Who to star as Soapy?

An on-going list and discussion on your choice of movie star 
you think should play Soapy Smith in a movie on his life, and why.

William S. Hart as Soapy?


Over the years I have been asked time and again who I think should play the part of Soapy if a major motion picture were to be made of his life. I am not a movie buff therefore a poor judge on who would be a good choice to perform the part. I brought the question up to the True West forum members and received the following replies. I ask that you join in the conversation with your own choices and the reasons why, if any. This is not a contest, nor do we have any power in deciding who the actors in such a film might be, however, it would not be the first time during the earliest stages that an author was asked by film producers who they thought might be a good candidate to play the lead role.

  • Ben Affleck: (sent in by Melvin Graf). Votes = 2.
  • Tom Berenger: (sent in by Wilson Peniston). Votes = 1.
  • Jeff Bridges: (sent in by Bob Wood). Votes = 3.
  • Josh Brolin: (sent in by Tad Brunton). Votes = 2.
  • Klaus Maria Brandauer: (sent in by Dave). Votes = 1.
  • Bradley Cooper: (sent in by "Buck Grizzley"). Votes = 1.
  • Johnny Depp: (sent in by Abigail Jewell). Votes = 5.
  • Robert Downey Jr.: (sent in by Ashley Smith). Votes = 7.
  • Emilio Estevez: (sent in by Kara Barnes). Votes = 1.
  • Colin Farrell: (sent in by Honest John). Votes = 1.
  • Dennis Franz: (sent in by "Unkle Sherman"). Votes = 1.
  • Ryan Gosling: (sent in by Frank Cole). Votes = 1.
  • Lance Henricksen: (sent in by Roscoe Beaumont). Votes = 1.
  • Samuel L. Jackson: This comes from my 14-year-old son who has a great sense of humor (gets it from me). With the vote he added the following altered Jackson catch-phrase, "I've had it with these mother #$%!-ing vigilantes in this mother #$%!-ing town." (Jefferson R. Smith). Votes = 1.
  • Richard Karn: (sent in by Mark). Votes = 1.
  • James Lancaster: (sent in by Wilson Peniston). Votes = 1.
  • Jude Law: (sent in by Jef Dean). Votes = 1.
  • Daniel Day Lewis: (sent in by Matt Everingham). Votes = 2.
  • Viggo Mortenson: (sent in by Andrew Cremata). Votes = 1.
  • Jack Nickelson: (sent in by Greg Foster). Votes = 1.
  • Edward Norton: (sent in by Deborah B.). Votes = 2.
  • Joe Pesci: (sent in by Uriel Benltzhak). Votes = 1.
  • Jason Priestly: (sent in by SourdoughSteve ). Votes = 1.
  • Jim Richards, "Soapy" in Days of 98 Show: (sent in by Ashley Bowman). Votes = 1.
  • Tom Selleck: (sent in by Karin McKechnie). Votes = 3.
  • Gary Sinise: (sent in by Mike Goldstein). Votes = 2.
  • James Patrick Stewart: (sent in by Wilson Peniston). Votes = 1.
  • Tom Waits: (sent in by Robby Albrecht). Votes = 1.
  • Ben Paul Walker: (sent in by Melvin Graf). Votes = 1.
  • Zeke Ward: (sent in by Sean Downing). Votes = 1.
  • (Friend Rich writes) My choice for an actor to play JRS ll....is an unnamed, relatively unknown actor...with good acting chops. For me, a well known actor may overshadow the intriguing saga.Also, IMO....the footage should very closely exhibit life as it actually was...during the late 19th C.
    Have you ever watched the movie 'Hard Times' featuring Charles Bronson. That is the type of realism I would like to see.Also, shooting in B/W isn't a bad idea either. No fluff...just the real facts! The real factual story is compelling enough...IMHO...of course.
Ashley Bowman of Skagway, Alaska wrote in with the following:
Well here's a few of the responses from myself and the women I work with-- important to note these are all coming from women because naturally we picked all the hottest actors--
  • Hugh Jackman: (Wolverine meets Kate and Leopold)
  • Christian Bale: (if only he didn't have such a baby face)
  • Viggo Mortenson: (ok, maybe, maybe not)
  • Daniel Day-Lewis: (pretty perfect, I think, in light of There Will Be Blood)
  • Sam Elliott: (also a good one) Votes = 3.
  • Val Kilmer: (I don't see it)
  • Tom Hanks: (ala Road to Perdition?)
If I get any more I'll let you know :) As soon as I read "Paul Newman" I thought right away that a young Paul Newman or a young Robert Redford (with dark hair) would be a great Soapy. For that matter maybe Bogey as well... now my mind is entirely taken up with thoughts of Hollywood Soapys.


  1. Extending on my previous comments.....The more that I see underrated actor 'Warren Oates' in Western film circa 1960's - 1970's....the more I believe he would have been perfect for the part.[ Not a well known 'major' star ]

    With today's crop of actors....even though 'some' are quite talented, I think it would be a mistake to have a well known actor play JRS II. Remember the great Paul Newman playing Billy the Kid? As much as I appreciate the late Mr. Newmans talent...I believe a lesser known talented actor would have made for a better movie.

  2. I too have thought that an unknown should play Soapy, however, I have been equally surprised in some of the well-known actors abilities to portray the famous and infamous. I just pray for anyone other than someone like Rod Steiger (Played Soapy in Klondike Fever).

    Jeff Smith

  3. I would suggest 3 lesser known actors who were in the movie Gettysburg to play Soapy.
    1) Tom Berenger
    2) James Patrick Stewart
    3) James Lancaster

  4. Thanks Wilson, glad to see you here.

  5. Matt sent me an email stating,

    "D Day Lewis to play Soapy no doubt looks like him and is the best actor!!"

    Daniel Day Lewis...not a bad choice Matt. Thanks!

  6. Jeff Smith should play Soapy !!

  7. Oh hell no! lol. I'm no actor. I'm a historian. We need a pro.

  8. ...But thank you Tina for thinking that highly of me!

  9. I would like to see Tom Selleck play Soapy he is good in any movie

  10. That's two votes for Tom Selleck!

  11. We must keep in mind...JRSII was ONLY 38 Years young when Jesse Murphy blasted the fatal shot. [ my opinion of course :) ]

    So it should be some actor 35 to 45 Years old. Some of the guys mentioned may be a bit too old.

  12. You are, of course, very correct Rich. In the film Klondike Fever, they had Rod Stieger playing Soapy. He had solid white hair and was in his 60s I think? It was rediculous to have him play Soapy, who by the way, was actually only 37! His marker was wrong and no one in Skagway knew his date of birth.

    Jeff Smith

  13. Howard Blum writes, "Robert Downey, Jr. as Soapy - charming, funny, charismatic, and able to change his mood into something darker in an instant."

    That's so Soapy...

  14. My publisher, Art Petersen, of Klondike Research throws 1 vote for Johnny Depp and 1 for Robert Downey jr.

  15. Andrew Cremata voted for Viggo Mortenson on Facebook.

  16. Friend Donna Clayson of Whitehorse, Yukon writes,

    "I think Sam Elliott is the perfect actor to play Soapy. I thought of Sam right away and I see someone else has suggested him as well. My opinion."

  17. Hi, Jeff,

    I sure wish Jason Robards was still around. I know he would be "older", but he would have been perfect. I could see Jack Nickelson as being wonderful in the part as long as he kept himself reigned in and did not overpower the other characters.

    Ultimately, I guess I would have to say Robert Downey Jr. Is the best suggestion so far.

    I have just finished my advance copy of Blum's book about an hour ago and must say I was very pleased with it. I do hope that the movie will follow it as written and not become "something else" as Hollywood is so often guilty of.

    Eagerly awaiting more news/progress regarding the film.

    Bye for now,
    Greg Foster
    aka, operabruin

  18. I think you should..will give it more authenticity.

  19. Friend, Greg, alias "operabruin."

    I can't count the vote for the deceased Jason Robards but I did place your votes for Nickelson and Downey Jr., up there. I agree that having Nickelson as Soapy might be a problem as he would surely steal the show.

    I am envious of you having an advanced copy of Blum's book. I'm looking forward to it.

    Friend, mrspumpkin,

    I think you are referring to me playing Soapy? I thank you for the support and vote of confidence but there's no way that's going to happen. The only thing I would lend to it would be bad acting. However, I would agree wholeheartedly if you were voting for me to be hired on as a historical/technical adviser.

    Jeff Smith

  20. Friend Jeff. It is a longshot of course....but do not underestimate your innate acting abilities...especially with the special knowledge you have of your great grandfather's character and idiosyncrasies. I have seen some very fine performances by non theatrical folks.

  21. Friend Rich is right. I too have seen many an unknown do a superb job. However, with me, there is nothing there, lol. The actual film production, once it gets underway, will be professional right down the line. I want this film done right and that means getting a professional actor who can capture Soapy's personality.

    Now for those who still want to see me as Soapy, you still can... You just have to be at any old west function I attend. I always portray Soapy (dressing from 1898 photographs) and perform the shell game, three-card monte, the prize package soap racket on a tripe and keister (suitcase with a foldout stand).

    Jeff Smith

  22. Mike Goldstein added actor, Gary Sinise to the list. That's one for Gary!

  23. Friend, Bob Wood says...

    "Hey Jeff,

    Another great newsletter. Good to read a movie of Soapy's life is in the works. I vote for a slimmed down Jeff Bridges for Soapy's part.

    Bob Wood, owner

  24. The story is fantastic and the cast should be too. Any of the following would do Soapy justice.

    Jeff Bridges
    Johnny Depp
    Daniel Day Lewis
    Jude Law
    Josh Brolin
    Garret Dillahunt

  25. Thanks you! My name is Leslie Smith Hanson i am a relative to Ira Smith, James Stamps and Levi Ballard .. my family and i have reseached our family tree back to the 1600's .. i grow up in coweta county on a 250 yr old family farm .. i am very interested in soapy smiths history .. i also think jeff bridges would be a good actor .. this is my email address please comment back when u get a chance ..hansonfamily@frontier.com

  26. Great to meet you Leslie! I added your vote for Jeff Bridges and will most defineitly email you today.

  27. Ryan Gosling would be a good choice.

  28. How about Edward Norton? He has a pretty wide range in his acting ability?

  29. Hi, Deborah.
    Yes, indeed, Edward Norton is a great actor. In fact, I thought his name was already on the list above? I have added his name as well as your vote.

    Jeff Smith

  30. Jeff,
    Having been raised in the shadow of Ol' Soapy's story, I hereby nominate Zeke Ward, of Creede, Colorado, to play Soapy. Other than the fact that Zeke is not a "Bad Man," he is, in all other ways, as Soapy as Soapy himself. He wouldn't even have to act. If that doesn't work, the chalk me up as having voted for Josh Brolin.
    Sean Downing

  31. Thank you Sean. I posted both your votes!

  32. Well although he's a bit over the age of JRSII I think the versatile acting of Jason Priestly would suit the character just fine.

    That's my opinion and I'm sticking with it...


  33. Most of the great actors are too old for the Soapy Smith part, including Klaus Maria Brandauer, my choice. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001970/ He is just sleazy enough to be believable. A friend and colleague, who happens to be a beautiful woman the same age as Brandauer (and me, for that matter), worked with him on White Fang as a driver (in Haines, the surrogate for Skagway). He put the make on her big time.

    Tom Selleck is too old and too much of a good guy.
    Ben Affleck-not too old, but I don't see it.
    Gary Sinise? Maybe, but still too old.
    Johnny Depp would over-act the hell out of it.
    Jeff Bridges would be great but he's too old as well.

    I'll keep thinking.

  34. Robert Downey Jr.! Humina, humina !!! And I know where he lives hehehe well one of his homes anyway!!! He smiled and waved me around his car, B4 ..lol luv him!!
    Hope I posted this right : D

    1. Hi, Jami.
      Yes you posted correctly and your vote has been cast making Robert Downey Jr. the a current leader in votes. Thank you.

      Jeff Smith

  35. I'm glad to hear of a movie on him. I'm from Alaska, and grew up a little bit on these tales. My mom especially will be excited since she asked me about a movie about him. I think Emilio Estevez because he plays such a outlaw comedian or Sam Elliott should be Soapy. Thanks, Kara Barnes

    1. Hi, Kara.
      Thank you for your votes! They have been added. Who does your mom think should play Soapy?

  36. She said Johnny Depp should play Soapy. She really wants Bruce Willis to play the Sheriff. She said if she ever saw him she would ask him. My mom is in her late 70's but still full of life! Thanks, Kara

    1. Hi, Kara.
      I added your mother's vote, but I don't have anything for the other characters. By the "Sheriff" I assume she either means Deputy U.S. Marshal Taylor, an associate of Soapy's, or vigilante, J. M. "Si" Tanner who was made a deputy U.S. marshal after Soapy was killed.

      Thank you so much for your comments. I hope the film is completed so you and your mom get to see it! Keep an eye on my blog as I post all the latest news and gossip fit to print.
      Jeff Smith

  37. This comment has been removed by the author.

  38. Had an anonymous poster send in the name, Jaden Smith. Jaden is the son of Will Smith, the black actor. Jaden is a teen actor, rapper and dancer. You can see more about him on Wikipedia

    I won't be adding Jaden's name to the list above as this was obviously just a joke.

    Jeff Smith

  39. I vote for Joe Pesci, He is the right height, has the look and is a shyster like me.

    1. Thank you Uriel. I did not recognize the name, Pesci at first, but after looking him up I have to agree! Good choice.

  40. Roscoe Tarwater Beaumont wants to add Lance Henricksen to the list of names. Roscoe says, "I think he'd underplay the character correctly, and he even bears some slight resemblance to Soapy."

    Ok, Roscoe, I added the name for you. Thank you, but there is one issue. Lance is now 72-years-old.

  41. it would have to be Sam Elliot!!!!!!!! with out a dougbt

    Jay Hartzell Great Great Grandson

  42. I am submitting my vote for Steve Buscemi.I suggested him to Ashley Bowman 2 years ago while working with her,it appears from the above that she only included the nominations of female coworkers but at the time she seemed to think I suggested a good choice.IMO Bruce Campbell would definitely deserve a role in the film.


Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions asap. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith