Season 2 of Taylor Sheridan’s modern-day Western Yellowstone debuts on Paramount on June 19. Luke Grimes and I discussed what it’s like being mean to Kevin Costner on film, his relationship with horses, Native American issues, and what’s to come this year on Yellowstone for Kayce and the Dutton family.
How did you come to Yellowstone?
I was sent a script from my agent. I was a huge fan of Taylor’s (Sheridan). I made a tape at home with a couple of the scenes I really liked. Sent the tape to him. He actually called me personally about two days later and said he was going to give me the job.
On the basis of the tape alone?
It all happened very fast and it was very exciting. He told me to go get a rope and learn how to swing it (Laughs).
Coming to what is essentially a modern-day Western, how much experience did you have with horses and ropes and so forth?
As far as horseback riding, I had some experience from being in the remake of The Magnificent Seven. But that was sort of basic “movie riding” where they put the (stunt) doubles on for anything fast or exciting and you’re just kind of moseying up and hitting a mark and saying some lines. So, I’d been on a horse a bit, but this was a completely different process. They had me riding different styles every day for at least a month before I even went to Park City (Utah) to start prepping. We got up there a couple of weeks early and some of us went on to what they call “cowboy camp.” We basically took horses out on a mule packing trip into the brush for three nights. At that point, we’re really depending on these horses and trying to get into the mindset of how important they are to the people in that lifestyle. We were jumping creeks and sleeping on our saddles and making sure the horses were fed and watered. It was a whole experience that a lot of actors would never get to have, thanks to Taylor wanting us to be really prepared.
Would you consider yourself a person who has really taken to horses now?
I’ve come to really enjoy riding. I do it most of the year now because when we’re shooting the show I’m on a horse almost daily. I think I’ll end up with some at some point. In L.A. it’s a little tough. There’s not a whole lot of space around here (laughs). And I’m not quite at a point in my career where I can go get my ranch just yet, but I could definitely see myself ending up with some horses. It’s a cool hobby and a cool way of life.
What Taylor has done here is create a modern Western. The culture is much the same, but the time is current. Yet it feels very much a piece with the classic nature of the genre. Were you drawn to Westerns as a younger person?
I’ve always liked Westerns. I’ve always loved film in general. Anything that’s done well can speak to me. I never like Westerns any more than any other type of genre. I don’t know if it’s a sensibility thing or not, but I tend to get cast in more Americana type projects and so I’ve gotten more familiar with the world. I didn’t realize how alive and well this culture is until I started doing this job. It’s not that far off – the world that he’s (Taylor) created from the world of what goes on in those northwestern states. People very much still rely on horses. Horses are their lifestyle. People don’t think about where their hamburgers come from. It’s alive and well. I literally just went to a bull riding event that filled the Staples Center in downtown L.A. There’s still plenty of people going to rodeos and living that life. It’s been fun to delve into.
Sheridan’s directorial debut Wind River showcased an interest in Native American issues. Something Yellowstone picks up on even further. With your character being married to a Native American woman, what kind of learning curve did you have on the subject?
What was really helpful in my preparation for the role was my partner in crime, Kelsey Asbille – who plays Monica, my wife on the show – she took Native American Studies at Columbia, and she was a big help. Telling me some good books to read and just highlighting some things I wasn’t completely aware of in the history of Native American culture – their plight and the way they’ve been mistreated. It was an interesting journey to learn a lot more about the subject then I knew before or than a lot of people even care to. It was a good chance for me to be quiet and listen and learn about a culture that has been overlooked. I think it’s really cool that Taylor is shining a light on things a lot of people would just not rather think about or look at.
There’s no way to get around the fact that you play Kevin Costner’s son (laughs). What is like working with him?
Kevin’s a really committed actor. A lot of times guys who’ve been doing it for as long as he has and reached every mountain top, career-wise, and to still be super curious and show up everyday ready to work, to figure a scene out and be just as committed as people first starting out and still hungry is really refreshing. He cares about the work. He really digs in and tries to find every subtlety and way to tell the story even better. It’s really cool to be around, and it’s obviously a huge honor to just be standing next to him in that environment. Sometimes you gotta pinch yourself. I grew up watching his movies. In that Americana-Western world, he’s an icon. Our relationship between our characters on the show is really broken – especially in season one – so, I’m finding myself having to be mean to Kevin Costner, which something feels a little off about that (laughs). But offscreen, there’s nothing but great energy. He’s a good guy.
At the end of season one, Kayce comes back into the fold of the Dutton ranch. What might we expect from the dynamic created by his return this season?
When I read the episode where he comes back, I had a lot of questions. Because Kayce’s such a fighter and he’s been fighting against that (coming home). I talked to Taylor and asked, “Why does he come back here? Why doesn’t he just run and keep running?” He said it’s because of his son and that it’s not really about him (Kayce) anymore. Once he loses his wife, the only thing he has now is his son and his son’s future. He’s not really thinking about himself anymore. So, he’s able to put aside any issues he has with his dad or with the family. Out of all of these options – which are very, very few -, that’s the best one. To go back and fight alongside the family. In season two you see him taking up a lot of responsibility on the ranch. He’s trying to re-assimilate as a Dutton and helping John fight off all that’s coming at them. That’s where you meet him when we come back.
Last year Kayce didn’t interact as a group with the family very often. I’m guessing that being back on the ranch, he’ll be caught up in the hornet’s nest created by the toxic dynamic around John with Beth (Kelly Reilly) and Jamie (Wes Bentley).
There was a running joke last year that I was sort of in my own show (laughs). Everyone else was doing this thing over here and I’m on a reservation. Most of the days I would shoot it would just be me and Kelsey. It’s been interesting within the world of the show, but also personally. Just getting finally to act with all those great actors. It creates more room for some interesting storylines with characters you’ve never seen come together before. Even some that you have – you figure out why things haven’t gone so well.
I can imagine that getting all those characters in the same room is a bit of a powder keg.
Absolutely. There are a few more scenes around the dinner table, which is such a device in family dramas – classically in television, you always have the dinner table scene. I gotta tell you, it’s a little different with the Duttons (laughs).
Can you tell us a little about what this season holds in store for Kayce and Monica?
It’s one of those classic stories where one person wanted out and the other was nowhere near ready to let it go. That’s where you find them. It’s really hard on Kayce because that’s the worst scenario for him – losing that family dynamic. He felt like that’s all he had going for him. You’re going to see him fight to get that back and grow up in certain ways.
I was a little surprised by the modest reviews of season one. But shows have a way of growing on people once they get into a season. Certainly, the ratings showed that the audience was there.
As far as critically, it’s interesting how that works. Sometimes they (critics) all kind of fall over for something and sometimes they don’t. But that never really means much for things that find an audience and end up becoming the canon of good work. The numbers speak for themselves. There were a lot of people who wanted to get into this world. We have a lot of loyal fans. I think as long as they can keep this intensity going, I’d love to do it for a few more years.