In "Longmire," a terrific contemporary western premiering Sunday on A&E, most of the male actors get to play strong, silent tough guys, the kind whose idea of a raucous time is riding solo into the mountains and cooking beans by a campfire.

Cast member Adam Bartley does not have one of those roles. The Eden Prairie native plays the Ferg, a beefy, bumbling deputy who looks particularly inept compared with the sheriff, an imposing figure capable of making enemies quake with a simple squint.

That's just fine with Bartley.

"Looking and appearing tough is overrated," said Bartley, 33, speaking from his trailer in Santa Fe, N.M., during a break from shooting last week. "It's OK to shed a tear here and there."

We talked to the veteran stage actor about this promising new series, how he got the acting job and why you probably won't see him in Alaska anytime soon.

Q How did you get the acting bug?

A From my father, Drew. He was an actor growing up, did a lot of work at the old Chimera [a once-prominent community theater in St. Paul]. When he had me, he decided to get a real job. But he always encouraged me to follow that path. The people I worked with at Eden Prairie High School were also very encouraging.

Q Do you remember the first role that made you think you could do this for a living?

A In the eighth grade, I did a great Larry Shue play called "The Foreigner." I played Ellard, this slow Southern boy with a really thick accent. I was bringing the audience to their knees, crying with laughter for minutes at a time. I realized then that making people laugh is a very powerful gift.

Q You're playing another slow guy in "Longmire," surrounded by all these he-men. Isn't that emasculating?

A The thing about the Ferg is that I think he's a tough guy inside. You just have to take an interesting route to get him there. He's more courageous and braver than people give him credit for. He just doesn't believe in himself.

Q "Hatfields & McCoys" drew record numbers earlier this week. I know this is a very different project, but they both feel like westerns. Why do you think there's such an appetite for them right now?

A When I grew up in Eden Prairie, we played outside; we wouldn't come home until dark. You had a communal relationship with your neighbors. Things have changed. Parents have more boundaries, more supervision. I think when people are in their 9-to-5 cubicles, they dream about riding a horse, fishing in a river. The West reminds us of a time when things were simpler.

Q Most Americans haven't heard of Robert Taylor, who plays the sheriff, but I think that's going to change very soon. Is he as scary in real life as he is on the screen?

A He's one of the greatest guys on the planet. We're very similar in the way that he'd rather sit and talk with the driver for an hour and a half than with the executive producer. He's a real guy.

Q You're shooting in Santa Fe. What do you do for fun there?

A This past weekend I went horseback riding and went fly fishing all day Monday. We do a lot of hiking and drink a few margaritas over the weekends. I brought my motorcycle so I joyride into the mountains on a daily basis. On occasion, I miss late-night Los Angeles, where I can go and see any movie I want. I miss the excitement, but there's something really nice about being in a nice, quiet, cool place.

Q You've been acting for some time, but this seems like your big break. What does this mean for you?

A It's a dream. The whole thing is a dream. I worked my butt off for a long time to put myself in a position for success. I worked in New York for years. I did regional theater in Chicago, Alaska ...

Q Alaska?

A Well, I wouldn't even call it theater. I was working at Denali National Park, doing 30-minute musical revues. I played the first mountain climber to climb Mount Denali. Before the show, we served the audience ribs and chicken in character. After three weeks, I couldn't look at myself in the mirror anymore. I moved to Los Angeles. Two years later, I got this role.

Follow Justin on Twitter: @nealjustin