The man behind “Yellowstone” also has been making his mark on the big screen.
During his two decades as a journeyman actor, Taylor Sheridan — the subject of a cover-story profile in our January 2021 issue — found frequent employment on television, playing continuing characters on two series (Veronica Mars, Sons of Anarchy) and guest starring on several others. But he says he never really felt fulfilled until he made a midlife career change by transitioning to the other side of the cameras, first as a screenwriter (Sicario, Hell or High Water), then as a writer-director (Wind River) -- and now as the creative force behind Yellowstone, the hit Paramount Network TV series that Sheridan views as an expansive feature film presented in weekly installments.
“The Holy Grail for a filmmaker,” he says, “is to hit the trifecta. Which is, to create an experience that’s riveting, that’s entertaining, and that is somehow enlightening. That for me is the home run.”
Sheridan may be a rookie, relatively speaking, as a feature filmmaker. But his big-screen batting average so far is pretty impressive.
Sheridan felt little need to consult scriptwriting guides or gurus before starting work on his first produced screenplay, the relentlessly gripping tale of an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) who’s recruited by a government task force in the drug war, and understandably aghast at the brutality of an vengeance-obsessed associate (Benicio del Toro). At that point in his acting career, he told The New York Times in a 2017 interview, “I had read enough scripts to know what not to do.” What he did do was give director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) the hardboiled blueprint for a vividly detailed and morally ambiguous thriller that earned a Best Original Screenplay nomination from the Writers Guild of America. (Sheridan also wrote Sicario: Day of the Soldado, a well-received 2018 follow-up that moved Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times to rave: “Shocking. Bold. Timely. Unforgettable. And a little bit nuts. THIS is how you make a sequel.”)
Hell or High Water (2016)
The term “modern-day western” is tossed about all too casually, but this West Texas crime story fully deserves a place of honor alongside classic period dramas about outlaws and lawmen. Sheridan (who nabbed an Oscar nomination for his script) and director David Mackenzie evenly divide our sympathies between two desperate brothers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) methodically robbing small-town branches of the bank that may foreclose on their family land, and two Texas Rangers — a grizzled veteran (Jeff Bridges) on the verge of retirement and his half-Mexican, half-Comanche partner (Gil Birmingham) — relentlessly following their trail. The final face-off is all the more powerful, and memorable, for what doesn’t happen between the last men standing.
Wind River (2017)
Howard Hawks famously defined a good movie as one that has three good scenes and no bad ones. Sheridan’s furiously mournful yet ultimately hopeful drama about violent crime and cruel punishment in a wintery stretch of Wyoming is a great movie with at least three great scenes, two of them featuring extended conversations between Jeremy Renner as a soul-wounded animal tracker pressed into service as a manhunter, and Gil Birmingham as the grieving father of the young Native American woman whose murder has sparked the manhunt. The third scene? Take your pick: Either an edgy standoff between two heavily armed groups that builds slowly, mercilessly, to chaotic mayhem, or the brutally efficient forced-feeding of just desserts during the hugely satisfying climax.
Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)
Originally slated as a 2020 release, Sheridan’s eagerly awaited adaptation of Michael Koryta’s novel of the title now is scheduled for simultaneous theatrical and HBO Max release in 2021. Written and directed by Sheridan, the film stars Angelina Jolie as a smoke-jumper bent on protecting a teen-age murder witness from pursuing hit men during a raging forest fire in the Montana wilderness. We can’t wait.
Emerson Miller photographed Taylor Sheridan on Texas’ Four Sixes Ranch, as he presided over filming for the next season of Yellowstone.