MGM+’s ‘Billy the Kid’ takes the audience to the 1870s in the Wild West, the time of cowboys and outlaws, with the center being the titular character. The first season traces Billy’s origins and shows the audience how he met John Tunstall and got involved in the Lincoln County war, which would forever change his life. Despite having known each other for a short period, Tunstall and Billy spark a friendship where they value each other’s company and support. Tunstall influences Billy’s life significantly, making him one of the more important characters in the series. A curious thing about Tunstall is the replacement of the actor in the first season with another, older actor. Why did that happen? Let’s find out. SPOILERS AHEAD
Why Linus Roache Replaced Benjamin Sutherland as John Tunstall in Billy the Kid Season 2
The role of John Tunstall in the first season of ‘Billy the Kid’ is played by Canadian actor Benjamin Sutherland. The young actor is known for his work in ‘The Kings of Napa,’ ‘Kim’s Convenience’ and ‘Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments.’ He appears as Tunstall in the last episode of the first season, where the Englishman convinces Billy to switch sides and stand with him in the war brewing in Lincoln County.
Tunstall is an important character in Billy’s story, which is why Sutherland was expected to reprise his role in the second season. However, in the first episode of Season 2, Tunstall’s role is taken over by Linus Roache. Roache is a British actor who is known for his roles in ‘Homeland,’ ‘Vikings,’ and ‘Law and Order,’ to name a few. The reason behind the actor’s replacement has not been acknowledged by the creators of ‘Billy the Kid.’ The most probable reason is that Sutherland had a conflicting schedule that didn’t allow him to shoot for the MGM+ series.
While it is understandable that scheduling conflicts stopped Sutherland from reprising the role, what really stands out about Roache taking over the role is the age gap between the two actors. Sutherland is in his early 30s, while Roache is in his late 50s. Because there is no time jump in the story, it makes one curious why the show didn’t bring an actor in the same age group as Sutherland to take over the role.
Turning our attention towards the real-life John Tunstall, it looks like a younger actor should be playing his role. Tunstall was only 24 years old when he was killed a couple of weeks before his birthday. Casting an actor who is in his 30s makes sense, but why did the show cast a much older actor? The reason might be the nature of the relationship between Tunstall and Billy the Kid.
Billy was around seventeen years old when he met Tunstall, who must have been around twenty-three. At the time, the teenager already had quite a few crimes to his name, but Tunstall helped him turn his life around by taking him under his wing and giving him work on his ranch. While the age difference between them was barely six to seven years, Tunstall became a father figure to Billy.
In 1878, when Tunstall was killed by Lawrence Murphy’s men, Billy became the de facto leader of Tunstall’s side and led the Lincoln County war against their enemies. The show acknowledges this connection between them in the first episode of Season 2, where Tunstall appoints Billy as his second-in-command, which the outlaw politely refuses in favor of another man he deems more suitable for the job. This only furthers Billy’s goodwill for Tunstall and strengthens their relationship.
Perhaps the show’s creators wanted to show this father-son figure relationship between Tunstall and Billy, but it didn’t work out with both actors being similar in age, even though the real-life people were so. The Western drama series takes a lot of liberties while telling Billy the Kid’s story, so it wouldn’t really matter if they tweaked the age of the character as long as their role in the story remains the same.