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In AMC’s ‘The Son,’ Omaha-raised actor graduates to playing a patriarchal role

In AMC’s ‘The Son,’ Omaha-raised actor graduates to playing a patriarchal role

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Omaha-raised actor Zahn McClarnon has 30 years and 70 credits to his name, most notably scene-stealing roles on FX’s “Fargo” and Netflix’s “Longmire.”

The 50-year-old actor has done a lot and seen a lot. But his latest project casts him in fresh new territory: playing Pierce Brosnan’s father.

In AMC’s new epic Western series, “The Son” — which began its 10-episode season Saturday night — McClarnon plays Toshaway, the chief of a Comanche Tribe. During a raid, the tribe captures a Texas boy named Eli McCullough (Jacob Lofland, of “Mud” and “Justified”), whom Toshaway raises as his own. As Eli’s new family is decimated, he eventually finds himself without a home. He strikes out to make his fortune, forging one of the richest ranch-and-oil dynasties in America. Eli eventually grows up to be Brosnan.

Brosnan. Pierce Brosnan.

“The Son” series spans 150 years and covers multiple timelines and generations in the Murdoch family. It’s based on the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-finalist novel of the same name by Philipp Meyer, who also co-created the show. The book has that Great American Novel aura to it, and now the subsequent series comes with the Peak TV Prestige factor baked in.

“I’ve been in quite a few Westerns and period pieces,” McClarnon said, “but here I get to play a more patriarchal kind of character than I’ve ever done before. Obviously I’m getting older, and I’m able to play those characters.”

The role also appealed to McClarnon because it allowed him to be the good guy. He’s played quite a few bad guys lately, such as the sympathetic but terrifying enforcer Hanzee in Season 2 of “Fargo.”

Not that he’s complaining. His “Fargo” role in 2015 assured a steady stream of offers ever since. So many offers that he’s had to turn stuff down. Good stuff.

“It’s gotten a lot better,” he said. “I’m not struggling as much as I was previously in my career. It could all end in the next year, so I try to be smart about the whole thing and be conscious of how fortunate I am to be working at this time in my life.”

He’s certainly come a long way. Among his earliest roles were “Hispanic kid” on the forgotten series “Tequila and Bonetti” or “Man No. 3” on “Murphy Brown.” Or a one-off character on a “Baywatch” episode called “Showdown at Malibu Beach High.”

McClarnon got his start shortly after graduating from Central High School in the mid-1980s.

“I did one play at the Chanticleer Theater in Council Bluffs, and I got hooked,” he said.

He picked up a phone book and looked for talent agencies in Omaha. That connected him with John Jackson, who would later become Alexander Payne’s casting director. Jackson got McClarnon jobs for several local commercials.

Many of McClarnon’s roles since moving to Los Angeles have been for Native American or Hispanic characters. He is of Lakota and Irish heritage. He spent the first part of his childhood at Glacier National Park in Montana, where his father worked for the National Park Service. But he also frequently visited the Blackfeet Indian Reservation about 20 miles away, where his grandparents lived and his mother grew up. When McClarnon’s father was transferred to Omaha, his family moved to the Dundee area.

McClarnon’s mother, brothers and best friends still live in the neighborhood, and despite McClarnon’s busy schedule, he makes it out here frequently. He spent three weeks in town over Christmas, hanging out at Blue Line, catching up with old friends.

He’s here so often, in fact, he’s thinking of buying a home in Dundee. Omaha could be his new base of operations between shoots all over the country. Whatever the next job — whether he’s playing good or bad, heartless hitman or James Bond’s dad — in the end, McClarnon could find his way back home again.

micah.mertes@owh.com, 402-444-3182, twitter.com/micahmertes

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