When A&E cancelled Longmire this August, it was a shock. It was the network’s most-watched original scripted series, garnering an average of 5.6 million viewers in Season Three. The show also proved to have an epic fan base, with members across the country cheering on another season.
Only three months later, Netflix picked up another ten episodes. Adam Bartley, who plays The Ferg, has been a member of the cast from the beginning, and the show has become a huge part of his life. Paste caught up with Bartley to talk about why Longmire has found success and how working with Netflix will only cultivate it further, providing the opportunity for new methods of structure, editing and character development.
Longmire has this huge fan base, one that really came to the forefront when it was cancelled by A&E. Why do people love this show?
Adam Bartley: I think it was created with the idea in mind, of basically, making a lead character a hero. We’ve gone all over the place with the anti-hero, so this was geared towards the good guy and finding the old, beaten down, sheriff who has lost his wife who still has to do his job and find a way to cope. That resonated with the six, seven million people in a way that made them see their struggles, the economy and middle America being squeezed. [Walt] still does things the right way, when no one’s looking. Our audience spans a lot of different generations. Our stronghold is the middle aged, middle of the country folks. It crosses genres in that a lot of people, when they see Longmire, they think it’s just a western show, but it’s not just about horses and western culture, it’s about people and how they get through the storm.
Longmire is your first major TV show. Tell me about working with Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff and this amazing cast. Have they helped cultivate you as an actor?
Bartley: I only had one co-star before, here I am in a scene with Robert, and I get there and we start rehearsing it—and he’s barely mumbling the words. It’s almost inaudible. I remember stopping in that moment, a big moment for me as an actor. He’s so unafraid of his subtlety, his soft, quiet, simplicity; [that’s] one of the things that Robert’s brilliant at. Wow, when you include that spectrum, range and the kind of work you can do is a playground of fun. I’ve learned from Robert and all of them. I hope that when I’m 80 years old I’m still learning from the younger actors I’m working with.
Paste: You guys shoot in Santa Fe for months at a time with not many other people around. Have you become like family?
Bartley: It’s seven working days for an episode. Two are indoors at the studio and five of them are exterior. They want to shoot the environment. That’s another reason people love the show. One of the main characters is the environment. We’re making little independent films. What’s funny is that we are a really big family. Robert is my best friend, [I’m close with] his wife, and his daughter is like a niece to me. We spend weekends up at Lou‘s house. We go out together. A lot of the actors have started families at this point. We’ve gotten less and less wild. It’s always about the work, but it’s not pretentious. We still have tons of fun.
Paste: I feel like when the show was canceled after three seasons, it must have been just as tough to say goodbye to the job as the cast. Did you guys have some big blowout party? Tears?
Bartley: I was back home here in LA, just getting into my new place and it was a complete shock. It’s a lesson in this business that you could have the best show to ever come along and one thing could go wrong or someone up high is like, ‘Neh,’ and it’s gone. You have to appreciate every last drop of every season. A&E took away The Glades and when you take away a lead in, you’re losing audience. It wasn’t the numbers. We had a solid fan base, but the network was going in a different direction. They wanted to own all of their own content, Warner Bros does. They’re trying to sell advertising for high-end dollars and they want that 36 [year-old] demographic, and we weren’t getting enough of that percentage. Part of the issue when you’re on a certain network, you’re really only appealing to people who watch that network. A&E is a network that really specializes in top tier reality programming. A lot of times that cancels people out. Being on Netflix, it’s opening us up to people that didn’t even know about [Longmire]. You can watch a western that sort of bends the genre.
Paste: I wonder how involved casts are in the process of getting their show picked up by another network. Warner Horizon put together a pitch package, but did you also promote in some way?
Bartley: I went all in and helped put together this campaign. We have a woman named Pam Nordick who started the Longmire posse a while back and she just went to town and stayed up night after night creating pictures and Twitter blasts and Facebook events to trend, keeping the fans engaged. There are still millions of fans out there who don’t get on the Internet, who probably didn’t read the entertainment section and don’t know about it. That’s crazy to think about. We had a section of them that were really upset, they pay their cable bill, they follow it loyally and they want to watch their show. People got mad and they wanted to say something. Enough people get behind it, and make a big enough noise and it makes a difference.
Paste: Was there a certain network you secretly wanted Longmireto land on?
Bartley: I think Netflix made the most sense to me. We don’t have to make a 42-minute episode anymore. You can’t even imagine how many scenes we’ve had to cut down. A lot of the scenes for my character have met the cutting room floor because of time. Now, we can kind of do whatever we want with the time. It’s an open platform. Netflix is so great about how they promote their shows and put them out for Golden Globes and Emmys. With our show, we make movies every episode so it’s a big undertaking. Netflix was the right suitor financially and in every way.
Paste: There are ten episodes premiering in 2015. Last season left off on a cliffhanger: will Walt kill his wife’s killer? What can we expect?
Bartley: There are two cliffhangers because Walt is on his way to take care of Nighthorse, and at the end of the episode we found Branch and his father Barlow having an altercation and there was a gunshot. A lot of people have their ideas. It’s going to be an incredible first episode. For the loyal fans and new fans it’s going to be exciting.
Paste: Will the process be different on a different network—a tighter shooting schedule or new writers?
Bartley: The only difference is that the scripts will be slightly different in the acts structures and in the editing room. The editing used to try to fit within the commercial structure, now it’s gone. There is more freedom to blend things all together.
Paste: Is there a direction you’d like to see The Ferg go in? Any unexplored territory?
Bartley: I think the great thing about The Ferg is that you start out turning your badge in and saying you can’t do it. The only way to go is up. It’s a steady climb to being a trusted deputy for the sheriff. I would love to see The Ferg have some type of romantic interaction. That would be fun to explore and to play. It’s fun to play a guy who’s learning how to be a confident and learning how to do his job. Walt is a great teacher. He’s so human and like so many of us. We’re not always perfectly talented in everything in this life. If we work hard enough and believe, we can make it happen. At the end of Season Three, there’s some great stuff where The Ferg stood up for himself, yelled at the sheriffs and this great moment for The Ferg to break the barrier. He’s confident enough to say what he wants.
Paste: The quickly growing spectrum of TV platforms is both exciting and terrifying. How do you feel about this as an actor? Are there more opportunities for work or has the market become diluted?
Bartley: I was talking to a casting director about it and her thought was that the bubble was going to burst at some moment. That’s probably true. For me, being on the show, what’s left is the film business and guest starring on different shows. I’ve had more options lately to do the guest star stuff. It’s hard to be a reoccurring actor when you’re shooting. I auditioned for The Walking Dead and they were really interested and it was reoccurring but they ended up coming back and wanted the option to turn it into a regular role. They wanted their cake and to eat it too and they were able to do it. A lot of shows are doing it now. I’ve been able to audition for a few films. That’s shrinking and shrinking. It’s becoming even more of a community based format. You work with this director and they bring you back. Getting in those rooms is continuously more difficult.
Paste: How do you feel about working on a webseries?
Bartley: I feel like at this point we’ve become a society of views. I auditioned for a Hulu show that’s coming out. They’re just pumping out all kinds of new content. Transparent is the most exciting new show of the year. A lot of these new media outlets, they’re being really smart about the kind of shows they’re developing. They’re taking scripts that never worked formulaically for a network. Now with new media, what is Hulu or Amazon or Netflix’s demographic, their vibe? They’re aiming at everybody. I think that makes for more interesting art.