Godless, a seven-part epic Western series starring Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom, The Martian, Dumb & Dumber), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey, Non-Stop), Merritt Wever (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Nurse Jackie, New Girl), Thomas Brodie Sangster (Maze Runner, Phineas and Ferb, Love Actually), and Jack O’Connell (Unbroken, ’71, Skins) celebrated its Netflix release Sunday at the Metrograph.
Writer and director Scott Frank tells the story of brash outlaw Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels), on the hunt of Roy Goode (Jack O’Connor), once like a son to him, who “betrayed the brotherhood.” Roy finds refuge in the home of outsider Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery) in the town of Le Belle, New Mexico, where the men have all died in a mining accident and the town is made up entirely of women. Mary Agnes (Merritt Weaver), young deputy Whitey Winn (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and the women of the town band up and decide to fight against the notorious Frank Griffin and his gang. Sherriff Bill McNue (Scoot McNairy) leaves Whitey to handle the town.
“He’s a cocky little guy. I think he’s looking to show off, to make an impression, and I think that he actually, genuinely cares about everyone in the town at the same time,” Brodie-Sangster said of the deputy. “He’s also a baby, really. He’s at that stage where he still needs his mum and dad, still needs someone to look after him and care for him.”
Scott Frank always wanted to make a Western. When asked what his favorite western was as a child, he quickly responded, “Butch Cassidy. Butch Cassidy was the first one I truly loved.”
“Nobody wanted to make a Western as a movie anymore,” Frank said. Godless was originally written for a two-hour movie, but is now seven one-hour episodes.
Godless tackles a number of contemporary issues in the traditional Western sphere. One of these issues is immigration.
“People don’t realize the brutality of what it is to immigrate. People automatically think oh, immigrants, they’re here on our dime,” Sarah Minnich (Better Call Saul), who plays Norwegian immigrant Mrs. Nickolaus Gustuvson, said. “When someone makes the choice to attempt to further their life, to move to a country where they can further themselves, that takes the kind of determination and dedication that we can’t even imagine, living normal American lives. It’s brutal. People die, people are injured, people have mental trauma from it, and this really exposes that. And I love the juxtaposition to issues we have today with issues [Godless] brings up.”
Though Godless is a classic Western, its story and style make it unique among films and television shows. But the story is not original; many of these towns existed, where the husbands and men had died and the women were left to continue.
“I think for the audience, it has really turned the Western genre on its head, seeing the women fight,” Michelle Dockery said. “[Alice] was widowed twice before she was 21. Her life turned out much different, and much more difficult, after that. Her life was a hard scrabble. And that makes the women have a very, very tough skin.”
“It wasn’t a dream I knew I had till it was over,” Merritt Wever said. Wever plays Mary Agnes, tough, headstrong widow of the mayor of the town.
“I found, by the end of the shoot, that Mary Agnes and I are more alike than I thought we were. I tried to make space for her vulnerability as much as I could, for when she wasn’t tough and wasn’t strong. So that I could feel like I could possibly pass as her,” Wever said when explaining how she thought she could not portray someone much tougher and stronger than she is.
Brodie-Sangster was struck at first by the idea of a femme-driven Western when he saw the script. “It’s an interesting perspective to take, especially today. People are kind of labeling it as a feminist thing, which I hadn’t really thought of, but I guess it is. Feminism is something that embraces all genders and races, so it’s just equality throughout, and I hope it comes across that way.”
“Women being at the table is important,” Wever said. “Women designing the menu and cooking the food is good, too. Not just being invited to the party, but throwing it.”