Veteran actor Cole Hauser experienced a breakthrough way back in 1997 as one of Matt Damon’s closest friends in Good Will Hunting, but it took nearly two decades for him to land this definitive (for now anyway) role of ‘Rip’ on Yellowstone. In our conversation, we talk about his physical transformation to embody the character, his friendship with Kevin Costner, and how his life has changed as Yellowstone has become a ratings and cultural phenomenon.
Awards Daily: In 1997 I went to a movie called Good Will Hunting on a first date, and I was like “Who is this Cole Hauser guy who’s stealing all these scenes?”
Cole Hauser: Nooo, really? I was passed out for most of it. [Laughs]
Awards Daily: Sorry for dating us both at this point. [Laughs] I remember thinking to myself as I was reading about Yellowstone before it came out “Oh wow this is a Kevin Costner show, and I’m a big Taylor Sheridan fan based on Hell Or High Water and other projects, Cole Hauser’s in this too. Great.” I watched the pilot and at the end I said, “Were the fuck was Cole Hauser in all of this?” I’m embarrassed to say I did not recognize you. You went through a physical transformation to play this part.
Cole Hauser: Yeah, obviously. John Linson who is the creator and Taylor, we were in a meeting when I got to Utah. I already had a beard and my hair was the length that I wanted it to be. They both looked at me and they said, “So what are you thinking about your hair?” And I was like, here’s my idea, because I think Kelly and I look like brother and sister because I’m a ginger. And they started laughing. And I go “I want to dye it dark.” Did you ever see 2 Fast 2 Furious? Well I’m gonna do, not black, but brown or dark brown. They loved that idea. I went and did it, and when I came on set John looked at me and went “Fuck yeah, man. That’s it.” and it’s obviously stuck. Now I’m really grey, so it kind of covers up my age.
Awards Daily: There’s also a sort of physical heft that Rip has that I don’t recognize in your other roles. Is it something you incorporated into the role?
Cole Hauser: I wanted to be bigger than everybody, but it also makes sense to be country strong. He’s not going to a gym. He’s lifting bales of hay and working, so he’s not skinny and muscular. He’s just a big country strong looking guy. So I put on twenty pounds and most of it, I won’t lie, was weight. It wasn’t tonal muscle. I also think the reality of these guys when they get older is, they start to break down. Again, they’re not going to the gym, they’re not taking growth hormones or anything to be shredded. They eat meat and potatoes, and it’s just kind of who they are. I just wanted to be as authentic as possible.
Awards Daily: A little hamburger helper too I assume. [Laughs]
Cole Hauser: Tuna helper too. Ton of salt in that. You wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and go who’s that guy?
Awards Daily: In looking at your career before this and the whole concept of this show in terms of ranching and being a horseman, other than The Hi-Lo Country, there wasn’t anything that stuck out. I talked to Luke Grimes before and he said he went to basically horse riding school. How prepared were you for that part of trying to achieve that authenticity?
Cole Hauser: So, I grew up, for about six years, in Oregon on a ranch. When I was a kid, I used to have my own horse. I used to ride bareback into the woods of the Oregon countryside. My mom would ring this bell, and wherever I was, the horse would turn and go right back. I couldn’t stop it. He knew that he was going to eat and he knew that mom wanted me back. He’d put his head down and I’d slide right down his mane, that’s how small I was at the time. I rode a lot as a kid so I was never worried about horses. I did a movie called The Last Champion, that came out recently.
I was doing a scene in New Mexico on this horse I didn’t know, and they just threw me on and said hey can you haul ass across the desert and we’re gonna film it from afar? So I went hauling ass on this horse and felt pretty comfortable and next thing I know, I was on my back and I had fractured my back. I don’t know if the horse saw a rattlesnake or just got spooked, and jumped in the air and landed weird and I went flying off of it. Three months after that, and I’m thinking oh my god I have a fractured back and I’m gonna have to get on a horse. Cowboy became a little more painful than I wanted it to be. That Luke Grimes story is true. We went up to the top of the mountain in Utah right outside of Spanish Fork and they put us through a crash course of seven days of just kicking our ass. It was great.
Awards Daily: Luke said to me when I talked to him recently, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be a real cowboy.”
Cole Hauser: It’s not an easy lifestyle and your body takes a beating. I’ve done a lot of things and through these war pictures and doing crazy things in life and stunts, and the walk of the cowboy is very easy for me, I have back issues, and I’ve torn hamstrings, I’ve got torn cartilage in knees, my shoulders. My walk as Rip is real.
Awards Daily: I see your character as the good son. Luke’s character Kayce is conflicted, Jamie’s character is worse than conflicted, and your character is sort of the illegitimate son who will absolutely show a measure of loyalty to John (Kevin Costner) that no one else will. It’s interesting because you are earning your way into his graces constantly while also being an outsider.
Cole Hauser: To back it way up to season one, Lee was supposed to be – if you were to look for a Godfather kind of setting – he was the Sonny, that Don Corleone wanted, or, in our case, John Dutton wanted, to run the ranch. Then he passed away. He’s really Rip’s best friend growing up, they were the same age, Kayce is a little younger than Rip. it’s not that Rip saw an opening to be that for him, but I think he needed that. He lost one of his best friends in John’s son. I think it was just a natural progression for Taylor to start writing that way. Kevin and I just started becoming that. Obviously it becomes a little more complicated when you’re, how do you say it, when you’re screwing his daughter. [Laughs] So John’s a little leery. At any moment he could snap and be really angry. But he never does and that’s part of the reason why John is such an amazing character.
Awards Daily: You and Costner have a lot of really significant scenes with minimal dialogue. There’s an understanding between Rip and John that goes beyond words – in a way that he doesn’t have with his other children. What is it like to try to create that kind of cohesion between you and another actor? And the other actor is Kevin Costner so it’s not lik,e you know the average Joe, obviously.
Cole Hauser: Actually it’s easier because it’s Kevin. I think Kevin and I come from the same world. He’s from Ventura, I’m from Santa Barbara originally. That’s where I was born and I grew up for some time there. Our two high schools were huge rivals so there was a lot of shit talk between the two of us. Initially there was always something to talk about. It was just natural. It was a natural easy merger. He’s obviously somebody I had been watching from afar as a fan, some of his movies to me when it comes to Revenge or even The Bodyguard or Dances With Wolves, the list goes on and on, but I’ve always respected his style, the way he’s held himself in his personal life as well. He’s just a good role model in many respects. But that’s kind of what John is too. He’s a great role model, for me meaning Rip. It was such a natural easy thing. You could watch this thing with two actors and there is very little dialogue, but it’s that amazing. That’s kind of the key to what Kevin and I are trying to do. We’re trying to minimize the dialogue but make it entertaining at the same time. I think he and I love that challenge.
Awards Daily: Luke Grimes said that the interesting thing about working with Kevin is that he’s such an icon that he’s never going to become “your buddy Kev”.
Cole Hauser: I don’t know that I would ever call him Kev. [Laughs] I’m not looking for that. I’ve got a lot of friends, I’m good. I’m looking for somebody who I think brings not only a standard and a quality of work to the day, to the scene. We’re about to go on a long journey here in Montana, and what I know I’ll get from Kevin is I will get 110%. To me it’s not about being buds or friends or any of that. It’s about work and about doing great work. And if that happens, which it certainly has with Kevin and I, we have become friends, then great.
Awards Daily: Kelly Reilly gives a performance that I don’t know is easy to contextualize. Because it could be embarrassing in the wrong hands – the size of her performance. You get the most intimate, in more ways than one, [Laughs] scenes with her. I’m curious about building chemistry. When I look at Rip and Beth, they’re probably the only people that could have married each other.
Cole Hauser: They were meant for each other, 1000%. They are soulmates, for good or bad. They’re going to have their differences, their viewpoints. They’re not perfect. This is just my opinion, what Taylor’s done is made these imperfect people that love each other. I think what the audience sees in them is, you know what, no relationship is perfect. A lot of these shows that you watch on television or even in film, it’s like this is horse shit. That’s not real. Taylor has written two characters that have a lot of different colors in them and it depends what day it is to what color you’re going to get.
Kelly and I are way different than Rip and Beth. Like I’ve said a thousand times, she’s this really wonderful human being who’s from England. But I think she obviously loves the character that she’s playing. She loves the challenge of it. I love the challenge of going from one episode killing people to the next episode sitting on the porch with her having an emotional moment. Its’ being able to have, as an actor, all those different colors to play.
Awards Daily: You’re playing a person who doesn’t exist on paper – this person who’s in some ways an illegitimate son, a castoff child, who doesn’t even have a driver’s license or a birth certificate. How does that inform your approach to your character?
Cole Hauser: There’s a certain freedom to it. I loved when Taylor told me he’s got no driver’s license, no bank account, he carries cash. I was like man that’s the fucking best thing I’ve ever heard. Like, he still has a flip phone.[Laughs] If you gave him an iPhone, he’d look at you like what are you doing? He doesn’t even know what an app is. That just doesn’t exist in his world. For me, it was exactly what I was looking for. That throwback to Americana. That man that we’ve kind of lost in this country. It’s unfortunate but true. I’ve met some of them along the way that live off the radar and off the grid and don’t even have phones. That’s how little they care. It’s refreshing for people to see in this country. I love that aspect of the character. It’s such a great detail.
Awards Daily: This is something I talked to Luke about a little bit too. There’s a tendency to oversimplify this show – mostly by people who haven’t seen it. That it’s built for conservatives so to speak, or that it’s a pro-toxic male masculinity show or whatever. It’s all bullshit obviously it’s a lot more complex than that. Anybody who watches enough of Taylor Sheridan’s previous work should know. What is your reaction to that? Did you go through a period where you were like people don’t really understand what we’re doing here?
Cole Hauser: Honestly, I never read the funny papers so I didn’t really know that until the interviewers started asking and I’ve heard that over the last couple of years. I think you hit the nail on the head. People that watch the show understand the complexity of what Taylor is trying to tell in the stories and about what’s going on in America right now in these areas: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, the water rights, also the American Indian. He’s portrayed and told it the way that it should be told. Also, he’s one of the best writers for women that I’ve ever seen. So the idea that he is writing this masculine, male-driven show, it’s not true. That means they haven’t watched it. That’s all.
Awards Daily: What’s interesting to me is the first season, the critical response was somewhat mixed. But now through season four, the critics have caught up to the audience. There are SAG nominations. Is it gratifying to see critics and awards groups recognizing the show finally?
Cole Hauser: There’s a certain amount of gratification. There’s also a certain amount of sadness in the sense that because of the numbers (ratings) now that critics have caught up, Taylor should have been nominated five years ago, in my opinion, for an Emmy. He’s just that good of a writer. I hope Kelly gets nominated this year, she deserves it. Kevin deserves it. The show deserves it. Taylor deserves it. I’m just happy that more and more people are tuning in. To me, the greatest compliment you can get is the viewership. This year versus last year was just insane to me. The numbers that we broke, the historical landmarks that we have now hit, that’s the reward for hard work.
Awards Daily: You mentioned Taylor, obviously he’s an unusual talent. I remember watching Hell or High Water, and I was thinking back on how the country has progressed after that. You kind of alluded to this, people who have been forgotten. He connected to that in Hell or High Water and Yellowstone actually continues that. He does this great job of not telling you what to think. He asks the question.
Cole Hauser: This is the thing, I come from a family of writers and screenwriters, the best thing you can do for an audience is not to spoon feed them. When you see these network shows on television they’re acting like the audience is stupid and they’re not. The stupider you treat them, the stupider they really are. If you actually treat them as if they’re really smart and they’re going to follow the story lines, they are invested in the show. That’s what Taylor does. He gives you just enough for you to want to come back next week and watch, but also in the end he usually throws you totally off like we did in season three. It just absolutely explodes in your face. He just has this great ability to walk the line when it comes to keeping the audience invested at all times. That’s the sign of a great writer.
Awards Daily: How has your life changed over these four seasons? Or has it?
Cole Hauser: I tell myself all the time I’m always going to be who I am. Obviously this character has struck a chord in not only men but women across this country, across the globe I should say. When I originally got into acting, it was to affect people and to do something that entertained them, enlightened them, educated them in some way. Having that effect on people is the greatest acknowledgement. Has my life changed? Yes. Have I changed? No. I never will. I’ll always be the same person. But, it’s a little easier to get into ball games. [Laughs]