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Harry Dean Stanton's 'Big Love'

March 31, 2009|Allyssa Lee

Last week's explosive finale of "Big Love's" third season offered many revelations, but perhaps none quite as shocking as the death of polygamist patriarch Roman Grant.

It was a seismic shift that registered on screen and off, for Roman's passing was a send-off not only to the critically acclaimed HBO drama's public enemy No. 1, but also to Harry Dean Stanton, who plays him. The esteemed actor endeared himself to "Big Love" fans as the righteous, megalomaniacal, charismatic head of the Juniper Creek compound who served as main antagonist for lead character Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton).

"It was a calculated risk," explained "Big Love" co-creator Will Scheffer. "HBO was nervous about it: They didn't want to lose Harry, and for God's sakes, we didn't want to lose Harry. . . . But we felt we had to go bold and take away that character that might have been one of the most precious to us, and let everyone deal with the loss."

Scheffer maintained that Roman's deliverance was necessary to move the series forward. "Other characters have the possibility of growing," he said. "We never wanted there to be any sort of redemption for Roman. That was not in the cards for him, ever. So there was really no place to go."

The impending death was kept tightly under wraps and not written in scripts, and Stanton said he found out about it shortly before the scene was filmed. (When asked about his alter ego's demise, however, the actor remained cryptic. "I don't know," he said. "Christ rose after three days.")

Though Roman may be gone, it's hardly the end for Stanton. With his drooping eyes and worn features, the 82-year-old has indelibly made his mark playing world-weary characters in films such as "Cool Hand Luke," "Pretty in Pink" and "Repo Man." "I've got offers, they want me to sing around town, and there's always something in the air," he said. "I'm just waiting to see what comes up next."

He recently voiced the part of a prairie dog opposite Johnny Depp for the animated film "Rango." And up until a few years ago, the accomplished musician flexed his chops at local gigs with the Harry Dean Stanton Band.

"Big Love" viewers were treated to a taste of Stanton's magnetic strumming and vocals in last Sunday's finale. "It was 'Cancion Mixteca,' " Stanton said, "a Mexican traditional country song." It was also a nod to his past: Stanton sang the same tune on the soundtrack to 1984's "Paris, Texas," in which he starred.

"He sang [that] same song, I believe, to Ginnifer [Goodwin, who plays Margene] for her birthday," Scheffer said. "He just broke out in the middle of a reading and just sang it to her. And it was just so powerful and moved everyone to tears."

When pressed about when he might do another music gig, Stanton paused. "I can't answer to that. I have to wait and see what happens," he said. "Because nobody's in charge."

Not even him? "No," he answered firmly. "It's all written. It is written."

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