Leading the 1883 story and the cast of our introduction to the Yellowstone saga is Tim McGraw, country music superstar and one heck of a good actor.
McGraw has the pleasure of working with his wife, Faith Hill, and a superb cast, including Sam Elliott and LaMonica Garrett.
As James Dutton, he helps fans of the franchise understand why the Dutton clan fights to keep what they’ve created.
McGraw joined a group of reporters for 1883 press day, and our round table conversation is below. Please note that reporters’ questions are in italics.
So James Dutton’s relationship with the women in his life is different than we see in a lot of westerns. How would you describe it, and what was it like working with your real-life wife in this capacity?
Well, for me, I have three daughters and a wife, and I grew up with a mom and two sisters. So it’s pretty natural for me, relationships with women. But I think there’s a ton of respect that James has for the women in his life. And I think that there’s a ton of trust, and he leans on them very hard for the strength that he has.
I mean, I think face character Margaret is the backbone of the family, as she is in real life for our family. I mean, she is the strength and the backbone. And without her, our universe falls apart. And I think that that’s the same thing with Margaret. And working with Faith is incredible.
I mean, I can’t imagine spending five months working six days a week, 12 hours a day, not being able to see my wife every day and not being able to go home with her every day. And that’s something I’m really grateful for. And I’ve learned a lot from her as an actor as well.
James also has a great relationship with his daughter. That seems very strong, too.
Yeah. I mean, I think that that’s the light of his life, is his daughter. I mean, for him, she means everything to him, and not unlike me and my girls. I mean, I think he sees all the possibilities that he had or could have had in his life he sees in his daughter.
And I think that that’s what he tries to push her towards, just the strength and possibilities that she has that he wished that he could have had because he’s struggling, in my opinion. James is struggling through a lot of PTSD, which nobody knew about back then from the trauma that he went through during the Civil War and during reconstruction.
I think the whole reason he wanted to get out of Tennessee out of the south was he wanted to find an untainted place for his daughter to grow up.
How does knowing what happens on Yellowstone dictate the way that you feel about James and the family leading up to everything that comes much later?
It doesn’t; I don’t think. I mean, I don’t think that it changed any way that I approached this character. And I’m a huge Yellowstone fan. I mean, Faith and I have been Yellowstone fans from the very first night or the very first episode when we watched it. We were hooked on it and have been ever since.
But I don’t think that it dictated anything. More than anything else, I think that when you watch this show, it’s all because of Taylor’s writing.
When you watch this show, I think you can get a better understanding of what the Dutton family in Yellowstone, where their drive comes from, where their passion comes from, where their love of family comes from, where a little bit of their wild craziness comes from.
You sort of get that when you see the show. And another thing is I think you don’t have to watch Yellowstone in order to watch the show.
I think the show stands on its own. However, I do think that if you’re a huge Yellowstone fan, you’ll love the show. And if you haven’t watched Yellowstone and you watch the show, then you will want to watch Yellowstone to see the continuation of the story.
You’re obviously a very well-known singer in the country music world. So do you have a song that you have recorded that you think best portrays your character?
Oh boy. That’s a tough one. Right off the bat, Cowboy In Me would be one that comes to mind and Real Good Man. Those would be the two that come to mind. But James is a complex character. I mean, there are many layers to him.
And I think James, me playing James and James himself, I think, doesn’t quite on understand himself in a lot of ways. And he’s constantly trying to figure out who he is and why he does the things that he does, other than he’s driven by the love of his family and the survival of his family.
So you’ve been acting a lot over the years in smaller parts here and there and nothing this large. But how did some of those different parts and things you did help form what you put together for James? You can see little glimpses.
I love Friday Night Lights, and your character in that has that mean edge to him. And then you got the support of your family in The Blind Side. There’s a lot of that to James as well. How did your past roles influence how you brought James to life?
Well, first of all, they taught me how to hit my marks doing the before. But it’s always a learning process. And for me, everything that I do, I try to really soak up and learn from.
And so I’ve carried all of those things with me along the way and tried to remember the things I’ve done wrong, the things I’ve done right, the things that have worked, the things that haven’t worked, and carry all those things with me into every project that I do, whether it be music or acting.
However, I do think, in this process, I’ve learned more and progressed more as an actor than I have with all the other movies put together. No disrespect to anything that I’ve done because I’ve worked with some great people and done some great movies.
But this process is because it’s such a ruling process, and you’re in it every single day. And it being a period piece, which makes a big difference in your mindset. I think that I’ve learned so much doing this and with the actors that I’m working with.
I mean, look, I get to work with Sam Elliot. So anytime you’re in a scene with Sam Elliot, if you’re not paying attention and learning something from that guy, then you need to go home because he’s one of the best there is.
So I think they’ve all prepared me in certain ways by taking the good from the things that I’ve done, but more importantly, taking the bad from the things that I’ve done and knowing what not to do as you move further. But being immersed in this world six days a week, 12 hours a day for five months, it’s the best learning curve I’ve ever been on.
Going back to what you said about learning from Faith on set, can you elaborate on that? And do you think there’s more teaming up with her on-screen in your future?
I would love nothing better than for us to be able to do some movies together and do some shows together. I really enjoy working with her. And not only because she’s my wife, but because she’s so talented.
Anytime you’re in a scene with her, or you’re on set with her, it makes you sort of step your game up a bit, much like when we tour together or do a record together.
I mean, she gives me that look sometimes where, when we’re touring together, and I know that my harmony part is a little off, and I get that look across the stage from her, it puts me right back straight because I know I’m going to hear it when I get off stage.
So same thing with acting with her. If she knows that I’m not in the moment and in the place that I need to be, all she has to do is give me a look, and I know, okay, I need to get on the ball. But she’s just such a pro, and she’s a light for everybody on the set.
I mean, she’s like a mom to everybody on the set. I mean, she just cares so much about people. And I think that comes across in her character. Certainly in her personality, but it comes across to everybody who works with her.
Tim, you mentioned that James has a lot of PTSD from what he went through in the war. How does that affect what he’s doing when we get to know him, which is traveling north with people that he was probably in direct conflict with at some point or people like them during that war?
Well, I think he thinks he doesn’t think of it as conflict with the people that he was fighting with because, in my mind, I don’t think James really wanted anything to do with that war. I think that, like most people, he was forced into it in a lot of ways.
This is just my personal take on the backstory of James. I think that he didn’t believe in the cause. He didn’t think that it was worthy. And he was forced into it, and he had to do it.
And then when he goes into battle, and he’s the captain, and he loses a thousand men in one battle, that had a profound effect on him. And I think that that’s something that drives him, something that is a turning point for him in the middle of this show.
And I can’t give too much away, but I think it’s something that turned, it’s a turning point in him to where you understand that he cares deeply about the people he’s traveling with. Not only his family, but he cares deeply about the people.
Even though he doesn’t show it sometimes, he really cares. That’s why he steps up and raises his hand to be the leader and to try to help as much as he can.
What would you say was the most challenging part about bringing this show to life?
Ooh. Well, it was a big undertaking. I mean, I think the elements, probably. I mean, from Texas in the heat, 110 degrees shooting 12, 14 hours.
I mean, in the first episode, you can see it was 110 degrees, and we shot for eight, nine, 10 hours that day with the wagons when the bad guys were chasing me, and I was shooting those guys. You can see me get on the wagon, and my pants are soaking wet. That’s how hot it was. So I think the elements were the toughest part of it.
The easiest part was the actors. It’s such an ensemble show. I mean, nobody’s really the star of the show. I mean, there are five or six people who carry this show.
But from the smallest role with the pioneers and the immigrants to the biggest roles, everybody is supportive of each other, and everybody has become friends, and everybody brings their A-game every day that they show up because we don’t want to let each other down.
And when you have that, it’s much like a championship football team. You don’t want to let your partner down. And I think that’s what’s so incredible about this show and these actors.
Yeah, I appreciate it. I’ve really got to get your thoughts on that [Tom Hanks] cameo at the beginning of the second episode because that was so unexpected. And that had to be such an awesome day on set.
Did you know who was playing that ahead of time? Was that a big surprise for you guys here? Just walk me through a little bit of that, putting that scene together.
Well, Tom and Rita and Faith and I have been friends for almost 25 years. And I mean really good friends. So we spent a lot of time together.
So when I read the script and read the second episode, I just had an idea, and I called Thomas, said, “What do you think about showing up for this cameo to do this show?” I said, “Faith and I are doing this show. It’s our first really big parts in trying to carry something. We’re doing it together.”
And he goes, “Tell me when, tell me where, and I’ll be there.” It was just that simple. And he showed up. He showed up and got in hair, but they stayed with us for a couple of days before we shot. But the morning that we shot, we separated from each other.
Because he didn’t want to see me because I’m in hair and makeup and a whole different sort of look than I am the whole show, and I didn’t want to see him. And so the first time I actually see him is when he walks up to me in the scene because we intentionally did that on purpose.
And when I fell apart emotionally, part of that was certainly the scene and the devastation that was in front of me and losing all my men, certainly. And for a cause that I didn’t believe in. But to know that my friend, one of my best friends, showed up and he’s there with me.
And when he grabbed my shoulder, it just made me fall apart because we’ve tried to do stuff together over the years, and the timing never worked out. So to have him there in that moment and there to support us for a big project was pretty special. And that shows you what kind of guy Tom Hanks is.
Get ready for action because the first two episodes of 1883 drop on Paramount+ tomorrow, December 19. You do not want to miss it!
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.