Neal McDonough made his first appearance on Yellowstone with "The Reek of Desperation," and we had a chance to jump on the phone with him this week to chat about it.
McDonough has been a favorite for a long time with roles on shows like Band of Brothers, Desperate Housewives and Justified, and he's been a TV Fanatic staple with his roles within The CW's Arrowverse, Suits, and Project Blue Book.
It was his role in the 2006 movie The Guardian with Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher where he began his friendship with Yellowstone's star, Costner.
"We both played college baseball -- we were LSU and Shreveport -- and then we would go to the batting cages at lunch to hit baseballs during our break. And we got to know each other pretty well. And being a big family guy that he is, and you know myself, obviously with my five kids, it was a great time," McDonough said of getting to know Kevin while filming.
It was McDonough's wife, Ruve, who suggested he look into Yellowstone once she got wind of it. "I immediately called my agents, and they looked into it and, you know, Taylor and I had a conversation, he goes 'I literally was writing this character for you, and I was hoping that you would have a chance...'"
McDonough was eager to be a part of Yellowstone for many reasons including his friendship with Kevin, the opportunity to film in Utah and Montana, as well as to work with Taylor Sheridan.
"It all came together so quickly and so perfectly and again, to work with Kevin again, you know, we're so similar in so many ways, and I still always call him, pound for pound, the best actor of our time," McDonough said. McDonough compared Costner to Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, as Costner takes the time to listen to other actors.
"Where most actors come in, try to memorize their lines, and get to their lines, [these men] know their lines because they're so prepared and so professional. When they're acting, they're listening to what you're doing and taking from what you're doing and create the scene that way. And not many actors do that.
Filming takes place both in Utah and on an actual ranch in Montana. McDonough says it's "epic," and essentially a smaller version of the Yellowstone from the series. "The same builders built it in the turn of the century and it's just, it's phenomenal.
"And it's right there in the corner of the Bitterroot River where Louis and Clark camped out for quite some time, and you just feel history. We're filming, and then a hundred head of elk just kind of cruise through the back of the scene and it's just like, what? It was incredible.
"And there's Taylor, getting on his horse between takes just to get into his mind for riding, you know, he's herding cattle. It was just like; it was crazy.
"It was such a beautiful, incredible environment to be part of. And creatively it's just, there's nothing around, your cellphones didn't work. It was just perfect; it really was.
"Taylor Sheridan is a genius by finding that place and creating all that havoc in this story in this place where it's just like, literally, left alone; go do your work, and make it awesome. He's a genius. He's phenomenal."
McDonough is in the role of Malcolm Beck, starring opposite Terry Serpico (Army Wives) as his brother, Teal, in what has to be the casting coup of the century.
"Yes, it has been talked about for such a long time, and finally, it is happening. It's mad. You know, to work opposite Terry, who's such a phenomenal guy," McDonough said in reference to those who have noted their uncanny similarity through the years.
"It took us like literally half a second to become brothers, and when you watch [Yellowstone Season 2 Episode 3] ... you just see that there's a past between the two of us. And I don't know how it happened so quickly, but I think because people have talked for years about it -- you guys need to be brothers. There it is."
If you've followed McDonough's career at all, you know he has a knack for the bad guys. And Malcolm isn't in Yellowstone for the scenery.
McDonough recognizes Malcolm as villainous. "when I play my villainous guys, I always play them that they have a job to do and they have their own code of ethics. And if someone breaks that code of ethics, then I have to break them."
"Malcolm takes that code and it's on steroids. So he's as likable a guy as can be until you do something that really just isn't part of the manly code that he lives by. And if that's the case, he has to do certain things that most people wouldn't do. I can't wait to see it.
"The only thing I've seen so far is 203 and it's just, it's the beginning of it, it's the peeling of the onion. You see how calm Malcolm is and how focused he is, and then it just starts to really unravel. It's dynamite. "
On Yellowstone Season 2 Episode 4 will be McDonough's first scene with Costner. "It's mano e mano, and it's delicious to a part of, and I can't wait to see it," he said.
Malcolm and Teal's first scene with Dan Jenkins was something to behold. They tore into the man we formerly considered formidable to the point Dan Jenkins started to look like a decent guy. Malcolm is adding a new dimension to an already crowded field of warring Montana factions.
To that, McDonough said, "He doesn't care. He just doesn't care. He's really a gangster. You know, he owns a bunch of casinos, and he's the head of all the boards for a liquor license and everything else, so he's really got a monopoly on them all.
"You know, Dan Jenkins is just a cause that is in his way, and he has to figure out a way to take out that cause. The ways he speaks to everyone, to Dan Jenkins to John Dutton, to everyone to start with, he's 'look, guys, here's the system, it's worked for a long time, let's not break it. We're all making money, we're all happy, let's not get too greedy and let's not get too crazy.'
"And then when people start getting too greedy like Dan Jenkins is and people start getting crazy like what [Rainwater] is setting up for, well that just ruffles my feathers; it ruffles Dutton's feathers. "And at first it seems like Dutton and I will get along great and take care of all this. It doesn't happen that way.
"And then, well, if that's the case, you know there's going to be a fight in the playground ,and someone's going to come out on top. You can pretty much figure out who that is. I thought it was me. Darn it all.
But don't start feeling sorry for McDonough. He loves his career. "For my career, I love being the shark. You know right now I'm on five or six or seven different TV shows at one time. From Van Helsing to Blue Book which I start right now, I'm here right now. Altered Carbon, back on Suits, back on Legends doing this.
"All these characters, I literally like to do it for one season. Sometimes it lasts a little bit longer than I thought, which is awesome also. But I like being a shark that swims in the deep at different places, creates different things and different atmospheres and different environments, you know.
"So, for me going into a show like Yellowstone for one year, big, bad and knowing that it's going to be just one year, I get to do whatever I want with my character and really enjoy it, and it's awesome. Because I know it's a beginning and an end to it.
"And so for me as an actor it's, all right, here are the strokes we have to work on at the beginning, here is where we kind of need to go in the middle, and at the end I need to ramp it up to this."
"The audience really likes when I play these bad guys so I'm not going to disappoint them," McDonough said. "If you give me a dollar's worth for my work, I'm going to give you two dollars' worth of effort. That's what my dad always taught me."
And McDonough has a wonderful time taking out any aggression on the set instead of dragging it into his home life, which he shares with Ruve and their five children. In an upcoming episode of Yellowstone, Malcolm seemingly has enough with his opponents and trashes his office.
After shooting, Sheridan thought that Malcolm should have been a little angrier, and the two men decided Malcolm would just "go off" on his office and what was to be a one-hour pickup became eight hours of McDonough trashing Malcolm's office. "Yes it's cathartic. It's awesome! All that stuff that you have in you, I get to take it out on things or sometimes people in TV shows, and it's a heck of a lot of fun. I'm not going to kid you."
Things are going to get even more wild as Yellowstone continues, but McDonough's advice for the Beck brothers doesn't betray anything. "Keep doing what you're doing boys. You're living by your code. Keep living by that code and maybe a little less caffeine."
His characters are all the more surprising when you know a bit about McDonough. The Christian family man will also be in a movie called The Warrant for the Inspiration Network in which he gets to play "the ultimate John Wayne good guy."
McDonough acknowledges that being blessed with talent doesn't make him a great person. "You have to work harder at being a greater person. Especially if you're kind of in the limelight of it like we are.
"You could easily be that kind of person who takes things for granted and is kind of not a nice person in real life. Me, I'm driven by what God has given me and the humbleness that I have because of what God has given me. So in real life, yeah, I'm very different from what I play in the movies or in TV shows sometimes."
He's more of the good guy like his character in The Warrant. "That's much more to who I am, the family guy. The good God fearing guy that I am. But every once in a while I get to play these juicy villains and I'm not going to kid you, it is a heck of a lot of fun."
Right now McDonough busy revisiting General Harding on Project Blue Book Season 2 which he calls "bonkers." His character will get increased airtime as his story ramps up.
"It's kind of like that Tommy Lee Jones fugitive type of guy. A good guy, but he has a job to do, and his job is to protect the government as how the president wants me to protect it, and I'll do whatever it takes to do that. So he's really a patriot, but sometimes patriots are looked at differently. And he doesn't care.
"He was based on one of the most decorated men in the Air Force history. So to play that, and to play it really as a hero, is how I'm playing it. And sometimes you have to do certain things, but it's a great character and what I'm doing this year is really just ramped up."
"The whole thing is ramped up even more and it's going to be... The first season was awesome, this season is going to be really incredible, and I don't say that just because I'm part of the show I say that because I've read the scripts now and I'm like, whoa. How are they pulling that off?
"Well who is smart enough to figure that one out? And if anyone's smart enough to figure it out, it's based on true stories, so it's incredible. The audience is going to go bonkers when they see it I think."
Getting featured on a show like that begs the question -- how does he feel about UFOs? "I'm not smart enough for that stuff. If we think that God isn't... He can do whatever He wants. He may have built other universes, I don't know.
"For us to be so myopic to think it's just us, well, that's kind of selfish, I think. So, do I think there's something else out there? Yeah, there's probably something else out there. I don't know what it is. Is it built in God's likeness? I don't know.
"You know, there were dinosaurs on this planet for millions of years before we showed up, so we should think that there is something else out there. Are there flying saucers? I don't know. We all look in the night sky now and look differently because of the show. But, I'm a pretty simple guy. God and family first, you know, me second. And it's worked so far so I don't like to think too much about it."
McDonough's characters might border more on villainous, but they're also always larger than life. For his upcoming role on Altered Carbon, he said, "I play the most powerful man in the universe."
Of course he does!
"He starts his own planet. Very heroic guy. Has to do certain things most guys wouldn't do and becomes this... You know I kind of fancy myself as a Richard Branson type of guy, but different. Again, I'm playing him as such a hero, but some of the people may not think so when they see it.
"But again, that's up to the viewers to decide what my characters are, not for me. If I'm truthful to every choice that I make, then it makes for a great character and that's my job."
He'll be returning to Legends of Tomorrow, too. "They want me to come back for the final episodes, which will be kind of fun. I miss Damien, a tongue-in-cheek fun villain. But by the end of the last season, he wasn't really a villainous, he turned into a hero doing whatever it takes to protect his daughter.
"So I really, really loved my last season on Legends. It was one of my favorite things I've ever done because again, he was super dad, not super villain anymore. I like playing those guys because that's closest to me, you know, being the goofy father of five.
He doesn't know what he'll be doing quite yet, but he has a lot of faith in Marc Guggenheim, "one of the most talented writers I've ever been blessed to be around," to create something pretty special for his character.
Blessed is a good word. McDonough is blessed with talent and the understanding that it takes effort to become and remain a great person. He uses that talent to entertain us in many, many ways, and he never seems to take it for granted.
What is your favorite role that he's played? Yellowstone airs Wednesdays on Paramount Network at 10/9c. Join the fun and start watching!
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.