Bad guys get the best lines, it's said, and if that's true, Ian McShane has had more than his share.
From the dreck-mouthed Al Swearengen in "Deadwood" to Blackbeard in the upcoming "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," McShane has lent his curled-lip sneer to boatloads of baddies.
Beginning Friday, July 23, on Starz, he adds another to his credits in the eight-part adaptation of Ken Follett's 12th-century drama "The Pillars of the Earth," centered on the tandem power struggles ensuing from a vacant English throne and the building of a glorious cathedral.
McShane plays Waleran Bigod, an ambitious, scheming clergyman who mixes blackmail, threats and murder with his authority within the church in a quest for further power and wealth.
Unlike so many of his characters, McShane is as affable as they come and is happy to talk about his on-screen reputation.
"I think he's a classic representation of somebody who wants to become part of the political church rather than Jesus' teachings," he says of Waleran. "He sees somebody who does believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ and he thinks it's naive. He's much more interested in political and personal power."
McShane shows his own cynical side, illuminating the obvious allegories between his character and those in the church and government today.
"Politicians -- they don't represent the people," he says. "It's simply a job for life, and they don't like it when they're out of a job. They're merely representing themselves or their party. Which is where the two-party system falls down, as it has in England recently, where the voters, wanting change, have voted into England a period of stasis. Nothing is going to happen. It's 'Who can spoil it for the other one?' now."