From Our Staff | March 05, 2012

Our next issue features an interview with David Milch (creator of Deadwood, NYPD Blue, Luck and others) by Michael Piafsky. Michael sent us the following, on the experience of interviewing Milch.

The danger with interviewing David Milch is that his life story is so interesting, and so bizarre that it threatens to overshadow his creative output.  Indeed, it did so for a New Yorker profile in February of 2005, which spent as much time on Milch’s exploits as a drug mule in Mexico and general ne’er-do-well as it did on his writing for Deadwood.  But to dismiss Milch as nothing more than a good backstory is a terrible injustice as he’s been pretty much the best television writer in the world since the very first script he ever wrote for Hill Street Blues (which won pretty much every award a script can win.)  So the first trick to trying to capture Milch in an interview is not to get sidetracked by the lure of his bio.  Making this harder, Milch himself used to participate actively in this mythmaking.  It was he who sent me the New Yorker piece, which I took to be a prompt for future inquiry but might instead have been a means of moving past that into more substantial discussion of his work.  His website is sort of equal parts craft talk and the craziest Hunter S. Thompson roadtrip you’ve ever heard, and frankly as good a use of your time as the interview you’re about to read.

The second trick to Milch is to get him to talk extemporaneously.  One of the pleasures of working as a college professor is that you spend your life surrounded by smart people, experts in their fields.  I eat lunch with chemists and physicists and theologians and Milch makes all of us look stupid.  He’s working on a higher plane, and if the interview did him justice that will be as apparent to you as it was to me.  The piece worked best, I think, when I (through my obstinance, my confusion or a legitimate and valid query) got him to offer responses beyond what he had in the can.  Since these sometimes necessitated moving beyond the obvious questions, the interview is somewhat formless, but I hope it was worth it.

The third trick to Milch is getting him wound up.  And although I did this, as you’ll see, I’ve come to regret it.  Partly that might be because it might make me look stupid (which may be inaccurate) or at least stupid in relation to Milch (which is certainly accurate, but not particularly flattering).  Partly that might be because it makes Milch look a bit grumpy, or intolerant, or impatient.  But even if we didn’t have the massive record of his generosity—to former teachers and colleagues and even new writers whom he allows to sit in on his productions as a sort of master’s class, this interview itself would be testimony to his generosity.  Our readership doesn’t represent a PR bonanza for Milch, and won’t skew viewership to his new show.  He gave up his time willingly and if the interview makes him look grudging or angry that’s something I regret.

But most importantly, leading Milch to low-grade rage, while making for a dramatic and energetic interview (and I hope one well worth reading) also pulled the interview’s focus away from Milch’s work, just as a profile of his crazy past would have.  The New Yorker didn’t care about the nuts and bolts of Milch’s creative process, and neither does Entertainment WeeklyThe Missouri Review’s readers might have, and we all would have been the better for a tempered interviewer most interested in exploring Milch’s craft.  The interview does have some of that, but it also has philosophical tangents, scientific inquiry, linguistic arguments and threats of violence.  In the end, Milch was impossible for me to capture so what you have before you is nothing more than my best effort to translate some fraction of him to paper.

To read the interview, consider a print or electronic subscription to The Missouri Review.