Taylor Sheridan’s “1923,” ostensibly another “Yellowstone” prequel in the tradition of “1883,” does deviate boldly from where you’d expect it to go.
Sure, the new drama, already a blockbuster for Paramount+, stars Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren as Jacob and Cara Dutton, who deal with the usual amount of family drama and various interlopers on the family’s Montana ranch. That’s what you’d probably guess the show would be about, given the broader contours of the franchise up until this point.
But one big deviation is in the story of Spencer Dutton, played by Brandon Sklenar. The younger son of James and Margaret Dutton (Tim McGraw and Faith Hill in “1883”), he served in World War I and now, haunted by his past, attempts to overcome his trauma by hunting big cats in Africa. This whole storyline gave the early “1923” episodes an entirely different feeling from not just to the rest of “1923” but anything in the “Yellowstone” universe up to this point.
But in the series’ next episode, Spencer comes home. And it’s safe to say that things didn’t go very well. TheWrap spoke to Sklenar about how he got the gig, what it’s like working with Sheridan and what to expect from him returning home.
What did you do to immerse yourself in this character?
I’ve always had an affinity for the ‘20s, just in general. My great grandfather fought in World War I and I actually had his postcards that he wrote my great, great grandmother when he was over there. I had them with me the whole time. That little bit of Hemingway, a little bit of the postcards from my great grandfather, a little bit of Africa – you just draw inspiration wherever you can, really, and you’re sitting with the text as much as possible. And they’re going to have to figure out how this guy sounds, how he walks … How are you going to arc that over eight episodes?
Can you take me through coming onto the show. When you hear “Yellowstone” prequel, you think Montana. But that isn’t the case for your character, who spends the first few episodes in Africa. What were those initial conversations like?
I mean, I got the script, and it was something I’ve been tracking for a while since it was announced. I was in an annoying amount of contact with my team in terms of asking them if they were casting and what was going on and trying to get a hold of the casting director.
I was on a backpacking trip in Oregon and Washington for a month, which was nice, because I was dirty and tan and doing this thing. And I thought, Oh this is perfect. When the tape was due, actually, was the only day I was in a physical house for a month.
But when I read it, yeah, it says character description was something to the effect of that he was a decorated World War I veteran and PTSD and he deals with it by hunting the maneaters of Africa. And you’re like, Jesus. What? Where is it filming? And you’re like, oh, South Africa. But it’s one of those things – and I’ve only had it a few times in my whole career – where you read something, and it just resonates with you on such a level where you feel like you don’t have to do much to make these words make sense coming out of your mouth.
And there’s plenty of times you’ve read stuff and you just call BS on yourself, because it just doesn’t work. Like you know, there’s somebody else out there who could do this. And I just felt connected to this on such a level. And Taylor agreed, and it ended up working out the way it did.
Was that commitment to the page something that was helpful? Taylor Sheridan has said that he doesn’t do much work with the actors, so I imagine the script is everything.
I would say that’s accurate because he, and I can only speak to my character, but where I just happen to be pretty much exactly what he had envisioned in terms of my interpretation of the text and my vibe. My process with him was very much … He’s pretty hands off in terms of he sees what he sees. And he goes, “OK, that’s the thing.” He trusts you to go fill those shoes. And if he has any issues with how you’re filling those shoes, he’ll let you know. There’s definitely an understanding and a trust in terms of, he’s hiring you to do a job and to play this character, and he gives you room to do that.
Spencer is finally headed to the ranch. What can you tease there?
I can say that it’s not going to be a joyous homecoming, that’s for sure. I think Spencer’s coming in hot and he’s got a lot to handle when he gets home. And it’s not going to be an easy journey to get there. It was announced that “1923” will be back for a second season. Have you started that process yet?
We have not started that process yet. It’s coming soon. But there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t wake up and am just so beyond grateful for this entire experience. And having been a journeyman actor for a decade, going and trying to find the next job and trying to find the best jobs you can while also trying to pay your bills, to wake up and know that you’re doing something great and that people love and they’re looking forward to – I feel really blessed to be able to do that. I can’t wait for part two.