When William Sanderson first stepped onto the set of HBO’s exciting new series “DEADWOOD” he didn’t need a map to know his way around. The versatile character actor, whose lengthy career includes feature films, television, and commercials, has spent plenty of time in the Old West in films like LAST MAN STANDING with Bruce Willis, LONESOME DOVE with Robert Duvall, and most recently MONTE WALSH with Tom Selleck. In “Deadwood,” the brainchild of NYPD BLUE co-creator David Milch, helmed by legendary feature director Walter Hill, William plays E.B. Farnum, proprietor of Deadwood’s Grand Central Hotel. Set in the weeks following the massacre of Custer, William felt right at home in Deadwood’s “lawless sinkhole of crime and corruption.”
Early in his career William seemed practically to specialize in his unique brand of what he likes to call “prairie scum.” All that changed with two inspired castings that would reveal William’s versatility and bring him national exposure. Director Ridley Scott cast him as the brilliant, gentle toy maker in the now classic science fiction film BLADE RUNNER. Shortly afterwards a one time guest role became a successful eight year run with William’s comedic talent on display as the quirky backwoodsman “Larry” in the popular sitcom “NEWHART.”
As a boy he chased the King. William grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, with an elementary school teacher mother and a landscape designer father, and it was not unusual for him to see his hero Elvis driving along Memphis streets. At some point he took to secretly following the King. William’s knack for assuming characters was evident early when as a teenager he used his talent to sneak into concerts and sporting events for free. Eventually this ability gained him entry into Graceland, where he listened to his inspiration play a piano ballad.
Like Elvis, William spent two years in the army, after which he attended Southern Methodist University, and later earned a BBA degree and JD law degree from Memphis State. Perhaps William was still chasing the King when he opted out of the bar exam and instead went to New York to take his shot at acting. There he apprenticed with the renowned Herbert Berghof and William Hickey, and quickly began distinguishing himself in a number of off-Broadway productions and independent film roles. Apparently William gleaned some of the King’s magic. He soon set his sights on heading West.
William has played a host of distinct and diverse roles, routinely working opposite Hollywood’s A-list talent. The 80’s saw him in films like THE ONION FIELD, LONE WOLF MCQUADE, COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, and CITY HEAT. In the 90’s his body of work grew in a broad range of features including DEATH HUNT, THE ROCKETEER, WAGON’S EAST (John Candy’s final film), John Grisham’s THE CLIENT (which brought him home to Memphis) and more. In STANLEY’S GIG, William revealed what was no surprise to those in the know – that he can just as easily support the mantle of leading actor - with his poignant portrayal of the title character opposite Faye Dunaway.
William has consistently and deftly moved between film and television, appearing in such shows as ER, THE X-FILES, MAXIMUM BOB (series regular), THE PRACTICE, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and WITHOUT A TRACE. His television movies and mini-series include the award-winning LONESOME DOVE and its sequel; EXECUTIONER’S SONG with Tommy Lee Jones; two MOW’S with John Frankenheimer: WALLACE and the Civil War epic ANDERSONVILLE; Stephen King’s SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK, BABYLON 5: THIRDSPACE; and Louis L’Amour’s CROSSFIRE TRAIL.
Most recently William was again on the big screen with Robert Duval in GODS AND GENERALS.
In between film and tv work, William stays busy supplying the voice for numerous cartoon characters, radio commercials, and books on tape. He lives with his wife Sharon in Burbank, but is just as home these days in the dusty streets of Deadwood.