor portraying the role, Jim Beaver, requested that he be given the first name Whitney, after Whitney Ellsworth, Producer of Adventures of Superman (1952), whom Beaver knew from his research for a book on the life of "Superman" star George Reeves.
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Garret Dillahunt pursued the role of Seth Bullock, but Timothy Olyphant was already cast. The only role that was available at the time, was of Doc Cochran, so Dillahunt auditioned for that. He played the recurring role of Jack McCall in season one. Dillahunt was then considered for the role of George Hearst in season two, but it was decided that Hearst would not appear on-screen until the season finale. Dillahunt played the recurring role of Hearst's employee, Francis Wolcott.
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Robin Weigert, who had been primarily a theater actress before landing the series, rented a professional cowgirl outfit she couldn't afford for her final audition in Los Angeles, to make her feel more like Calamity Jane. After walking across the Avenue of the Stars in Los Angeles in full cowgirl regalia, she impressed the executives and won the part. She flew back to New York on the same flight as David Milch, who requested to change seats so he could sit next to her and tell her stories.
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David Milch told Robin Weigert to ignore established folklore of Calamity Jane, including her own stories, since Jane had been known to embellish greatly. Weigert, however, received "generous help" from actress Jane Alexander, who had portrayed her in Calamity Jane (1984). Alexander had interviewed a centenarian who as a young boy had mended fences for the real Calamity Jane before her death in 1903.
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David Milch had originally planned to write a series set in Ancient Rome, telling the story of a society amid the development of law and order. However, when he approached HBO, he was informed of the series Rome (2005) that was then in development. He took the suggestion to change the setting and created a Western using the same themes instead.
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The word "cocksucker" is used a total of 273 times.
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According to a 2004 Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles interview with show creator David Milch, when John Hawkes first met Milch to audition for the role of Sol Star, Hawkes told Milch that he was not actually Jewish (unlike both the real-life Star and the "Deadwood" character). Milch's response was to ask Hawkes, "Have you ever felt shame or sadness or ostracized?" When Hawkes responded, "Every day". Milch told him, "Then you're Jewish."
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Richardson (Ralph Richeson), E.B. Farnum's simple-minded cook, was originally just an extra, but David Milch saw potential for him as a character and he became a fan favorite.
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The "nude" portrait of a woman on a couch by the door in Al Swearengen's office is the same used in Boardwalk Empire (2010). Micky Doyle references it to Van Alden in the scene at his desk.
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HBO offered the chance to David Milch to wrap the series in a shorter fourth season, but he declined to do it on those conditions. However, when Chris Albrecht was asked about it, he said that they also told Milch that HBO would give him a full twelve-episode season, if it was what he needed to wrap the show. Milch told them he would think about it over a weekend, but the news about the show possibly being cancelled reached the press to such a speed, that that conversation never happened, and Milch just moved on to develop John from Cincinnati (2007).
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The opening credit sequence featuring a riderless horse running through Deadwood was conceived and shot by producer Davis Guggenheim. The woman lowering herself into the tub is actress Bethalyn Staples, who had a small role in the series as one of the Bella Union saloon girls.
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Despite appearing in 32 out of 36 episodes, Jeffrey Jones was listed as a guest star in the first season. Gerald McRaney received a "special guest star" credit in season three, even though he appeared in all 12 episodes.
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At one point, David Fincher was set to direct the pilot.
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Two actors in this series had adult children cast in minor roles as prostitutes. Parisse Boothe, the daughter of Powers Boothe, played Bella Union prostitute Tess in five episodes, and Fiona Dourif, the daughter of Brad Dourif, appeared in three episodes as the "Chez Ami Whore". Cade Carradine, son of Keith Carradine (Wild Bill Hickok), played a prospector named Jubal in Deadwood: Complications (2005).
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Alice in Chains guitarist/vocalist, Jerry Cantrell, was a big fan of the show and even appeared in the background of two scenes from the first episode of season three, drinking at The Gem next to Pantera's bassist Rex Brown and standing behind Al Swearengen. Cantrell is also good friends with actor W. Earl Brown, who made an appearance on the Alice in Chains mockumentary Alice in Chains: AIC 23 (2013). Cantrell was also an extra in Deadwood: The Movie (2019).
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The real Seth Bullock was born in Amherstburg, Ontario.
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According to Robin Weigert, when she was shooting a scene between Calamity Jane and Alma Garrett (played by Molly Parker) series creator David Milch commented that it was if a character from Mark Twain met a character from Henry James, and the two were forced to have a conversation.
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While Wild Bill Hickok was 39 years old when he died, Keith Carradine, who plays him, was 55 years old at the time this series was produced.
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Certain actors and actresses that were eventually cast in the series, initially auditioned for different roles. For example, Paula Malcomson (Trixie) initially auditioned to play Alma Garrett and W. Earl Brown (Dan Dority) pursued the role of Jack McCall.
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David Milch altered Al Swearengen's background after casting British actor Ian McShane, who was born and raised in Lancashire, England. The real Swearengen was born and raised in Chicago, of Dutch heritage, but Milch changed it so Al was born in England before moving to Chicago as a boy, as "insurance" in case fans heard hints of McShane's English accent at any point.
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Kim Dickens (Joanie Stubbs) took home her character's signature top hats and still has them.
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Fifteen cast members also appeared in Sons of Anarchy (2008): Tony Swift, Tim DeZarn, Kevin P. Kearns, Dan Hildebrand, Julie Ariola, Cleo King, Dayton Callie, Paula Malcomson, Robin Weigert, Titus Welliver, Jamie McShane, Ray McKinnon, Jim Cody Williams, Kim Dickens, and Keone Young.
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The sidearm that Bullock carries throughout the series is an 1875 Remington Army revolver.
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Throughout the series Al makes disparaging references to the town of Yankton. As the territorial capital of the Dakota Territory from 1861 to 1889, Yankton was one of the few outposts of government authority in the region.
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In her first audition for Calamity Jane, Robin Weigert did her best performance to depict Jane as a tough, scary woman. She was told the producers "loved the vulnerability" she showed as Jane, but they wanted to see her again doing the role a bit more tough and intimidating.
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Doc Cochran's first name is Amos.
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Actress Geri Jewell was written into the series after a chance encounter with creator David Milch at a pharmacy in Santa Monica, when he was first developing the show. She didn't recognize him and thought he was crazy at first when he wrote his phone number down on an antidepressant ad from the pharmacy counter.
John Langrishe (Brian Cox) repeatedly calls Al Swearengen, "young man". Despite Ian McShane being 4 years older than Cox.
Motörhead lead vocalist Lemmy, Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, singer Pearl Aday, Scott Ian's brother Jason Rosenfeld, ZZ Top vocalist/guitarist Billy Gibbons and vocalist/bassist Dusty Hill and Blues singer Charlotte Taylor (from Charlotte Taylor and Gypsy Rain) played background extras on season 3 episode 12, courtesy of their friend W. Earl Brown.
The cemetery depicted in the series is a grossly inaccurate geographical location. The Mt Moriah Cemetery overlooks the town of Deadwood and has the tombs of Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock, among others.
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Ellsworth is also the name of the Air Force Base located near Deadwood, South Dakota.
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Several times throughout the series, characters reference a financial scandal of some sort out east which has some folks reticent to invest in new ventures. This is likely a reference to the Credit Mobilier scandal in 1872. It was revealed that several high ranking members of the Union Pacific Railroad had set up a phony construction company (Credit Mobilier) that had bilked 23 million dollars out of investors and the federal government. The scandal included several sitting congressmen as well as the vice president, and many investors lost everything.
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Alice in Chains guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell gave W. Earl Brown (Dan Dority) the idea on how to end the fight between Dan and Captain Turner on season 3 episode 5, "A Two-Headed Beast". It was based on a fight that Cantrell's younger brother, David was involved in a biker bar in Oklahoma.
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Several of Deadwood's main cast would go on to be regulars on Fear The Walking Dead: Kim Dickens (Joanie Stubbs/Madison Clark), Dayton Callie (Charlie Utter/Jeremiah Otto), and Garret Dillahunt (Francis Wolcott, Jack McCall/John Dorie); (DW/FTWD respectively).
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The series shows Seth Bullock and Sol Star witness Wild Bill Hickok's arrival in Deadwood. However, in reality, Wild Bill arrived in Deadwood two weeks prior to Bullock. Bullock arrived in Deadwood on August 1, 1876, the day before Bill was killed by Jack McCall.
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In season two, the actor playing Francis Wolcott, Garret Dillahunt, also played Jack McCall, the killer of Wild Bill Hickock, in season one. David Milch has a habit of reusing actors.
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In real-life, Al Swearengen was only 31 years old when Wild Bill Hickok was shot in Deadwood, At 62, Ian McShane was older than the historical Swearengen's entire lifetime of 59 years.
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Gerald McRaney (George Hearst) also appeared in Timothy Olyphant's (Seth Bullock) other TV show Justified (2010). And, Gerald McRaney and Cleo King (Hearst's Aunt Lou) in season 3. Both of them appeared on Mike&Molly (2010) Mike & Molly (2010). He played Mike's Captain Murphy, and dated Mike's mom on 6 episodes. She appeared as Carl's nana.
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