GarondoMarondohotmailcom 26 Jun 2006 NY DAILY NEWS/DENNIS HAMILL Ian McShane wasn't happy when HBO decided to send its popular series "Deadwood" to the TV equivalent of the famous Old West graveyard Boot Hill. Especially before its third season - which kicked off two weeks ago - had even began. "I thought the whole thing was handled shabbily," the actor says by phone from Los Angeles. "But what the f-, HBO and 'Deadwood' have been very good to me. [The show's] Al Swearengen has been one of the great characters of my career. "However, I think what's been lost in everybody slapping each other on the back, with a possible two two-hour movies to wrap up the series after this season, is that 'Deadwood' is one of the most acclaimed series on TV. A truly great show. So I was initially shocked. And now I'm sad." McShane says that the blame for the cancellation will always be like Kurosawa's "Rashomon," three versions of the same story. "You'll never know what the f- really happened," he says. "And we'll see if the two-hour movies come to fruition or not. Part of me prefers it to six one-hour shows, because in a two-hour movie you can play with space and time and cover more material. But I do find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn't think that the onset of a new series by David Milch [creator of "Deadwood," as well as "NYPD Blue"] might not affect the old one." Still, McShane prefers to look at the positive side of his experience. "Look, I loved playing this part," he says. "I love the way HBO handled everything up to this point. Milch is a genius and I'd work for him again in a heartbeat. It's also been enormously profitable for me in many ways. But the sad part is that the story wasn't finished yet. "I think we needed four or five seasons [total] to finish telling the story. I just thought it was odd to cancel the series before season three was even on the air. Whether this was some devious publicity ploy to get more people to watch or not, who knows?" The British-born McShane, 64, the son of a Manchester United soccer player, took drama lessons at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to "meet chicks," he says. He dropped out after a year to film the 1962 English drama "The Wild and the Willing," and hasn't stopped working since. He has acted in more than 40 movies and two self-produced BBC TV series, "Lovejoy," and "Madson." He has also been married to actress Gwen Humble for 28 years, and has two kids from a previous marriage. Next month, he'll be seen in "Scoop," Woody Allen's new comedy thriller, co-starring Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman and Allen. But "Deadwood" was the role of a lifetime, winning McShane a Golden Globe award and an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of the violent, greasy-haired, foul-mouthed Al Swearengen. The character - loosely based on a real citizen of the Old West - is a saloonkeeper/whoremaster in Deadwood Gulch, presented in the series as America in microcosm, growing from a mud puddle with tents into a savage town as civilization slowly creeps into the lawless frontier. "This was all Milch's vision," says McShane. "The Milch workplace was not a democracy. He ran the show. He was the boss - innovative, clever, brilliant. You'd go to work every morning on Gene Autry's ranch in Valencia, Calif., and there was always a little nervousness in your stomach, which is kind of nice. Knowing that this day is not going to be like the previous one." Vocally political, McShane loved doing a show that bared the naked greed and ambition upon which America's economy was founded. "In 'Deadwood,' we dramatized the back room deals, the rigged elections, and the treachery that shows how American capitalism started," he says. "It does smack of a certain similarity that has been occurring in certain quarters in the last few years. It reminds me that from the days of the gold rush until now, government has existed for three reasons: One, to separate rich people from poor people; second, for the government to take as much of the remaining money from the poor people; third, to protect the rich people from themselves." But "Deadwood" has made McShane a good few honest shillings, a household name and sparked his feature film career. He has finished "Shrek 3" - in which he'll give voice to Capt. Hook - and will soon do another animated film with Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman called "Kung Fu Panda." In addition to "Scoop," he also has "We Are Marshall" upcoming, in which McShane plays the father of a player on the West Virginia University football team lost in a plane crash in 1970. "It was terrific to work with Ian McShane," Allen says. "He's a wonderful actor and a really great-looking guy and all the women when we watched dailies were always drawn to him magnetically." "I'm also going to do a movie called 'Hot Rod,' a kind of wild slapstick comedy," says McShane. "Then I'll be going home to England because my daughter has grandchild number three on the way. So, yeah, I'm busy. "But the f-ing story of 'Deadwood' wasn't finished, man. So I'm sad about it being canceled like this."