The Casting of Lonesome Dove

Once in a while, whether it be fate, luck or  whether all the planets aligned properly; a group comes together and something wonderful happens. Cases in point include the 1927 Yankees’ Murderers’ Row, the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, the 1980 US Hockey Team and of course; the cast of Lonesome Dove.

Admit it, Lonesome Dove has to be one of the best cast movies ever made. Can you think of anyone else who could have done as well, much less better than this cast?  Oh, sure you might be able to mention an actor or two that would have been good, but how would that have affected the group dynamic as a whole?

  • Gus: Robert Duvall was originally slated to play Call, but made himself into Augustus McCrae. To me, it will be his defining role as an actor.
  • Call: Tommy Lee Jones melded his personality with that of Call’s and added a whole new dimension to the character.
  • Lorena (Lorie): Larry McMurtry must have been thinking of Diane Lane when he created Lorie. She even has a small scar on her lip.
  • Clara: Could any other actress have played Clara Allen, a woman strong enough to hold her own in a man’s world, yet tender enough to take in another woman’s child to raise as her own?
  • Jake Spoon: Robert Urich “made his bones” on “pretty boy’’ roles and was excellent as the handsome yet weak-willed Jake.
  • Newt: Rick Schroeder was young enough to lend the required naiveté to the role of Newt, yet had the talent to hold his own in this group of stars.
  • Pea-Eye: Tim Scott has been a sidekick in many movies, but it takes a very good actor to play a simple man like Pea as well as he did.
  • Deets: Morgan Freeman might have done well, but Danny Glover managed to bring a humility yet strength of character needed to carry this role.
  • Dish Boggett: DB Sweeny was perfect for the role of the lovelorn Dish. Every time he looked at Lorie, he looked like a sad puppy.
  • July Johnson: Admit it, Chris Cooper is a chameleon. He can play anything. He nailed the hapless July to a tee.
  • Elmira: Glenn Headly was spot on in her portrayal of Ellie Johnson, a woman trapped by her decision to marry, and desperate to be with the man she thinks she loves.
  • Blue Duck: Frederic Forrest was chilling as Blue Duck, the half-breed. He’s always been good in villainous roles but looked a tad overfed for an outlaw hiding out on the Llano Estacado. [Just my opinion]
  • Roscoe Brown: Barry Corbin has to be one of my favorite actors and was outstanding as Roscoe. In a way, and I’m giving my age away here, he reminded me of Smiley Burnett [Gene Autry’s sidekick] in the way he handled the role as the constantly out of his depth Roscoe.

wittliff_filming_LDpage9-webEven the supporting roles were well cast. From Lippy and the tragic Xavier Wanz, the cowboys such as the Rainey Brothers, The Spettles, Needle, Soupy, (and of course) Jasper Fant, the O’Brien brothers, Po Campo and Bol to Big Zwey and Luke.  I guess some mention of the Suggs brothers and Frog-lip is needed also. There I just did it.

What I’m trying to say here is this; a lot of work and effort went into the casting of this movie; and if you ask me, it paid off in spades. It is by far the best piece of work ever to make it to television.



  1. Jane says:

    I have always thought that the movie casting was every bit as masterful as the writing of the book! I can watch this movie over and over and over…..and always enjoy it and pick up something new in the watching. The way it all came together was nothing short of magical!!!

    • Andrea says:

      Re-reading the whole series and wacthing the movies! This is my all time favorite movie! I agree, the casting was outstanding! I too can watch it over and over and over….!

    • there is no way anyone else could have played those parts,no way.that cast made lonesome dove.

  2. Jennifer says:

    The cast was fantastic except for Angelica Huston. She felt utterly awkward in that role to me. She couldn’t even pretend to speak like a native Texan. I wish they had cast Sissy Spacek instead. She plays strong just as well but also would have brought the right amount of Southern sensibility to the role, and has the acting chops to stand up to Duvall and Jones.

    • Tim says:

      I both agree and disagree. there wasnt much I cared for with Angelica Huston until this role. The southern charm aside I think she was the best personality fit.. On the flip side yes I think Sissy could have pulled it off equally. Although she was bothersome in Streets of Laredo as Lorie….. Butso was the cast and they were fine actors all. Maybe it was directing….

  3. Gerald says:

    I 100% agree there are no other actors that could have played the parts any better.In the last 6 months I have watched the entire series from,commanche moon,streets of Laredo,dead man walking and both lonesome dove and return to lonesome dove over 30 times,I was put out on disability in dec 2012 so I have plenty of time.i average about 10 hrs of sleep a week because of my spinal disease so I watch movies all night.

  4. Tim says:

    I would categorize Return to Lonesome Dove as The Godfather 3…. It is good as long as you leave those out… Return was not written by Larry and was a stand alone series to ride on Lonesome Dove….. It basically screwed up the timeline for Streets of Laredo….

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