'4400' Star Dillahunt Tries Not to Repeat Himself

EntertainmentTelevisionMetal and MineralBrad PittHBO (tv network)MiningAidan Quinn

Some actors complain about being typecast. Garret Dillahunt is not one of them, and a perusal of his recent roles will explain why.

In 2004, he played squint-eyed gambler Jack McCall, assassin of Wild Bill Hickock (Keith Carradine) on the first season on HBO's Western "Deadwood."

He returned in season two (without McCall's prosthetic makeup and adding longer hair and a beard) to play Francis Wolcott, the prostitute-murdering, ultimately suicidal geologist employed by mining magnate George Hearst (Gerald McRaney).

Right after that, he played Jesus (still with the hair and the beard) in the short-lived 2006 NBC series "The Book of Daniel."

Currently Dillahunt (with short hair and no beard), stars in the USA Network series "The 4400," airing Sunday. He plays Matthew Ross, lobbyist to Jordan Collier (Billy Campbell), the tycoon leader of 4,400 people abducted from over decades and then returned not having aged but with special powers given to them by people from the future attempting to rewrite history.

Told that he obviously hasn't been pigeonholed, Dillahunt says, "Thank God, huh? That was my goal. You know, I'm just not good at playing the guys that get the girl and all that. I was just never that. I didn't buy it, and I bet no one else would, either. When I quit chasing those and just started doing the character stuff that I always loved, things went better."

While he has a long list of movie and TV guest-star credits, Dillahunt, who's in his early 40s, got his most TV attention from his roles on "Deadwood," a drama that springs partly from history and partly from the fertile imagination of creator David Milch ("Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue").

Currently airing its third season Sunday on HBO (after this season, it then finishes its run with two planned two-hour movies), "Deadwood," set in an 1870s mining town in the Black Hills of South Dakota, has been critically acclaimed for its rich characterization, vivid historical recreation and language that's both Shakespearean and extremely salty.

It also boasts a stellar cast, including Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Powers Boothe, Kim Dickens and Brad Dourif.

Calling in from the set of the Coen Brothers' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men" in Santa Fe, Dillahunt says, "I guess I shouldn't say it's all because of 'Deadwood.' I should say that it's because of me, but I feel like it's all because of 'Deadwood.' That showcase really opened up a lot of doors for me.

"That job was fantastic, but in its completeness, it was sadly unusual. It was a watershed moment for me. It's funny, for someone who has done as much theater as I have, which is supposed to be an ensemble experience; I had to wait for a television show to have my greatest ensemble experience.

"It's just so fun when it all works. This is what you thought it would be when you were a dewy-eyed kid, saying, 'I want to be an actor.' This is what you thought it would be all the time."

Seeking something completely different, Dillahunt moved on to what he refers to as "the Jesus show." Despite high expectations and some controversy, "The Book of Daniel," the edgy story of an Episcopalian priest (Aidan Quinn) and his complicated family, quickly sunk under the weight of its own ambitions.

"It was a good idea," Dillahunt says, "but it got away from everybody. Somebody got scared."

The show had a few hiccups actually getting on the air, and in the meantime, Dillahunt landed a role in another Western, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," due out next year and starring Brad Pitt as James. Dillahunt is still in the movie, but not in the "peach of a role" he was originally cast for -- because "Daniel" was eventually picked up.

"I tried to get out of it," he says. "Hell, I don't care. Brad Pitt even said he'd do a guest spot on the show if they could work around me, and they just couldn't do it. I guess, because it's Jesus, I'll always have to talk about it, but it's so over."

Now he's a suit-and-tie guy on "The 4400."

"I think it's a great idea," he says of the show. "Sci-fi, Westerns, you can talk about all kinds of things without offending people. It was really the first job I'd had since 'Deadwood' that held my interest.

"I had such a mountaintop experience with 'Deadwood,' at lot of people said it's kind of ruined us, at least for a while, for other television. ... I sound like I'm one of the 'Lord or the Rings' guys."

Jordan Collier was apparently assassinated last season, but a quick cameo in the finale argued otherwise. Campbell is slated to return later this season.

"You know, obviously, what his 4400 power is," Dillahunt says. "We know he can't die."

Dillahunt can't reveal whether Ross is good or bad, or what will happen to him, except to say, "Apparently there's good future people and bad future people, and they can get a hold of anyone. How about that? Is that hint enough without saying anything?"

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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