Turning Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear into a western set in mid-19th-century Texas made perfect sense to Marcia Gay Harden. "There are a lot of parallels," says Harden, 42, who portrays Susannah, the villainous daughter of a wealthy rancher in the TNT film King of Texas, premiering June 2. "King Lear was a brutal warlord, and that was a very brutal time in Texas history. They were slaughtering Mexicans and pushing back the Indians [in an attempt] to acquire land."
Filming on location in central Mexico last spring was no breeze either. "It was dry and dusty, and there wasn't much around," says the actress, who won an Oscar in 2001 for her role as the wife of painter Jackson Pollock in Pollock. "In the morning you'd wake up and look in your shoes for scorpions."
Harden still managed to feel at home on the range, thanks to a voice coach who helped her nail a Texas accent—and horseback-riding lessons. "It's so much fun galloping across a field, "she says. But she admits to preferring life at a slower pace. Between films, she shuttles between a Manhattan apartment and an Upstate New York farmhouse she shares with filmmaker husband Thaddaeus Scheel, 37, and their 3-year-old daughter Eulala. "We're putting in a garden," she says. "When it's blueberry season we'll be picking blueberries. And we have a lake, so we canoe. It's very much this little retreat."