With Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton leading a star-filled cast, History’s “Hatfields & McCoys” mini-series is big and bloody, and the thing that many people are going to be talking about come Memorial Day (5/28), when the three-night epic begins.
Behind the scenes, it’s been “a once-in-a-career kind of bonding thing, a familial thing with the actors,” according to Mare Winningham. She tells us her “Hatfields & McCoys” journey began with Costner, who is also a producer on the mini-series, phoning her to tell her the script was on its way, and that “he wanted me to play the matriarch of the McCoys. He said, ‘You’ll see. Sally is a great, tragic figure.’ I have to say, I was pretty darn excited when I read it. There’s not a bad role in this thing.”
Shooting on location an hour outside Bucharest, Romania, was “isolating in the best kind of way,” she says, noting that the landscape resembles Civil War era Appalachia. “There were only five of us women among all these beautiful actor boys who were growing epic beards, being in a shoot ’em up Western. I have to say if I take one thing away from this experience, it will be friendships. We were in a beautiful hotel, and also secondarily in the mountains. Many of us had guitars, and we’d play together. There were hootenannies. We had great books to read, and a need to be together.”
The actors portraying the warring families “blended, but there was no lack of digs and humor. The McCoys definitely knew we were the better family and had the better actors,” Winningham reports with a laugh.
Promotion people have taken up that good-natured rivalry where the actors left off, according to her. “The publicity department has been amazing for History. The producer sent us an email movie of these massive posters in the (New York City) subway. I kept looking for myself, to be honest. I saw Costner and, the closer I looked, the more I realized, these were all Hatfields! I called and said, ‘How dare you send me a corridor of Hatfields? Where the devil are the McCoys?'” It turned out that she’d been sent the wrong email. Hatfields are on the East side, McCoys on the West.
For all the fun surrounding “Hatfields & McCoys,” the mini-series itself is unsparing in its grinding violence. Winningham is mesmerizing as the mother descending into madness as she loses a daughter and four sons. “Given all that happened, I think it was a very reasonable response when she lost her mind,” Winningham observes.
At one point, the actress was required to run out of a burning cabin in a flowing nightgown, guns blazing. “I remember laughing super hard when I saw the fire trucks and firemen standing by, and they said, ‘Now you’re going to go in there and wait until we say ‘Action.’ I said, ‘Okay, I still have half the movie to shoot.'”