Special Ops: Lioness Star Dave Annable On How He Landed Taylor Sheridan Drama After Dying On Yellowstone: There Might Have Been Some Version Of An IOU

Fans of Yellowstone who are still smarting over the surprise death of Lee Dutton in the pilot episode of the Paramount Network drama should be pleased to see that Taylor Sheridan made up for killing off Dave Annable’s character. Annable now plays the doctor-husband of Zoe Saldana in Sheridan’s latest series Special Ops: Lioness, which premiered Sunday on Paramount+.

Here, Annable remembers the day he (futilely) fought to stay alive on Yellowstone, and how his character, Neil, is more than just the poor partner who has to watch Saldana’s kids while she’s off fighting secretive battles in the CIA. (Note: this interview was done before the actors hit the picket line).

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DEADLINE: We still haven’t gotten over how you died in the first episode of Yellowstone. Did Taylor give you an IOU at the end of that, and that’s why we’re here?

DAVE ANNABLE: That’s a great question. We used to coach together a long time ago, and we had sort of lost contact for a few years when I read the script for Yellowstone. And I’m like, ‘yo, this is amazing.’ Lee was the son who was gonna take over the ranch, the best cowboy. And I was like, ‘I’m from New York. I’ve been on a horse twice in my life.’ So I actually passed on it, not knowing that Taylor would even know that I had read it or anything. And then my wife gets a call ‘cuz she was the one who introduced me to Taylor, and it was from Taylor. And he is like, ‘I heard your boy just passed on my show. What is he thinking? Tell him to put his ass on tape tomorrow.’ I was like, okay, let’s go, let’s do this. I went to cowboy camp for a three or four month experience of Yellowstone and being a cowboy. And I just fell in love with everything. I loved the cast. I loved being in Montana and Utah. So when we were shooting my death scene, during the second or third take I was like, ‘I’m okay. this is just makeup. Like, you don’t have to kill me.’ I really started a whole Save Dave Annable campaign, not knowing what would then happen with the show becoming the number one show on the planet. I was really thankful for that experience and funny enough, Lioness existed a few years ago and then went away and then came back and Taylor mentioned it to me that he wanted me to play Neil. When it came back Taylor asked me if I was still interested. And I was like, oh my gosh, this is amazing. There might have been some version of an IOU in there, you know, his feeling bad. But I think I’m the right guy for the part. And you know, Taylor has really proven over and over again that he knows what he’s doing when he puts the crew and cast together. I’m over the moon. I’m so grateful.

DEADLINE How was the timing? You had also shot Walker for CW.

ANNABLE: The world works in mysterious ways. I was doing Walker, but I actually booked a pilot for NBC and was in the middle of a softball game, a double header, and checked my phone in between. I found out that the pilot wasn’t moving forward. I was pretty low. Right? Being in the business a long time and having another pilot that didn’t go. I have two kids. It was actually the next morning that I heard from Taylor. I was within 24 hours of being at a real low point. That’s the blessing and the curse of being an actor.

DEADLINE: What did Taylor tell you about the character? Are you the poor guy who’s at home with the kids?

ANNABLE: My wife is traveling around and I’m home with the kids, but at the same time, I’m this sort of brilliant surgical oncologist who’s saving people. We know their schedules are insane. So we navigate that whole world of marriage and work, which leads to this interesting relationship of sacrifice of love. Throughout the series we are gonna see Neil struggle more with all of his responsibilities. This marriage to Zoe’s character is really interesting because she really can’t talk about her work and what she’s going through. In response, I think Neil has a hard time opening up about his work and it really is this lack of communication that becomes troubling.

DEADLINE: There was an interesting scene in the premiere episode that seems to suggest that you have an open marriage. Did I hear that correctly?

ANNABLE: Yeah. That was one of the lines that stood out in the pilot as I was reading it. Neil says, ‘are you seeing anybody?’ And that becomes this very layered moment of, ‘whoa, I didn’t see that coming.’ I mean, do they have a deal? What was that conversation like? Whose idea was it? That is gonna be really fun to explore throughout the series of what this marriage looks like and whether it is working for them.

DEADLINE: Do you even know that your wife works for the CIA?

ANNABLE: I would assume he knows that because from the story they’ve been together a long time and have nothing but love for each other. Like we really are soulmates, but there’s this interesting juxtaposition of passion, career, and nationalism. So I think he’s gotta know that she’s in some stuff that she’s not allowed to talk about. But you know, that also brings this other layer of like, oh my gosh, my wife is potentially in danger every day and I have these two girls that I’m taking care of. And what is that like? Is she gonna come home from this one? There’s a moment in the series where he notices she’s been kind of beaten up and she’s not able to talk about it.

DEADLINE: Are we going to see how your daughters are adversely impacted by the whole situation?

ANNABLE: Yeah. Without giving away too much, Taylor does this wonderful job of showing all these different points of view of reality, from a 16-year-old girl who’s watching her parents and maybe doesn’t have the mother figure she wants, and the two kids trying to rebuild the relationship and the relationship with dad.

DEADLINE: Are you all done with production?

ANNABLE: Yes. It’s pretty funny. I remember when I got the show, they were talking about logistics filming and how we were going to be filming in Mallorca and Morocco and Baltimore. Dave? You’re gonna be in Baltimore. Neil is obviously not part of the CIA, the thriller aspect of the story. But in the second episode, you actually follow my character to work and see a very heavy storyline, the stuff that Neil has to deal with on a daily basis before coming home and being a dad. I’ve had the great luxury of playing a doctor a few times on a few different shows but this one feels really special.

DEADLINE: Did you see Taylor on the set? Did you get some good Taylor time?

ANNABLE: I didn’t. Basically he made a joke. He’s like, ‘if you see me on set in Baltimore, it means things aren’t going well.’ Oh. I was like, ‘oh, okay, great. It’s good to know.’ One of the beautiful things about Taylor was that he was an actor and he knows what we’re feeling and what we’re thinking. He’s able to really help guide us through all of those questions in the beginning. He’s always been available if I had any questions for work. I mean, he’s got 270 shows going and he’s obviously quite busy, but I couldn’t ask for a better boss, I’ll tell you that.

DEADLINE: How are you feeling about the potential of a strike?

ANNABLE: I think there’s a lot of justification for it. I’m part of the union and I’m happy to support the union. There are so many crew members and folks that are outta work, that are living paycheck to paycheck right now. It would be lovely to get back to work and get this industry moving again. That being said, it needs to be updated. Times change, things change. Obviously our whole business is changing. In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, it’s sort of night and day how much it’s changed. All of the deals need to reflect that.

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