Ever since I started watching Deadwood a couple of months ago, I was enamored with it. I'm not typically a fan of westerns, but I loved the cast and the tone, the setting and David Milch's penchant for incredible dialogue: that intricate way his characters speak, almost as if the tale of Deadwood were being recreated in a Shakespearean play.
But there was one thing I became preoccupied with: the opening credits, and in particular, the naked woman, her back turned to us as she slowly lowers herself into the tub. At first I couldn't pinpoint why this image struck me more than any other in the credits, from the horses galloping through the mud to the whiskey being poured like gold into shot glasses. And then after a few times through it hit me: the act of bathing in the nude is an intimate one, and the idea that we're being allowed to view this woman during this act feels very voyeuristic. It's titillating, yes, but titillating in the sense that it feels sort of improper. We don't see her face, we don't know her name, and yet we're granted access to this intimate moment in her life. When you watch the show, you see many nameless prostitutes on Deadwood in various stages of undress, sometimes engaged in sexual acts, and it's always so casual and non-sexual in its energy. Perhaps that's another conversation for another time about how right Milch gets the tone of the sexuality and the women on the show. But I think we should know their names. I think we should know the name of this woman in the bathtub in the opening credits of Deadwood, which you can watch below. She comes in around the 45 second mark:
I became a little obsessed with finding the woman in the bathtub and talking to her about how she got this job, who she is and what became of her. I honestly thought it was going to take a lot longer to track her down, but a quick Google search for "Deadwood opening credits woman bathtub" led me to discover the name Bethalyn Staples, and her official website, where I was able to e-mail her directly. I wasn't sure how often she checked this e-mail, or if she'd even be interested in an interview, but to my surprise and delight she responded relatively quickly and was happy to give an interview via e-mail (she's pretty busy these days):
What drew you to acting in the first place, and what were the sorts of jobs you were taking before you landed the Deadwood gig?
I originally planned to be a teacher. I was going to teach Theatre and English. I changed my mind about English when I was in college. I was so involved with the theatre department that I did not have time for the reading homework required for an English major. Upon graduation, I took a day job in theatre production and PR. I was in a few plays in Atlanta, Georgia, but I felt that theatre was a dying industry so I decided to move into the motion picture/TV industry and moved to Los Angeles.
How did you get the job as the woman in the bathtub? Can you tell me about filming that scene? Were there any particular directions you were given?
The clip of me getting into the bathtub was shot a couple of weeks after production wrapped for season one. Davis Guggenheim wanted some additional shots of townsfolk to use in the opening sequence. I suspect he was trying to set the tone for what daily life in Deadwood was like. They asked a few of us to come in for the day (which for me ended up being over 16 hours). I had no idea that I was going to be getting into a bathtub until just before we set up the shot. It was as no frills as it gets. They literally set a garden hose out in the sun to get warm so that the water wouldn't be cold when I got into the tub in a barn. We shot the scene in a hurry because we were losing the natural light that was shining through the window. My directions were probably the easiest I've ever received. Simply, sink into the tub as slowly as you can while still making it look natural. A few takes and that was it. When the series debuted, I was astonished by how gorgeous it looked. Davis is a very talented director. I feel lucky to have gotten to work with him.
You went on to have two credited appearances on Deadwood after your performance in the opening credits. Your first speaking role was in "Suffer the Little Children," a very upsetting episode with Kristen Bell. Can you tell me about your part on Deadwood and in this episode in particular?
I was what is called an "extra" on set. I was hired to look pretty in the background of shots. I was told 500 girls wanted to be submitted. The extra agency sent 250 pictures to producers. I was chosen with about 19 other women. Ten for each saloon. Because I moved to Los Angeles only three months prior, I felt incredibly lucky. I knew it was a chance to get on a set and get my SAG card. Never having worked as an extra in motion picture/TV, I didn't know that you're not really required to do much other than walk from point A to point B while they're filming. I was in the background just acting my heart out. The executive producer, David Milch, noticed and came up to me on set. He eventually gave me an unscripted line in a scene with Kristen Bell. It was completely off the cuff so I didn't have time to think about the way I'd like to deliver the line. I said it exactly as he had said it to me. In hindsight, I would have said it a little differently, but getting a line meant I could become Union which was my number one goal when I moved to LA. I worked on the series as a "featured extra," but I didn't get many more lines. A few scenes were given to daughters of actors and crew members. It was a bit frustrating, but that's how the business works. It's luck, networking, and contract add-ons. Not many people can say they worked on an Emmy-winning series, so I really feel fortunate to have had a little part on the show.
What was daily life like for an extra on the set of Deadwood?
Deadwood was shot on an actual ranch in the desert. In the summer it was over 100 degrees. In the winter, it was below 40. If you were lucky, you could find an air conditioned tent or soundstage, but most of the time you just dealt with the extreme temperatures. One thing I have to say is that Davis was always extremely kind in making sure the extras were taken care of while he was there for season one. Changes in personnel and producing were made for seasons two and three. Unfortunately, they were not as careful in making sure we were comfortable. We did the best we could by bringing our own parkas and blankets to use between takes, but make no mistake, an unheated shelter is cold when when it's 40 out; especially when you're wearing unlined boots with only tights, a corset, and pantaloons. However, our meals were always phenomenal. Quite a feast, in fact! We ate in a large tent with other extras, crew, and actors. Sometimes we let our corsets out a bit so that we could enjoy a solid meal. Often times, it was quite a mental trip. We were on a set that was completely out of a different time period, surrounded by stage coaches and men dressed as gold miners, but there was a crew member standing in the middle of all of it wearing denim shorts and flip flops, while drinking a Red Bull.
Did you become friendly with anyone during your time there to help make things easier?
While working on the show, I became friends with Parisse Boothe, Powers Boothe's daughter. We hung out quite a bit and had a really great time going to parties together until she got engaged and we grew apart.
What was life like after Deadwood?
I started the series when I was 26 and stopped working on it when I was almost 29. When I came to LA, my plan was to hit the pavement hard and try to become established by age 30. If that didn't happen, I knew the chances of me "making it" were slim to none. I went to a lot of workshops, auditioned as much as I could, and tried to get an agent. Back then, everything was on film which meant putting together a show reel was expensive and difficult. As an actor, you work for free on student films just to get enough footage together to then pay an editor an exorbitant amount of money to cut the reel together for you. Many times, you never got footage of what you worked on because people ran out of money to finish their movies so it was incredibly frustrating. I worked on a few projects for friends, including a pilot for a Canadian TV series, but nothing really of note. I had one audition for House, M.D., but I was not suitable for the part. At age 30, I was ready to be done. I gave it my all. I had some good times. I still get fan mail from people all over the world, so I've enjoyed my 15 seconds of fame for quite some time!
Can you tell us what you're up to these days?
Now, I work as an entertainment assistant. The company I'm employed by manages musicians, produces television, and also develops entertainment for cruise lines. Specifically, I assist with show research and creation, marketing, and PR/media. In my personal time, I'm a huge hockey fanatic. On a regular basis, I attend Los Angeles Kings games with my boyfriend.