‘Gunsmoke’: James Arness Once Revealed How He Would Try to ‘Break’ Actors Who Took Role Too Seriously

by Anna Dunn
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Nobody likes a stick in the mud, and Gunsmoke actor James Arness was no exception. Arness played lawman Marshal Matthew Dillon for 20 years, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t like to joke.

In an interview with Truewest, James Arness talked about the funny ways he’d try to break down the defenses of actors who took themselves too seriously.

‘Gunsmoke’ Cast Liked to Keep things Chill

In the interview, James Arness was asked if the cast took themselves seriously.

“We had a light touch.” He said, “Everybody was taking it easy. We didn’t have a lot of conflicts between people, so it was great fun.” And for a show that lasted as long as Gunsmoke did, it makes sense why the atmosphere had to be relaxed.

But what about the people, often guest stars, who would come on set and mess up the balance? Well, Arness had a way to deal with them.

 “I always had fun when an actor would come in, who—and you could spot them right away—was very serious about their part, playing this just right, and really being immersed in their character,” he said. While taking your role seriously is a good thing for the most part, the Gunsmoke actor loved to joke.

“And that was always kind of a lure to see if you could break them up,” he continued. “And once in a while it was a lot of fun. You’d keep going until eventually, they would crack. After that, you’d go back to doing it seriously again, but we had a lot of fun like that.”

Playing the Part

Of course, this doesn’t mean the Gunsmoke cast never took their parts seriously. It just meant that after a while, acting became more natural to them. At least, that was the case with Arness.

“It took me a little while to get into the groove. When we first started, I had played a number of different parts in pictures and everything but never had to carry that much responsibility,” he said.

“In most of those early episodes, I was in almost every scene. I was suddenly faced with being in 15 pages a day and having to learn all this dialogue (laughing). But after a couple of years of that, I began to feel more comfortable.”

And once Arness started to feel more comfortable, the hilarity ensued, even if Gunsmoke’s popularity was no laughing matter. Gunsmoke’s impressive run lasted from 1955 through 1975. Arness acted in all 20 years. The show originated from a radio show of the same name but forged its own path as one of the most iconic Western TV shows of its time.

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