When the long-awaited Deadwood movie premieres on HBO on May 31st, it’ll feature a cameo from Jason Isbell. The Americana songwriter plays a musician performing in the background of a scene, according to Alan Sepinwall’s latest on-set feature for Rolling Stone. And it all started with a simple text from Isbell, a superfan of creator David Milch’s Shakespearean Western, to Deadwood costar W. Earl Brown.
“I’ve known Jason since he was in the [Drive-By] Truckers,” says Brown, who plays Al Swearengen’s henchman Dan Dority. “When the movie happened, I got a text from him, ‘Is this for real?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it looks like it is gonna [happen].’ We hadn’t got the firm green-light at that point.”
Since the mention in @RollingStone, its become public knowledge that @JasonIsbell visited #Deadwood set for a few days. There were always plenty of guitars around that set and it didn’t take much prodding for Isbell to pick one up. He and I started playing “Pancho & Lefty”… pic.twitter.com/bsKYDWqUhU
— W. Earl Brown (@WEarlBrown) April 26, 2019
Brown, himself a musician who has become a perennial host of Nashville tribute concerts to legends like Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard and a fixture on the annual Outlaw Country Cruise, later heard secondhand from a mutual friend that Isbell was quietly wondering how to appear on Deadwood. “[Comedian] Trae Crowder, the Liberal Redneck, called me and he goes, ‘Man, Jason just contacted me, he wanted to know who would you talk to to, like, be in the background on [the movie].'”
From there, Brown reached out to Isbell and helped set the cameo in motion. In a lengthy Twitter thread on Friday, Brown wrote about how Isbell’s appearance made for some impromptu jam sessions for the cast and crew, with Isbell indulging requests for his songs “Speed Trap Town” and “Elephant.”
“I’m a huge music nut,” Brown tells Rolling Stone. He says the similarities between music and the ornate dialogue written by Milch is likely what attracts musicians to Deadwood. “I think the musical ear, even if they didn’t recognize the iambic pentameter, the musical ear picked up on the rhythm of the language… There’s a real musicality to what David writes.”
Isbell first hinted at his Deadwood appearance in a November Instagram post, sharing an image of him in costume. He and his band the 400 Unit will hit the road with Father John Misty for a joint tour in June.
[Reporting by Alan Sepinwall]