Based on the Leaphorn & Chee book series by Tony Hillerman, Dark Winds follows Navajo Tribal Police officers in the 1970s Southwest as they search for answers in an unsettling double murder case. In this interview with amc.com, we speak with Rainn Wilson who plays Devoted Dan, a local used car salesmen with ties to the armored truck heist. We dive into what drew Wilson to this “wackadoodle” character, what it was like shooting in the “Land of Enchantment,” and what costume piece really helped him get into character.
Q: Were you a fan of the Hillerman novels before becoming involved with the show?
A: I never read the Hillerman novels, but I was a fan of the original PBS series. An actress on that series named Sheila Tousey was a good friend of mine, who I went to acting school with in New York. She's an amazing Native actress from the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin, so it was a pleasure watching her on that series back in the day.
Q: When we meet Devoted Dan in Episode 3, it's one hell of an introduction. Playing him must have been pretty fun — what initially drew you to this character and the project as a whole?
A: Well, I read the first couple scripts and I thought that they were expertly written. I thought they were nail-biting, fascinating, and had great rich characters. I loved the milieu of the Navajo lands and the '70s especially, and it wasn't like anything I'd ever seen or read before. So there was all that, and then the character was also really fun and interesting. I'd never played anything that outlandish before, but somehow, he needed to stay grounded. He's kind of wackadoodle, but at the same time you've gotta believe that he's a real character in the real world — and there are characters like that out there. But most of all I thought it was just really an honor and a privilege to be part of this venture in storytelling. Being part of a Native-led writers' room and Navajo-majority crew and Native folk telling these stories with some of the most incredible actors — just to be around that was all super-exciting for me.
Q: Devoted Dan projects a certain image to the public, but we know his moral compass is skewed in more ways than one. He's deeply involved in laundering the stolen cash and seems to have no qualms about it, so this is likely not his first time involved in illegal activities. Do you think he was ever the pious man that he projects or has it always been a facade?
A: I think that some people that lean heavily into their piety do so because they feel guilty or they have a complicated history there. Maybe it was something that was modeled for him by his father or other big role models in his life. I don't know if he ever was a truly devoted person in any way, shape, or form, but instead I think he sees it more as a play.
You know I wasn't given much guidance around that, so I pictured him with a father very similar to him. I pictured him growing up watching hypocrisy in his local church and money-making schemes being a part of that. That's how I viewed it.
Q: As a west coaster filming in decidedly different terrain, you mentioned that being in Navajo Nation was exciting. The landscapes themselves play a vital part of the story. What was set life like?
A: I'd never really shot in New Mexico before! We were shooting really close to the reservation and these gorgeous areas around Santa Fe. They call it the "Land of Enchantment," and it really is a magical, magical place. It was just so cool to be there and see these incredible Native crews and directors and be a part of that storytelling process.
Q: There are so many details that bring this 1970s story to life, from the music to the fashion. What was it like diving into this character and this world? Did you have a 70s playlist you indulged in or maybe there was a specific piece of costuming that helped you get there?
A: It's funny that you bring up costumes because Brad Pitt once famously said, I think it was 20 or 30 years ago, that he starts his character with his hair. For me, as soon as I put on that big belt buckle, the bolo tie, and the giant hat, I became that '70s kind of cowboy— you don't have to act! That's your character right there. You have to fill the costume. I had to be true to the wardrobe of the character and that informed who he was. I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to play him. As I was rehearsing in my head and learning the lines, I was playing around with stuff. But as soon as I got into that belt buckle, I was ready to go.
New episodes of Dark Winds air on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. Full episodes are available to stream on amc.com (with a cable provider login), the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and a week early on AMC+. AMC+ is available at amcplus.com or through the new AMC+ app available on iPhone, iPad, Android, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku. AMC+ can also be accessed through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ now.