Steve McQueen wasn't interested in playing the good guy
McQueen wanted his character to be "rank."
As the "King of Cool" and a scrapbook of captivating film and television roles, Steve McQueen was a man who knew what he wanted and wasn't afraid of going after it. Of course, a key part of knowing what you want is knowing what you don't want and speaking your mind about it.
According to an interview with The Daily Register, McQueen, well known for playing morally ambiguous or downright bad-to-the-bone characters, did clarify that there was a specific type of role he certainly wasn't in the market for.
He said, "I wouldn't take a part as a sheriff." His reasoning for the decision was concise and, to be honest, a bit humorous. McQueen said, "I don't want to play a goody-gumdrop."
One of McQueen's best-known roles is that of Josh Randall in Wanted Dead or Alive, who McQueen specifically wanted to be, in his own words, "rank." The article stated, "He wanted him to be a friend of no one, a man who did what he had to do, saying 'nuts' to everybody else."
Apparently, the higher-ups were worried that such a depiction of Randall wouldn't be very promising for the popularity of the series so, in an effort to make the character more popular with the audience, they convinced McQueen that Randall couldn't be a full-fledged bad boy.
But after McQueen had earned a certain level of stardom and the series had achieved unequivocal success, McQueen wanted to bring some of that darker energy back into the series. Specifically, McQueen said, "I'm not compromising anymore. From now on, he's going to be real rank."
McQueen might have a point. While it's all well and good to watch a hero save the day, the good guys of Westerns can sometimes feel a little too perfect; Too brave to make a mistake, too good to seem human and realistic.
In an interview with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, McQueen maintained, "People are people. And that's the way I play my parts. Heroes get scared! I try to use as much authenticity as I can. If four big guys in a bar tell me to go, I go." He added, "I work very hard at my craft." This is a statement that is evident both in the success of Wanted Dead or Alive and in McQueen's career as a whole.