Who's Who In 1883? A Character Guide From The Cast Of The Yellowstone Prequel - SlashFilm (2024)

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ByJenna Busch/

"1883," the prequel series for the Paramount+ juggernaut "Yellowstone," premieres on the streaming service on December 19, 2021. This past weekend, I attended the premiere of the first two episodes, the red carpet and the press junket at the Wynn Las Vegas. I got a chance to catch up with some of the stars, including Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Sam Elliott, Isabel May, LaMonica Garrett, Eric Nelsen, Amanda Janos, Gratiela Brancusi, and even guest star Billy Bob Thornton.

"1883" follows the Dutton family as they embark on a journey west through the Great Plains toward the last bastion of untamed America. It is a stark retelling of western expansion, and an intense study of one family fleeing poverty to seek a better future in America's promised land — Montana.

These characters have pretty complex histories and motivations, and they gave some info on who they are, what they want and a tease about what we're going to see when the show premieres.

Who's Who in 1883?

As "Yellowstone" fans know, this is the story of the Dutton family, and how they ended up on that ranch in Montana. "1883" gives us a look at the journey from Texas to Montana, and from what the first three episodes have shown, that journey isnot going to an easy one.

Tim McGraw plays James Dutton, a Civil War veteran and family man with a wife (Faith Hill, his actual wife IRL), a daughter (Isabel May) and a son (Audie Rick, who is the cutest thing you've ever seen in your life). McGraw said of James:

"At several times throughout the show, James is called a dreamer and it's odd because of his character and because of stoic ness of his characteristics, I think that is true.He was a dreamer, but I also think that he was running from ghosts. I think James really suffered from PTSD, which nobody knew about then. And, in a war he didn't want to fight in and battles where he lost all of his men. Three years in prison during the Civil War and then coming back and certainly the things that were going on in the south during reconstruction and after reconstruction. I think he was looking for an untainted part of America where he could raise his kids."

By the way, that kid I mentioned? McGraw said:

"Audie Rick, isn't he cutest kid you've ever seen? That's why we keep him in the wagon all the time because we don't want him stealing our scenes. Anytime he pokes his head out, we're like, get back in the wagon, kid. Because he is just so damn cute."

James and his daughter Elsa have an unusual relationship for the time. You don't see fathers and daughters that adore each other in period pieces, and you rarely see a father that has such faith in a young woman. McGraw said:

"James' relationship with Elsa is pretty profound. I think that that's... She is the driving force in his life. Certainly he and Margaret have a great relationship and they love and trust each other deeply, but I think they both... Elsa is the light of their life. And I think that for James, she is the hope of redemption that he's looking for. And I think that that's the reason that he just gravitates to her so strongly and he just counts on her so much because she really is in his mind, his hope for redemption."

What Kind of Woman Drinks Coffee?

Faith Hill plays Margaret Dutton, a pretty powerful woman with a lovely relationship with her husband. She and the kids come out to join him in Texas from Tennessee where they lived after the Civil War. Hill said that women had certain expectations in society, but that things often get thrown out the window when you leave that society. There is a line in an episode where a disapproving person asks Margaret, "What kind of woman drinks coffee?" Let's just say that Margaret gives her the perfect answer. Hill said of Margaret:

"When it came to the women of that time, yes, there were certain things that you just didn't do. They didn't do. Here we are, on a trail though, in the midst of, God knows where, knowing what is going to happen. Yeah. And maybe the rules started to change a little bit, whether it was proper or not, to be honest, I really did not care. At that point, it was all about just surviving. Each day, each moment."

I asked Hill about the relationship between Margaret and James, which is another thing you don't see in a lot of period pieces. They have a loving one, and they trust each other. Yes, there were gender roles back then, but they clearly rely on each other and the relationship seems almost modern. Hill said:

"What a great question. I think there has to be a lot of trust there, and respect. And look, I guess as a backstory, 'Hey, we're going to pick up the family and move West,' and 'West, where?' 'I don't know. We'll figure it out as we're traveling along.' I think there just to be a lot of trust and faith that the dream of James, of my husband, is something that I'm willing to go along with and trust him. He been in war. I was a nurse in war, actually, in the war, when I was 17. That's kind of part of the backstory that comes in a little later. But yeah, it's just one of those... it is kind of a modern... I really hadn't thought about it in that way, but it is kind of a [modern] relationship.

"A modern relationship, for sure. Yeah. Particularly, allowing my husband to take our daughter off on these amazing adventures, which, my gosh, was definitely unheard of, for that time period. But obviously, she's very capable of handling herself."

'She's Just So In Love with Her Surroundings'

Isabel May might be an unfamiliar name to some, but she won't be after you watch the show. Her character Elsa narrates the entire series and her opening scene is a banger. Elsa is the 17-year-old daughter of James and Margaret Dutton, figuring out the world, and full of life. I don't say that lightly. From the moment we meet her, we get a very clear picture of a young woman who loves adventure, adores the open road and won't let anything stop her. May said:

"I think she's someone that's captivated with the world and doesn't want to have any restrictions and refuses to be something that she doesn't want to be. And that's very unique to... That was not what that time was like at all, and therefore that made her kind of a unique, special, independent woman, young woman for that matter."

She's the character most of us can relate to, and she's the audience's way in to the series. She's very unusual for the time period in terms of what we've seen in entertainment. May said:

"I think Elsa's someone that can't be dishonest. She has this pure, in the beginning naive, but just spirit. The way that she views the world is so ... she's so alive. And she appreciates everything so much, to such a degree, that I think a young woman at that time, that age, is just a perspective we've never seen in a Western. And so, it makes it all the more interesting when she's just so in love with her surroundings. And then, the backdrop to that is how difficult that experience was. So it's this interesting contrast between the beauty of the world that she sees and the hardship and the reality of it. And I think that brings the series to life in a unique way."

'Thomas, the Buffalo Soldier'

LaMonica Garrett plays Thomas, a former Buffalo Soldier who is now a Pinkerton agent. He and Sam Elliott's Shea are working partners and best friends. He's calm, but you do not want to upset him. He's talented with a gun. They've been hired to help the group heading out to find a place to settle. The relationship between Thomas and Shea isn't spoken about much in the first three episodes, but it's palpable. Garrett said:

"They served together in the Civil War, but Shea was a captain and Thomas, the Buffalo Soldier. And when the war was over, the requirements for Buffalo Soldiers turned into something different than what they originally signed up for. And Thomas and Shea, we didn't sign up. These people aren't doing anything to us, it's time to leave. So they went their own way and they became Pinkerton agents. So the right hand knows what the left is doing. Shea and Thomas, they could sit at a campfire for hours and not say a word, but they're saying everything. They just know each other, they're brothers, they're best friends."

Garrett said he had a wonderful relationship with Sam Elliott as well:

"When I met Sam, before we started working, when it was in cowboy camp, he came and embraced me and we hit it off right away. So any nerves I had because I'm about to be opposite Sam Elliott for a season, they all just drained right out with his kindness and his presence and just being who he is. But yeah, it started off camera and then it bled over when we were filming."

If you're not familiar with the Pinkerton Agency, Garret explains:

"Pinkertons, they were one of the first agencies to hire Black people, to be a part of that. And they were one of the first agencies to hire women. At that time period, that's another thing that was a big deal back then. And they were the original Secret Service. They protected Abraham Lincoln, not when John Wilkes Booth was there, but before, there was another attempt on his life and they were there. And they were bigger than the military back then, because of Abraham Lincoln's vouching for them. So they were huge back then. And they have a rich history all throughout this country. I didn't know any of that stuff."

Garrett said that he learned a lot about Black cowboys in that time period and that was one of the things that drew him to the role. He said:

"It takes you to a different place, man. Just the Buffalo Soldier, the Sergeant, you put that on ... It hit me a certain way when we were in Fort Worth and it was hundreds of background actors and we're all around and we're hanging out and a handful of the Black background actors came up to me and they said 'Hey man, how does it feel to wear the Buffalo Soldier's jacket?' And I already knew that it was significant, but just knowing what it means to not just myself, but so many other people. And to represent it in a strong manner. This guy that has these principles and he has this honor to himself and the way he carries himself. It easy to get up and work when you have that to work with."

'They're Brothers In Arms and They're Brothers Beyond That'

Sam Elliott plays Shea Brennan, a man who served in the Civil War with Thomas, and has just lost a whole lot of family to smallpox. He's no-nonsense, he's very practical, and he'll shoot you if it will save the group. This is Sam Elliott we're talking about here, so you know the gravitas Shea is going to have. One of the loveliest things about his character is that relationship that Garrett spoke about. Elliot said of the pairing:

"Well, number one, it's one of my favorite relationships in the show. I love LaMonica. We've become very close in a very short period of time. Maybe a long period, but it's a short period ... In terms of the backstory, the one common thing, right off the top, that they have is the fact that they're both best veterans of The Civil War and what that brings. I think that Thomas's character dealt with that reality a lot better than Shea did. Shea's pretty tormented about it. I think his PTSD is a little more serious, I think, than what Thomas carries. And a lot of that probably ... there's reference to, of slavery or the treatment that Black people had in those days. Maybe not slavery directly, but there's mention of it, in some of the dialogue that Thomas and I have throughout this thing.

"And I just think they love each other. And for whatever reason. Thomas was in the unit called the Buffalo Soldiers, which was an all Black unit in the cavalry. Taylor [Sheridan - creator/writer/director] said that he thought maybe Shea rode with them. Rode with Thomas in the Buffalo Soldiers. I'm not sure that I buy into that because I've seen photographs of those guys over the years, and there was never a white guy amongst them. But for whatever reason, they're brothers. They're brothers in arms, and they're brothers beyond that. They travel together. They sleep in the same tent, so these guys are close. Thomas talks Shea out of committing suicide every morning, and he knows that Shea's a troubled guy, but he's riding with him and has his back. So Shea's all the better for it."

So where is Shea heading and what is he looking for? Elliot said:

"There's a lot of gray area with Shea. And that, to me, is something that isn't necessarily a part of a Western. One of the appeals for a Western, for me, is that it's always been pretty black and white. But there's a lot of gray area in Shea. And I find it interesting to dig around in that world. The fact that he loses his family in the beginning; the fact that he's a veteran of the Civil War; the fact that he has all these immigrants in his charge and has great compassion for them and empathy for them and takes it very seriously when he loses any of them. And the fact that he is on this personal journey, heading to the ocean, that's where Shea is on the way to. I won't tell you why, but that's where he is going. Going for a swim. Going to pull a surfboard out of the back of one of the covered wagons and catch some waves."

'He Knows What's Up When It's Time to Clear the Saloon Out'

The rest of the gang, including Billy Bob Thornton gave us the scoop on who they are as well.

Eric Nelsen said of his character:

"My character's name is Ennis and he's a cowboy that the Dutton's hired to help them on their journey across the country and get to Yellowstone. And Ennis is kind of a brighter light in this rather dark world that we're living in here. And he's got a big heart and there's some possible romance going on in his future ...he's taking it day by day, but this beautiful girl [Elsa] comes into his life and he's used to staring at cattle all day. So kind of changes perspective on things."

The group isn't just made up of Duttons and cowboys though. There are plenty of immigrant families from Europe, fleeing poverty and overpopulation. Amanda Jaros told us about her character, who is one of those immigrants:

"I play Alina who is part of the immigrant caravan that joins the Dutton family on the journey out West. And she is witty and smart. She definitely has some sassy moments, but she also, absolutely, she pops in and out of the season and you'll actually see there's also some lovely little moments with her husband and some of the emotional trauma she experiences in just the difficulty of circ*mstances that we'll see her go through."

Within that group are the Roma, who were often persecuted by other Europeans. A few episodes in, we meet Neomi, played by Gratiela Brancusi:

"My character, Neomi, she is a woman of Roma background. Two kids, [she has] two young kids and she's coming from a land that's been hard on her and her ancestors and she's just looking for a more forgiving place where she can just be. Just be free as we all deserve."

Finally, we have guest star Billy Bob Thornton, who plays Pinkerton agent Marshall Jim Courtright. It's a small role, but it packs a punch. Thornton said:

"Taylor Sheridan had written this cameo with me and mind and asked if I'd come do it. And it was with Tim and Faith who were old friends, Sam Elliott, who's an old friend. And I said, 'I'm on tour right now with the band. I don't know.' He said, 'It'll take you two days. Come on.' And I went down there, I did it and got out of there and I was very honored to be asked to do that part. And the part is very ... He's an authority figure who knows exactly what he's doing. I'll put it that way."

He's not kidding. "1883" premieres December 19, 2021 on Paramount+.

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Who's Who In 1883? A Character Guide From The Cast Of The Yellowstone Prequel - SlashFilm (2024)
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