Cole Hauser, the actor behind Yellowstone’s now-iconic character Rip Wheeler, chats with C&I about the new season and other irons in his fire.
Cole Hauser is on the line, calling from his home in Florida while he enjoys some much-deserved R&R after playing lead roles in two back-to-back feature films — Panama, an action-adventure in which he appears alongside Mel Gibson, and Muti, a thriller co-starring Morgan Freeman — and, of course, completing Season 4 of Yellowstone.
But he’s not so relaxed that he’ll slip up and inadvertently reveal any of the surprises in store when Yellowstone returns to Paramount Network on November 7. Heaven knows we tried to coax him. But just like ranch foreman Rip Wheeler, the complex character he vividly portrays on the series, Hauser likes to play his cards close to the vest. Fortunately, we found a way to have a mostly spoiler-free conversation.
Cowboys & Indians: When we last saw Rip, he was kind of getting brushed off by Jamie [Wes Bentley] while other members of the Dutton family were under attack. You think you may end up having to take Jamie down to the train station as Season 4 begins?
Cole hauser: [Laughs.] Well, you’ll have to watch.
C&I: Did you have any major problems trying to film the Season 4 episodes during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Cole: We have a wonderful team in Paramount, and also in our crew and cast. We did everything that we could do to make sure that everybody was safe. We stayed inside of a bubble. We didn’t go out. Basically, it was work, go home and cook food, sleep, and do it all over again. Everybody prescribed to it and thank God we got to be able to work in a time and environment while COVID was going on — not only in our business, but around the world.
C&I: I know producer Taylor Sheridan swears all of you to secrecy when it comes to talking about future plot developments. But can you say anything about new things we might learn about Rip this season?
Cole: Well, each year you get to know a little bit more about what makes him tick in his relationships — not only with John Dutton [Kevin Costner], but with Beth [Kelly Reilly], her brothers, the guys in the bunkhouse. And Taylor does another wonderful job of kind of opening the onion when it comes to Rip’s heart. There’s a wonderful relationship — which I won’t give away — with Beth and I that comes into our life. And again, it shows another side of not only Rip, but also Beth, and also John Dutton. So, it’s another excellent year of storytelling by Taylor Sheridan, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the audience thinks.
C&I: One of the stranger moments in Season 3 occurred in the episode where Rip exhumes the corpse of his long-dead mother, so he can retrieve a ring that he wants to give Beth. I can’t help thinking it was very difficult to act that scene, because, well, one false move ...
Cole: I thought it was a bit wild that Rip would do something like that. But as I got into the scene and started doing it as the actor, I made it into this beautiful moment, which I think is what Taylor wanted. And unfortunately, he wasn’t there at the time, so it was me just working with Stephen Kay, the director, and breaking down what it was that Taylor was trying to do there. I felt like the right motivation for me was to make it a very beautiful, kind of heartfelt moment between my mother and I. Versus the kind of goriness of digging up your mother who’s been buried for several years and looking at it in a very negative way. I looked at it more as a positive.
C&I: John Dutton is a man who demands absolute loyalty from the people who work at his ranch — they’re literally branded when they sign on and are forbidden to leave — and Rip serves as his enforcer. Would you agree that it’s almost like the whole set-up is a cult of sorts?
Cole: I don’t know if cult is the right word. It’s more of a secret society, in a way. A society that’s probably been around not only throughout the history of the Dutton family, but prior to it. They’ve had this tradition, that when you work on the ranch, you come here and you’re branded as a man, and you die as a branded man. That’s your allegiance to the family. But I wouldn’t say cult.
C&I: What has been the most surprising thing Taylor Sheridan has revealed to you about Rip?
Cole: He surprises me all the time. I wouldn’t say there’s one thing that pops out. He’s challenged me as an actor and challenged me as a man in this role, and I’ve challenged him back. It’s part of the reason why I think not only the relationship with Taylor and I is so strong, but also that the character has so many colors. What I’ve always wanted in Rip is the same as what Taylor’s wanted, which is a multifaceted, extremely interesting, deep-thinking, heartfelt, strong American man.
C&I: Taylor has said he doesn’t want to reveal too much in advance to cast members about what’s in store for them. True?
Cole: I can’t speak for my other co-stars, but for me, I certainly take things in stride when it comes to reading his stuff. I don’t ever jump ahead and read Episode 10 before I get there, or seven or six or five. I’m somebody that enjoys the ride as an actor. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen next. For instance, last year was the first year that we had all the scripts up front — but I read them as we were filming them. That’s how I like it. Other actors do different things. Some read them all in one day, and knew the whole season, and would come up to me and say, “Hey, did you ...?” And I’d say, “Don’t tell me anything about that.” So that’s just how I am. I trust Taylor that he’s going to do something special. And that’s the kind of belief I have in him.
C&I: So, you’re experiencing the storyline the same way we are, watching each week?
Cole: Yeah. I mean, I’m also creating as well while I’m doing it. And I like to be focused on one thing at a time. I’m not trying to understand, “OK, well, this happens six episodes ahead, then how am I going to play these moments now?” I would like to play moment by moment and live in those moments as best I can and create and do the things that I should be doing as an actor in those moments. And after that’s done, then I will tackle the next.
C&I: Do you remember the moment when you realized Yellowstone was such an enormous hit with audiences?
Cole: When? After the first episode of the first season. I mean, it started as a very grassroots show. It obviously wasn’t what it is now. But there were people throughout the country who were watching very closely right out of the gates. And I think a lot of that had to do with Kevin Costner and the great body of work that he has behind him.
And not only the body of work, but the westerns that he’s done, like Dances With Wolves — wonderful stuff that he’s created. It brought in this audience that has been watching him, I think, for a very long time.
And then I think it’s bled into the younger crowd, which has really been cool to see over the last couple of years. There are more and more younger people coming up to me and talking about this show than there were initially. I mean, I was at a high school football game the other day here in Florida, and I was shocked that 16-year-olds, 14-year-olds, 18-year-olds — male and female — are watching the show and are blown away and love it. It wasn’t that way initially.
C&I: When you’re out in public and people recognize you as the guy who plays Rip, does anyone ever come up to you and want to fight?
Cole: [Laughs.] No. Actually, quite the opposite. If anything, guys have been very respectful. And women have been, like, they want to get under my arm and take a picture. No, it’s been nothing but class. And I have to say, I’ve been impressed with the outpour of compliments and the love for the character. He’s not somebody that Taylor and I thought, “Oh well, people, men and women, are just going to love this guy.” I think that’s been a happy surprise for us both. And to see the response in the public to the character — for me, personally, it’s just been a real blessing. And I’m very appreciative.
C&I: Your father is Wings Hauser, an actor who has attracted a cult following for his action movies and has also appeared in everything from Norman Jewison’s A Soldier’s Story to Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance. I know your parents divorced when you were quite young. But how old were you when you realized what your father did for a living?
Cole: That’s a good question. I think I was about nine or 10 years old, something like that. Yeah. I saw him on TV, and I didn’t know he was my dad. I waited for the finish of the film, and I saw Wings Hauser [in the credits]. So, I went into my mom’s room, and I said, “Hey mom. I just saw a guy on TV, his name’s Wings Hauser.” And she looked at me and went: “Wow!” And I said, “Yeah, I saw this guy.” And she goes, “Yeah, well, let’s talk about that.” And so, she explained to me who he was. And that’s how I found out about my dad.
C&I: Have you talked much with your father about Yellowstone?
Cole: Absolutely. Yeah, he’s a huge fan of the show, and is obviously very proud of what I’ve done in it. He’s an old cowboy, after all. Our family, the Hauser side of the family, are all Montanans. So, it’s very close to him. We have family in Helena and Livingstone and all over the state.
C&I: Finally, back in 2004, you made a movie called Paparazzi — produced by Mel Gibson — in which you played Bo Laramie, an up-and-coming actor who goes hunting for tabloid photographers who nearly killed his family in a car crash while following him to take pictures. In real life, have you ever been a situation where you wanted to go Bo Laramie on some paparazzo?
Cole: [Laughs.] I’ll tell you a funny story. First, no is the answer to the question. But years ago, I had my oldest son with me when we went to the store. And I was getting out of my car, so I was totally oblivious to them being there. But I turned around and this guy was there taking pictures of me and my son. And my kid was a baby, so I looked at him and I stopped. And he pulled his camera down, and looked at me — and he goes, “Oh, shit!” I go, “What?” And he goes, “You just gave me the Bo Laramie look.” And he ran off. And that was really the last time I think they ever messed with me. They stayed away, and I’ve been lucky in that way.
From our November/December 2021 issue
Click here to purchase our July 2019 Yellowstone issue
Photography: (All images) Emerson Miller/courtesy Paramount Network