Before Paramount Network’s hit series comes back for its sophomore season, we chat with stars Wes Bentley, Cole Hauser, and Luke Grimes about how their characters help to fuel the western drama.
For the benefit of those who tuned in late: In the final Season 1 episode of Yellowstone, the epic Paramount Network series created and produced by Taylor Sheridan (Wind River, Hell or High Water), family ties were by turn frayed and reinforced, and groundwork was set for more conflict and tumult during Season 2.
John Dutton (Kevin Costner), the proud owner of Yellowstone, a massive Montana cattle ranch described as “the size of Rhode Island,” continues to defend and preserve his legacy even as his health fails and his enemies — including land developer Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston) and Native American businessman and activist Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham) — strengthen.
Typically, John demands absolute loyalty from his family and employees and warns of dire consequences for anyone he views as potentially treacherous or, worse, deliberately disobedient. Atypically, Jamie Dutton (Wes Bentley), John’s lawyer son, defied his father and launched a campaign for state attorney general — thereby ensuring not only banishment from his father’s inner circle but a vicious visit from Beth (Kelly Reilly), his mood-swinging, aggressively unstable sister. She arrives at campaign headquarters just to cut up his credit cards and sever all other ties to the Dutton clan.
Throughout Season 1, Beth also had close encounters of a different kind with Yellowstone ranch foreman Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser), John’s longtime employee and frequent enforcer. Despite (or perhaps because of) his on-again, off-again sexual relationship with the manic Beth, Rip never wavers in his fealty to John. And he is very adept at keeping secrets: He knows where all the bodies are buried, quite possibly because he planted some of them — most of them? — himself.
In Season 2, it seems likely that body count might rise, with a little help from John’s other son, Kayce Dutton (Luke Grimes), a former Navy SEAL who spent years bitterly estranged from John—but who, at the end of Season 1, returned to Yellowstone with Tate (Brecken Merrill), his own young son. By that point, viewers had already seen Kayce is slow to turn violent, but brutally efficient when inflicting mayhem. Will he spill blood again as a defender of Yellowstone?
That’s just one of the questions for which we’re eagerly awaiting answers as Yellowstone returns June 19 for another 10-episode season. We recently spoke with three stars of the series — Wes Bentley, Luke Grimes, and Cole Hauser — in the hope of getting some inside information. As we more or less expected, they were careful not to reveal too much about what’s in store for viewers. But they told us more than enough to pique our interest — and, yes, to keep us watching.
Role: Jamie Dutton, attorney. Son of John, brother to Beth and Kayce. Politically ambitious, but intimidated by his father — and his sister.
Where else you may have seen him: American Beauty, Ghost Rider, The Hunger Games, Mission: Impossible — Fallout (film); American Horror Story (television).
Cowboys & Indians: So just how down and dirty will Jamie Dutton’s campaign get?
Wes Bentley: Well, I think it’s a big question for Jamie: How far will he go? He obviously has a father who would go far. And the question for Jamie is: Is he willing to go far, too? And in his own self-interest? Or is he just loyal to a fault? That’s sort of a struggle, at least through the beginning part of the season.
C&I: It does seem like John Dutton is really determined that his son not go through with this, for a variety of reasons. The very fact that Jamie has gone this far actually seems like an uncommon act of rebellion on his part.
Bentley: And I think that’s noted by John Dutton. But I think you just never feel like you’re ever going to really win over John Dutton, even when you know him well. I think that’s the kind of feeling you get as we head into this season. But maybe Jamie’s different, and maybe this is a different moment for him. Maybe he does find a way to stand out.
C&I: How much advance warning does Taylor Sheridan give you in terms of what lies ahead for your character? Doe he tell you much about Jamie’s story arc, or does he just say, “OK, these are the words you have for this episode, go say them,” or something like that?
Bentley: No, we have discussions. And I think Taylor’s very good about having these kind of discussions without letting you on to the possibilities for your character in the future. Because, you know, he may say one thing, or start to think one thing, but things might change in the writing room, and suddenly you’re going in one direction, and they’re going in the other. So he’s very careful about it. He’s more likely to tell you how something happening now is making the character feel, and what could’ve happened before that might inform that. He does do a good job of giving us enough to work with, without so much that we might derail something accidentally.
C&I: Well, what about you and Kevin Costner? Have you ever sat down and had a couple of beers or something after a day of shooting and said, “OK, what do you think is really behind this?”
Bentley: Oh yeah, every day. Every day on set, we all talk about that very question, and we all have our guesses. And we’re all suspicious. If we think one of us knows something more than the others, we try to pry it out of the other one. But yeah, we have those discussions a lot. Mostly on set, just trying to figure out where this all comes from. I think particularly between [Kelly Reilly] and I, with our characters, we’re trying to really understand where this animosity is coming from. Because it’s really dangerous right now.
C&I: The relationship between Jamie and Beth does seem to go several steps beyond just sibling rivalry. There are times when you can’t help suspecting that there were boundaries broken in the past that neither wants to admit. Or something else that caused a serious disruption that we’ve yet to learn about but will add only more fuel to this fire.
Bentley: I’ve heard that idea before. And, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure. There’s nothing solid about that that I could even say, except that Kelly and I have talked about it, you know, and it’s definitely something big. We know that. But what the nature of it is — well, it’s revealing itself through the writing, but that’s definitely one thing they’re not telling us anything about. And I trust them on that, even though it’s difficult for Kelly and me to fully nail down what’s going on.
C&I: Beth certainly appeared to enjoy cutting up Jamie’s credit cards at the end of Season 1.
Bentley: [Laughs.] Yeah, because that’s what Jamie lived off of. I mean, Jamie’s a material person. He wants praise, he wants things, and he wants to be at the top of the mountain because that, in his world, is the whole point of it all. And she knows that, and she wants to go for his heart. And that’s also why you sort of get the feeling that Jamie may never really be in the best position to rebel. He might be the least keen to.
Click on the image above to view the slideshow.
C&I: We know Kevin Costner’s an actor, you’re all playing roles, you’re all professionals. But what also enters into the picture when you are playing opposite a character who’s supposed to be powerful and intimidating — and he’s played by somebody who is, in your profession, a similarly larger-than-life figure? Does that make the task easier or harder?
Bentley: Oh, definitely easier. You know, Kevin is a good friend and a sweet man and a father. But, yeah, he’s Kevin Costner, and I’ve been a fan of his my entire life, and he plays some real strong men roles. So he gets on set and that’s the role he’s playing, and it definitely works. It works to have that intimidation, natural intimidation, just that air that he carries around him just by being who he is. It’s kind of the same thing that John Dutton carries into a room. All you gotta do is add the sort of dangerous and ugly parts of John Dutton into that mix.
Even though, you know, when we all go off camera, we talk about baseball and stuff — when we go right back to it, we’re just locked in. I knew that would be one of the easy things about this job when I read the script. I figured, well, if Kevin is in it, I’m not going to have to work too hard at feeling inferiority next to him.
Role: Rip Wheeler, foreman of Yellowstone Ranch. Deeply and unquestioningly loyal to his boss and mentor, John Dutton.
Where else you may have seen him: 2 Fast 2 Furious, A Good Day to Die Hard, Paparazzi, Olympus Has Fallen (film); K-Ville, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (television).
Cowboys & Indians: Yellowstone has been compared to everything from Dallas to King Lear. Some folks have even likened it to The Godfather. What would you say is Rip Wheeler’s role in this world that Taylor Sheridan has created?
Cole Hauser: Well, I think you could say it is kind of like The Godfather, in the form of a modern-day western. So as far as Rip is concerned, I mean, is he the enforcer? Yeah, he is. But in Season 2, you delve in a little bit more into his heart and what his real persona is. In Season 1, it was great. I mean, Taylor wrote him very methodically, in a way that I loved, and we spoke about how he’s going to be portrayed. But in Season 2 coming up, you get to see how he truly is and, really, the loyalty that he has to the ranch, and to John Dutton, and to Kayce. And to Beth. So I’m very excited about people seeing that.
C&I: Rip’s relationship with Beth has been—well, shall we say interesting?
Hauser: [Laughs.] Interesting would be a good word, yes.
C&I: Did you and Kelly Reilly ever get together before scenes during Season 1 and try to suss out for yourselves what sort of past your characters shared? Or guess where they might be going?
Hauser: No, not really. Kelly Reilly’s just an absolute powerhouse actress. And I think one of the most beautiful things that can happen in a situation like this is that we trust each other. And so, we haven’t really gotten together and said, “Well, we’ll play it this way, Kelly.” Or, “Let’s do it that way, Cole.” We just play together. I’ve been happily surprised by her. I hope she’s been happily surprised by me and the moves that I’ve made as a character. We just have a lovely, beautiful relationship, creatively, together. I mean, Taylor has been very smart in talking to us about what their back story is. But it’s the slow burn between them that keep the audience interested.
C&I: We’ve often talked with actors about what they’ve learned from working with other people. What do you think you’ve learned from working with Kevin Costner?
Hauser: God, so much. I mean, the one thing that jumps out at the forefront of working with him is his dedication. I think I’m pretty dedicated, and I love what I do, so I’ll just be very passionate about what I’m putting on the screen. But his dedication is up there with anybody I’ve ever worked with at the highest level.
C&I: Yellowstone is not a movie, but it’s not quite a traditional TV series either.
Hauser: Well, I mean, it’s a 10-hour movie every year. Really, that’s what it is. It’s an epic piece. Taylor did that. He’s done a great job of allowing characters to breathe. None of them are perfect. They all have problems. They all have things that they’re dealing with. Some are good, and some are bad. And he dives into them. The great thing about cable television today is, honestly, you get the time. I mean, you watch The Godfather, OK? And you can see three hours of it. And then you see The Godfather, Part II, and you’re still like, “Wow, that’s amazing. Imagine if they had 10 hours.” And we do. And so, we’re able to allow characters to evolve, and watch them, and fall in love with them, or hate them, whatever your interest is. Taylor and the Paramount Network really have given us that ability. So I’m very blessed in that way.
C&I: Some viewers have been taken aback by the raw language in Yellowstone. They’re not accustomed to hearing so many F-bombs on an advertiser-supported cable network.
Hauser: I think you’re right, in the sense that there is a ton. But it works for this world. These people, they’re honest, and they’re brutal, and it’s what makes the show special. It really is.
C&I: Actually, one of the most brutal scenes in a Season 1 episode was one where Rip is positively soft-spoken. At the behest of John Dutton, he pays a visit to a drug-addicted medical examiner with some incriminating evidence against Kayce — and more or less talks the poor guy into committing suicide.
Hauser: Well, you could say he was helping the guy out. Because he wanted to die.
C&I: It’s almost a variation of another scene, in which Kayce fatally shoots a man who was horribly burned in a meth lab explosion, to put him out of his misery. This is, in a way, another mercy killing.
Hauser: That’s exactly what it is. There’s certain people that don’t know that they’re hurting themselves and trying to kill themselves. And so, it was really a communication of, “Hey, do you like where you are? Are you happy where you are?” And he wasn’t. And so, in the end, it is mercy killing. That is exactly what it is. Obviously, people will look at it and say, “Yes, but it’s murder.” Of course, yeah. But at the same time, I’m saving his soul. So it’s just a different way to look at stuff, and I love that about Rip. I love playing him that way. Hey, listen, when you watch him walk into a scene, you don’t know whether he’s gonna kiss you or kill you. And as an audience, I mean, you gotta be at the edge of your seat. You never know. You never know what’s gonna happen.
At the same time, though, one of the exciting things about doing Yellowstone is that we’re finding out about these characters at the same pace as the audience is. A little in advance obviously. But we get these scripts right before we shoot them. And it’s always so exciting to see what’s happening in them.
Role: Kayce Dutton, former Navy SEAL. Son of John, brother to Beth and Jamie. Separated from his wife Monica (Kelsey Asbille), the mother of their son, Tate (Brecken Merrill).
Where else you may have seen him: American Sniper, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Magnificent Seven (film); Brothers & Sisters, True Blood (television).
Cowboys & Indians: Several folks have likened Yellowstone to The Godfather in terms of its emphasis on family ties and rivalries. Do you think that comparison is valid?
Luke Grimes: Yeah, I would agree with that. And it’s something that we’ve kind of talked about amongst ourselves, too. I mean, obviously, we’re not trying to rip anything off. But yeah, I think it’s kind of the tale of all time — coming of age, protecting your family, that sort of thing. And there’s definitely elements of The Godfather in there.
C&I: You could say Kayce Dutton is the equivalent of Michael Corleone — never wanted to enter the family business, but comes to it with a military background, and may prove even more violent than any foe he faces.
Grimes: I think that’s always been one of the things about Kayce that’s been really interesting to me: He has a past, but you don’t quite know what it is. I mean, you know he was in special forces and went to war and had some experiences, but we don’t really know what those are. But as we come to find out pretty quickly in the first season, he’s no stranger to violence. And so that’s always been kind of interesting to see: He’s got a big heart and cares about his family and music, but he’s dealing with PTSD and all this stuff. He’s also kind of a powder keg. You don’t know when he’s going to go off.
C&I: What would you say was the most difficult aspect of the character for you to nail down, particularly during the first season?
Grimes: I feel like the thing I spent the most time on trying to relate to, the thing that was sort of the furthest from my personal life, is the fact that he has a kid. I’m not a father yet. And I wanted to make sure that I did that as well as possible, because a lot of the things he does and even, especially, that decision to come back to the ranch is all motivated by his love for his kid. If it were just about him, if it were just about Kayce, there’s no way he would’ve gone back. He would’ve just run forever. But I think when he realized that the best option for Tate was for him to go back to the family business, and try to protect the future of that so that Tate could one day have it — that changed everything. So I basically was just trying to relate to what it’s like to have a kid in your life that’s far more important than you are to yourself.
C&I: Presumably, since Kayce is returning to the family fold, he’ll be spending more time with his two siblings. He’s very different from Beth and Jamie in some ways — but very similar in others. Have you talked much with Kelly Reilly and Wes Bentley about how you think your relationships will evolve this season? Or are you content to just take what Taylor Sheridan gives you, and play it like that?
Grimes: I’d say there’s a middle ground there. I mean, obviously when you do TV, you never know what’s going to come episode to episode, or even season to season. I think a lot of times, as much as writers and creators think that they know or have an idea what’s going to happen, you never really do know because of locations, budgets, all sorts of stuff. So you got to keep a little bit of an open mind, to take some curveballs when they come through the back door, and things like that.
But I think we’re OK as long as we get the relationships currently nailed down, like, “How do I feel about you? How do you feel about me? Who am I closer to?” And maybe some big things that happened in the past that we can agree on, so that we’re all on the same page.
Photography: (insets) Courtesy Viacom, (slideshow) Emerson Miller/Courtesy Paramount Network
From the July 2019 issue.