‘Gunsmoke’ Star Dennis Weaver Once Reflected on Nerves During Audition Process

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo by Icon and Image/Getty Images)

Dennis Weaver had a long and successful acting career before his death in 2006 at the age of 81. Before he passed he appeared in nearly 100 movies and television shows. At one point, he was president of the Screen Actors Guild. However, his breakout role was as Marshal Dillon’s assistant, Chester, in the classic western series Gunsmoke.

Dennis Weaver had several roles before he landed the part on Gunsmoke. However, none of them lasted for more than a couple of episodes. Chester was his first long-running role. Gunsmoke ran for over twenty years and Weaver was there for nine of them before leaving the show to star in Kentucky Jones.

Before he passed, Dennis Weaver sat down with TV Legends to discuss what it was like to audition for the role of Chester in Gunsmoke and how nervous he was after he finished the audition.

Dennis Weaver Made the Character His Own…for a Moment

Dennis Weaver said he showed up to the audition and they asked him to read for Chester. He stepped out of the room and looked over the script they gave him. He was pretty sure there was some mistake. “It was so inane. I thought, ‘No one could be this silly.’” So, he stuck his head back in the room and said, “Are you sure you didn’t want me to read for Matt Dillon?” They didn’t.

To Dennis Weaver, Chester needed to feel more like a real person. So, he set about making the part his own. “I thought I would correct [the part]. I would use all of my Actor’s Studio technique, and method, and all of that. I would correct that character. I’d make him real.” Weaver said he wanted to bring the character from himself. So, he looked over the script a bit longer. Then, he went in and read it just as straight as he could. That wasn’t what they wanted to see. They hoped Weaver would bring some humor to the role.

So, Weaver thought for a moment and found his inspiration. He put on a thick (and accurate) Oklahoma accent and read the part again. He nailed it. The showrunners loved his humorous interpretation.

Weaver Was Nervous About the Role

At the time, Dennis Weaver was delivering flowers. His acting career hadn’t taken off enough for him to quit his day job just yet. He had no idea that that was all about to change. Weaver was loading a truck when the man who owned the flower shop came out and told him “Guy named Bill Warren wants to talk to you.” That’s when the nerves struck. Weaver said, “I was trembling,” when he went to answer the phone.

That was the phone call that changed his life. Warren was calling to tell him he got the part of Chester.