I last spoke to Luke Grimes when Yellowstone was just on the cusp of its second season and becoming one of the most popular shows on television. Over four seasons, both Luke and his character (Kayce Dutton) have gone through tremendous life changes. During our conversation, Grimes reflects on where he and the show started, and muses (just a bit) on where Yellowstone may be going. We also get into what it’s like to work on a daily basis with Kevin Costner and how the show has often been misconstrued as something for folks of a certain political persuasion.
Awards Daily: We last spoke before season two. The show had found an audience, but it wasn’t quite the phenomenon that it is now. How much has your life changed?
Luke Grimes: Quite a bit. First of all like getting recognized and that sort of thing has hit a new level: at airports and restaurants it’s all very different than it was even from Season three. There’s a big difference between Season three and Season four. Just from my point of view walking around, I can tell that the show really gained in popularity. And in ways that I didn’t expect. Through some Yellowstone people that I have met, I got the opportunity to do some Country music, which has always been a dream of mine. It’s been the best professional experience of my life, just as far as loving the job itself, loving the material, loving who I get to do it with, and also just getting such great feedback from the fans, people who just can’t get enough of the show. It all around feels like a win.
Awards Daily: Where are you at with the music? How soon might we hear what you’ve recorded?
Luke Grimes: I’m actually in Nashville right now, doing some writing, getting a good enough pile of songs together to cut an album. That should be within the year.
Awards Daily: There’s been a real evolution in the character of Kayce. I think he still has this struggle to find that balance between staying close to the family he was born into and the family that he’s trying to create. In Season four, he once again creates some separation from the ranch for the good of him, Monica, and their son.
Luke Grimes: It starts long before he’s alive – a story as old as America itself. You’ve got people fighting over land and fighting over the most beautiful place, and that’s the core of the Yellowstone story. For Kayce, more specifically, he’s obviously married the enemy in a weird way. Almost a Romeo and Juliet type story of these people who were kind of twin souls who feel like they need to be together, but everything around them would suggest that they shouldn’t. That’s sort of what constitutes his whole arc in this series. Obviously that puts him between a rock and a hard place. There’s never a clear cut choice for him. What is the right thing to do here? Is family loyalty more important than my own personal family loyalty? Is having something to leave to my son, this legacy, more important than the relationship I have with my wife and how deep her love goes for her people? He’s always in the middle of that. and I think that’s what’s interesting to me about going through this journey with him. He’s not a hero, he’s not an anti-hero. He just doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but he’s having to make choice after choice. It’ll be nice to see as we’re coming around the bend here on the series, how this is all going to play out, to see the real big choices that he’s going to make.
Awards Daily: I think there’s a part of Kayce that would love to leave the violence of his military past behind. I think there’s an inherent sweetness in him. He is a man of two minds in a way.
Luke Grimes: I think it kind of sums it up in (I think it was) Season one, when he’s sort of having this moment going through PTSD, and Monica says something about “It’s not who you are, it’s who they turned you into. It’s what they made you do.” I forget the exact line but basically saying whatever happened when he became a CO and went to do the things that he did overseas, he’s not proud of those things but again he’s trying to be the best soldier that he can be. Obviously none of that is really on camera. That was something I could play with backstory-wise to paint a full picture of this guy. I imagine that he was a soldier in the same way as he is as a husband and a father. He’s doing his best with a terrible situation.
Awards Daily: Kayce’s appearance in terms of his hair and even the beard is getting shaggier to a degree as the series goes along. I see that almost as a sense of wear on him. Am I onto something?
Luke Grimes: Yeah, I think it’s like a visual cue of someone going through a period of growth – It was to me anyway. The first time you see him and Beth interact, she says “Last time I saw you this was high and tight,” talking about his hair and him being a soldier. I remember thinking way back then it would be kind of cool if from that moment on, the moment he got back, he’s kind of going against the soldier stereotype. You do see a lot of vets who grow their hair long because at one point they weren’t allowed to. Kayce is such a wild untethered soul that I think to be a soldier and to be a uniformed kind of person was really hard for him. In some ways it’s sort of a rebellion from that.
Awards Daily: I’m glad you mentioned Beth. What is it like to be on set with Kelly Reilly? Sometimes I watch scenes with her and I don’t even know how she gets away with some of the things she’s asked to do in certain scenes. She’s phenomenal.
Luke Grimes: I think it’s a lot different than you would imagine after watching her play Beth. Kelly is a really great person to be around. She’s very British, which a lot of people find crazy to hear after hearing her be Beth for so long. She is a very lovely Brit, a very hardworking, generous actress. Her and I don’t get a lot of stuff together. We’ll see if that changes as things start to come to a head. Kelly could not be more lovely.
Awards Daily: There’s a very complex relationship between you and Wes Bentley who plays your adopted brother Jamie. It’s clear that you have the most easy affection for him of the characters on the show despite the challenges of the nature of the relationship. What is it like to try to navigate between this warmth that Kacey has that’s based a lot on memory and the space that they exist in now?
Luke Grimes: I think there’s just something about a brother story. It’s hard to put your finger on why, but when you have the brotherly love kind of storyline, it just gives you some sort of faith in humanity and family. I was just talking about this in my last interview about that line where he says “As long as we’re alive I’m gonna call you brother.” I remember even saying that line, it almost pulled a tear out of me just saying it out loud. It’s just something about the family bond between brothers even though they find out that their situation is a little different, that love is still there. Kayce is just full of love anyway, even though he’s got to do a lot of this darker stuff. He just happens to be good at doing these darker things and taking care of business in a certain way. At his core he really has a big heart and is a big lover and has that love for anyone in his family even if they are at odds. John and Kayce have their problems up front but you’ve still got the sense like “this is my father.” It’s just his way of being, his M.O.
Awards Daily: I first saw Kelsey in Wind River, and I found her to be a very striking and compelling presence. I love the interplay between the two of you. There’s not always a lot of straight humor in Yellowstone. I love the sequence when you met up with the Native American woman whose horses were stolen. She has the line about “tall, dark hair, brown skin, I don’t know what you’d see in her,” which was great – her showing a bit of jealousy. What’s it been like to build your relationship with her on the show.
Luke Grimes: We have a really good time. We enjoy those scenes where there is some levity because for a long time there, it was just kind of us sitting around going through misery. So there was a little more lightness in the last season, especially once they move away from the ranch. I think the whole point was that when they’re on the Yellowstone, nothing seems to work out for them. For the sanity and the safety of their family they had to leave and I think you see when they do, things get a little easier and a little lighter when they find their own home and their own space. Kind of like it was in the beginning between the two of them. When you first knew Kayce, before everything goes down, he seems to be in an okay place. He likes being on the reservation, he likes just his little family dynamic, but he gets sucked back into this huge dramatic world of the family ranch. I would say Kelsey and I as people, over the past year we have become so close, and we have such a nice time around each other anyway whether it’s on the set or at a dinner. It has been a real pleasure to do these scenes with her.
Awards Daily: I know in the first season when I spoke to you, we were talking about Kevin Costner and what an icon he is. Does he seem a little more normal to you now after four seasons? Obviously there is probably a reverence there because he is Kevin Costner. Is the interaction with him a little more on the same level now?
Luke Grimes: Obviously the more time you spend with anybody you are going to get a little more comfortable. It’s like you said, he is still Kevin Costner. He’s never just going to feel like your buddy Kev you know. (Laughs) As much as I’ve spent with him, I have seen more hours of him on a massive screen than I have spent with him in person. I don’t think that’s going to change. He is such a pro, but you’re not going to forget that he is Kevin Costner. I think it just feels like such a nice benchmark in my career to work so closely alongside such a legend.
Awards Daily: There is a sense that Yellowstone is a show that is for people who are politically conservative. I’ve never bought that. I think it just presents these people. If you look at Taylor Sheridan’s previous work with his sensitivity towards Native Americans and the poor, I think this is a mistake some liberals make when they look at the show and assume it is one thing. I don’t think it is just that thing I think it is just people they haven’t encountered before, or choose not to.
Luke Grimes: Absolutely. I have never seen this show as a red state show. Taylor to me is somebody who raises a lot of interesting questions. If you really pay attention to the show, he doesn’t tell you as the writer, as the show creator, what he believes. He doesn’t tell you what right or wrong is. There might be a political view inside a character that he’s writing because such is life, right? At the end of the day, if the show is ever preaching anything, they are things that I would 100% stand behind. Like you said, there’s the episode about the missing Indigenous women. He’s raising a lot of questions about this antiquated way of life and farming and all these things that if you’re on the coast or you live in a city, you wouldn’t ever really have to think about. Just because they are rural problems or rural issues does not immediately make them lean one way or the other. He raises more questions than answers. He’s not answering the question, he’s just posing it.
Awards Daily: I have this theory: I actually see Yellowstone as a little bit like Succession with cowboy hats and a more benevolent father figure.
Luke Grimes: (Laughs). You know, I love Succession too. Obviously we’re all just fighting for the family empire. Yeah I totally see where you’re going with that. I’ll take the comparison, I think that show is great.
Awards Daily: To speak to that, in terms that Succession has received a lot of plaudits and awards. The first time we spoke during season one of Yellowstone, the reviews were kind of middling. The reviews have really grown more positive over the last three seasons, and the cast got the SAG nomination this year. Do you think critics are finally coming around to what good work you are doing?
Luke Grimes: Obviously, it’s really nice to get recognized in that way. To me I just feel like the coasts were not watching Yellowstone and maybe in those initial reviews someone watched one episode and kind of wrote it off. With any good television show, it takes a minute. You have to care about the characters before the show becomes interesting to you and that usually takes a few episodes. I think everyone saw Costner and cowboy hats and horses and guns and thought “Oh, I know what that is and it’s not for me.” I think if anyone from any walk of life – I never thought I would like a show like Game of Thrones, I’m not into dragons and sorcery and fantasy stuff, but it is such a well done show that anyone can find themselves enjoying it. I think that’s what’s becoming clear about Yellowstone. It’s a lot denser than people think it is. Once you care about the characters, you’re invested.
Awards Daily: A great example of that is the sequence where Kevin Costner is talking to Piper Perabo’s environmentalist, and he explains to her what it means to grow food and to till the land and when you do that everything under that earth is going to get extinguished and it comes down to what animals do you find cute enough to be worth saving. What appears to be an easy question of eating nothing but things that grow off the land is not that simple. There are consequences to everything.
Luke Grimes: Right. This goes back to what we were talking about. That’s Taylor Sheridan literally posing a question in the writing of that scene. He’s not saying much as much as he is saying look at it this way and look at it that way. He’s giving you two versions of the same coin and saying how can this be right and this be wrong. I feel like unfortunately the political climate in the world right now is so thick and at such a boil that it is hard to say or do anything without people wanting to come down on you one way or the other. But I agree with you, I loved that scene too and it obviously just poses a different point of view, one that you might not have thought of right off the bat.
Awards Daily: I know when you first started the show you went to what amounts to horse riding camp, to learn how to be a horse rider. How good are you now?
Luke Grimes: Definitely better than back then. (Laughs). It’s one of those things. It’s like if you’re not one of these guys who starts out in cowboy boots when you’re two and you’re roping dummies when you’re five, you can only get so good when you start in your thirties. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to call myself a real cowboy, let’s just say that. (Laughs).