1923 and Joining the Dutton Dynasty
Dec 16, 2022
From creator and executive producer Taylor Sheridan, Paramount+ series 1923 is a prequel that builds out more of the Dutton dynasty first established on-screen in Yellowstone. The show takes place after the events of the previous prequel, 1883, starring Tim McGraw as James Dutton and Faith Hill as Margaret Dutton, which chronicled the story of the family’s journey West to settle in Montana and form the beginnings of what will become the Yellowstone Ranch. When 1923 begins, a new generation of the Dutton family has taken ownership of the Yellowstone — led by James’ brother Jacob (Harrison Ford), his wife Cara (Helen Mirren), and James’ surviving children, who are now running the ranch in his stead. That’s all before they’re confronted with the hardships of such events as Prohibition and the Great Depression — as well as competitors who are constantly looking to take over the land that the Duttons have firmly staked their claim on. The series also stars Darren Mann, Michelle Randolph, James Badge Dale, Marley Shelton, Brian Geraghty, Aminah Nieves, Brandon Sklenar, Robert Patrick, Jerome Flynn, Jennifer Ehle, Sebastian Roché, and Timothy Dalton.
COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY
Ahead of the series’ December 18 premiere on Paramount+, Collider was given the opportunity to speak with several of 1923’s cast — among them Ford himself — about becoming a part of the Yellowstone franchise. Over the course of the roundtable interview, which you can read below, Ford discussed why he wanted to make the crossover from film to television, why 1923 was the project that attracted him in particular, and how Jacob Dutton compares to previous roles he’s inhabited like Han Solo and Indiana Jones. He also spoke about being reunited with Helen Mirren on-screen, what he was eager to delve into in terms of his character’s journey, and more.
QUESTION: The bulk of your work has been in film, obviously, with this being your first starring role on a television series. What made you want to do the crossover from film to TV? And how did filming 1923 compare to working on past films of yours, particularly the blockbuster Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises?
HARRISON FORD: Well, that’s a big question. For me, for an actor, there’s not much difference between shooting for television and shooting for a feature film. There may be actually more time to develop a character over a number of different episodes than you have in a two-hour film. But it really is the only difference really these days, I believe.
We used to think of television as having less ambition, perhaps, than feature films. It’s no longer the case at all. This is one of the most ambitious undertakings I’ve ever taken on, and I’m so pleased with what I’ve seen so far. Because we’re in post-production on much of it, but we have the first couple of episodes locked, and I’m delighted by what I see. I’ve been enjoying working with very high-quality actors and actresses, and we have the technical capacity and ambition to shoot this the way it was a feature film. It’s quite beautiful to look at. I’m thrilled with the whole project.
As to how it compares with Star Wars or Indiana Jones, we’re spending a lot more time outdoors in real places, rather than on sets that have to be manufactured to create a reality. So there’s a sense of reality there. The minute you walk out into that cold in your 1923 costume, you begin to understand what the real life of a cowboy is like.
Image via Paramount+
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QUESTION: What is it that you keep in mind that keeps you on the right path to giving it your best, especially in the elements and everything else that could go wrong?
FORD: Well, I want to serve the character and have the characters serve the story. I’m looking to alloy the character with the story because they support each other. Taylor Sheridan has written a dense and complicated character, and it’s both an honor and a challenge to take it on, and I’m enjoying it very much.
QUESTION: Having joined the series as part of a franchise, have you had a chance to catch up on any of the previous shows, whether 1883 or Yellowstone?
FORD: I’ve been working and busy, and I haven’t had a lot of time to catch up, but I thought it more important that I see all of 1883, which I did, because that is the closest in time and story-wise of the developed Yellowstone elements. Yellowstone, which takes place in contemporary time… I love the work that Kevin’s doing and I love the show, but 1883 was more important to me to concentrate on, and it was very useful in helping me understand the way they have been storytelling.
Collider: What drew you to this particular project in terms of knowing you wanted to be involved? I’m wondering when that moment came. Was it being pitched on the show? Was it reading the scripts from Taylor? When did you have the moment of, “This is the project, this one.”
FORD: I based my decision on personal meetings with Taylor. There was no script at the time we agreed. One of the real draws for me was the opportunity to work with Helen again to play my wife, Helen Mirren, who was the first one aboard. When Taylor and I met, it probably preceded the script by at least three or four weeks, and so he talked me through what his ideas were. I was impressed by his articulation, with his ambition, and his sincerity. And when I got the script, I was very gratified.
I think it’s very interesting. It’s ambitious, again, but it’s a character very different to any that I’ve played so far, and that interests me. I’m always interested in working with new things, and it doesn’t seem to me that there’s a terrible amount of difference between movies and an ambitious television project anymore.
Image via Paramount+
QUESTION: You mentioned working with Helen Mirren. I’m curious what it was like developing your on-screen relationship with her for this.
FORD: Well, we have known each other, although we haven’t spent much time together in the last 40 years. She played my wife in Mosquito Coast. But of course, I know her career and I have seen her work over these years, and we’ve occasionally come in contact. She’s a very nice person and a very smart actress, and it was one of the big draws, the chance to work with Helen again.
QUESTION: What would you say is the secret to your long and incredible career? And the follow-up to that is, you’ve played so many iconic characters, how does Jacob Dutton compare to the other characters you have played?
FORD: Other people, other people. Working with people who are accomplished in their areas. The range of directors I’ve had the opportunity to work with certainly has been extraordinary. I’ve been very, very lucky. I came up in the business when the movie business was so closely connected to culture, and we had such an influence on culture. It was really a very good time for the movie business. Some of the giants of the movie business were still working, and I had the opportunity to work with people like Coppola and Sydney Pollack and Peter Weir, and many others, at a time when movies were flourishing. That might have been enough.
But I still enjoy working, I still enjoy telling stories. Taylor Sheridan is certainly one of those people that is the most extraordinary talents of our current time. And I’m having a really good time doing this.
QUESTION: What was it about this character’s journey that you were eager to delve into?
FORD: Well, the character finds himself in very difficult circumstances, the pressures of the ranch, which represents the future for his family. The pressures are intense. They’re in the midst of a drought. The Depression is nearing. The economic support is crumbling. Loans are not easy to come by for cattle. There’s competition for the grass from sheepmen. There’s the pressures on the land itself from extractive industries, and it’s a complicated time. A lot of those complications and pressures come to rest on Jacob Dutton’s shoulders, and the way he deals with them is distinct. Taylor has written me a matrix for a character which I feel very confident in and feel lucky to have the opportunity to express. Thank you.
QUESTION: I’m curious what you think, having watched 1883, is inside Jacob Dutton that allowed him to succeed, where his younger brother James, played by Tim McGraw, failed in creating that vast Dutton empire?
FORD: I can’t conceive of Tim McGraw’s character as having failed. I would say that the circumstances overwhelmed him, but it’s not a flaw of his character. The same Dutton steel is in Jacob that there was in the character Tim played.
Image via Paramount+
QUESTION: In terms of creating the character of Jacob, what was your prep work like once you had the script in hand, and what’s the most important part of creating the character?
FORD: There are many important aspects of the creation of a character. The first one that comes to you when you’ve agreed to play a character is the physical expression of his characteristics, the costume. Once I find the costume, I’m part of the way to finding the man. I was helped in the selection of costume by very talented people. So there’s first costumes, it’s the look of the character.
The way the character is written, I began to see that Taylor had created an architecture, that once I recognized the architecture of things, I could see that the story was built on hinged moments in the character’s life. Since I know which way the hinge was turning and where we were going, I was seeing that a lot of the development was being done for me by Taylor. The usual work of an actor, trying to have to phrase himself through a story, was nailed down tight. That really, to be honest, I could just be there and be real in that circumstance as much as possible, and it would do the job.
Performance is not so much… It’s not a context in which performance per se is very valuable. Cowboys are resolute, and they’re stern, and they’re tough. We know that about cowboys. But Taylor has given me opportunity to express it in contexts that we don’t see very often, and it’s so well written, I really … The challenge is living up to the character.
QUESTION: What you said about Taylor’s writing, I’d love to hear you talk about what makes it so unique. What’s he able to explore about America and the Western through this series?
FORD: I think he puts the mythology, the cowboy myth, and American history under the tension of truth. There’s a degree of distance between what America represents itself as and how it behaves. While we may be ambitious for the representation, we’re living in the reality. Jacob Dutton has hard choices to make, and he makes those hard choices like an animal with his back against the wall. It’s very interesting, to me.
1923 premieres Sunday, December 18 on Paramount+.
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