Cowpoke: Thomas Haden Church

Photo: Jason Merritt/Filmmagic

People don’t think of Thomas Haden Church as a cowboy; instead, they recognize him from the sitcom Wings, or as the endearingly dunderheaded ladies’ man in Sideways. But he’s well suited to star in a Western such as Broken Trail, the two-part movie airing this week. For starters, he lives in Texas. He owns a ranch. (Several, actually.) And, like the Western genre, he seemed to disappear for a while, only to make a significant return in recent years. Adam Sternbergh spoke to him about frontier facial hair, his role as the Sandman in Spider-Man 3, and his problem with the word comeback.

Westerns look like fun films to do, if only because you never have to take a shower.
Yeah, I definitely let my personal hygiene fall off. But they’re hard movies to do, as well. You’re managing a 1,200-pound animal every day. I’m a rancher now, but we don’t use horses much. So I’m not much of a horseman. Just good enough to look authentic, I guess.

Westerns are now so iconic—it must be difficult to play a character as a real person rather than as a “cowboy.”
I don’t believe in acting. I believe that you just have to try and live in the soul or the spirit of the person you’re playing. It was the same thing with Sideways, and it’s the same thing with Spider-Man.

It’s been reported that you’d retired from acting before you got offered Sideways.
That’s not really accurate; someone wrote that because it made the whole “comeback” much more dramatic. I didn’t really retire—acting just wasn’t my focus. I bought my ranch in ’98, and I moved back to Texas full time. I now run three ranches with 500 head of cows. We generate $300,000 a year in gross revenue. It’s a viable operation.

Yet you were still pursuing work in TV?
After Ned and Stacey, I had two consecutive deals at Disney and ABC from 1997 to 2000. They paid me to co-create and star in something. In three years, we wrote four pilots, but they never aired.

Both Wings and Ned and Stacey just came out on DVD. What do people usually recognize you from?
It used to depend on where you were. In a nice restaurant in New York City, it was Ned and Stacey; in a bar in Texas, it was Wings. Now Sideways is on cable all the time. I was sitting in a restaurant in my little town in Texas, in the only restaurant in this teeny little town, and three different people came up to me and said something about Sideways.

Maybe you should have kept the mustache you wear in Broken Trail.
No way. Shit, I shaved that off before I even left Calgary. I hated it. That’s the first time I’ve ever had a mustache in my life. My mom was like, “I didn’t even know you could grow one.” And I said, “I didn’t, either. Until it came out on my lip.”

Cowpoke: Thomas Haden Church