"I just think any show that asks the question, why do people do bad things even though they start out as good people, is a fascinating question to ask."
-Tom Blyth, star of Epix series Billy the Kid
Hollywood has tried countless times to bring the story of legendary outlaw Billy the Kid to the screen. Reportedly dead by the age of 21, he's become a fascination over the years due to his young age, criminal activity, and indisputable skills with a gun. Of all the depictions over the years that range from Paul Newman to Val Kilmer, it seems Epix might have finally nailed the casting. As good as all of the previous actors were in their own ways, no one really captured Billy's young essence or age the way Tom Blyth does on the new western series.
Billy the Kid serves as Blyth's big break in Hollywood. Before landing the role, he appeared in a slew of short films and an episode of HBO's The Gilded Age, but this is his first time leading a series. His freshness really serves not only the show but Billy's story in general, letting you get to know Blyth as an actor as he gives us a vulnerable look at how Billy the Kid became the legend we all know.
Wide Open Country had the opportunity to sit down with Blyth to discuss the series and his experience playing such a historical person. Blyth is actually British, but he grew up watching John Wayne's classic westerns. He even admitted he had an ongoing joke with his mom about how if he stayed home sick from school as a child, he'd watch spaghetti westerns while eating spaghetti-o's. But of all of the famous figures from the days of the Old West, Billy wasn't one Blyth was as familiar with.
"I'd never really seen anything about Billy the Kid and, weirdly, despite years of watching westerns, kind of avoided watching any of the Billy movies," Blyth explained. "It felt good because it was a fresh dive into this story I wasn't really familiar with. That being said, I knew his name and knew his vague legend, so when that email with the script came across my inbox, I was very excited."
In preparing for his role, Blyth wanted to actually step into Billy's shoes and see everything he saw. What better way to do that than actually visit the areas the outlaw frequented in his youth and as a criminal?
"I read a lot of the books, then at a certain point, the books become history, and you realize you have to step into the present with it. So I went down to New Mexico and did some on the ground research and drove around, visited Lincoln County and Fort Sumner and Silver City and the places that he grew up and, eventually, his gravesite."
Blyth explains that he had a bit of a transcendent moment visiting Billy's gravesite. Where he took on the responsibility of bringing Billy to life before working on all of the more physical demands of the role, like learning to ride a horse, shoot a gun, and even lasso a cow.
"I had a moment at sunset in Fort Sumner at his grave; had a personal moment where I took the mantel, so to speak, and decided to kind of allow myself to play this guy and kind of ask permission in a way."
Watching the series, one of the most interesting parts is how the creator, Michael Hirst, approached telling Billy's story. As Blyth eloquently puts it, he made him 'multidimensional," really giving us a full picture of Billy before and after he began his life of crime.
"He's really asking the question, why did he become who he became? Why is he the Billy the Kid who we've heard of, who killed, by some accounts, 21 people in 21 years? He's asking the question of why he becomes a killer," explained Blyth.
That question becomes the central theme of the entire show. Why does anyone do what they do in order to survive? Sometimes you do things you'd never see yourself doing after ensuring personal trauma, which is a concept that Blyth feels will really resonate with audiences watching Billy's story unfold.
"Billy, despite becoming hardened and a killer at times, he's reluctant to do that, and yet he steps into it because he's a survivor and a defender of what he thinks is righteous. And yet he manages to stay kind of charming and charismatic while also being hardened," Blyth notes.
"There are accounts of him having this kind of sparkle in his eye that was irresistible. There's one account I love that says all you had to do was watch his eyes and see the smile in his eyes leave to know that he was about to switch, and I think you can see that happening over time in the series. You can see him becoming this person who can switch on the drop of a dime."
Catch up on the first season of Billy the Kid
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