The following post contains minor spoilers for episode 1 of "1923."
The second "Yellowstone" prequel, entitled "1923," is almost here. Audiences are about to get a look at what took place 40 years after the events of "1883," with this new series passing the torch to Jacob Dutton (Harrison Ford) and his wife and matriarch of the family, Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren).
We had the chance to see the first episode, which showcased the loving relationship between Cara and Jacob (in private, anyway), and learned a bit about Cara. She tells another character that no matter what your personal desires and wishes are, the herds of cattle for which the ranchers are responsible always come first — before babies, before love, and everything else. This is a hard life, and from the first moments of the pilot, we're reminded of the bravery and resilience but also the cruelty and terrible actions of those who settled in the West on lands already occupied when they arrived.
/Film recently attended a roundtable discussion with Mirren, where she discussed the "herd first" mentality, Jacob and Cara's relationship, how creator Taylor Sheridan writes women, her feelings on the American West, and the violence that came along with the settlers' lifestyles.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
'The Great Thing That Taylor Sheridan Is Doing Is Really Casting A Very Cold And Piercing Eye Upon American History'
When your life depends on the animals you're raising, everything else takes a backseat. Mirren was asked about the mentality of "the herd comes first" and how that affects how Cara deals with other people. Mirren explained that, while she never worked on a farm herself, she knows that people who do are often "a slave to the environment, to the climate, whether it rains or not, or whether it's too sunny. So you cannot just put those things aside and say, 'Well, I think I'm going on holiday for a couple of weeks,' because it is a constant demand."
The American West in the 1920s was a difficult place to settle, with its diseases, the Great Depression, and massive drought. Mirren spoke about the voiceover at the beginning of the episode (and in the teaser trailer) and its discussion of how the Dutton family is very connected to violence:
"Certainly, I think that the American West, as it was conquered and created, there was a huge amount of violence connected to it. And we were protected from that for many years, watching these westerns that basically … of course, you'd have gun shootouts and so forth, but it was a very romantic vision of American history. And I think the great thing that [show creator] Taylor Sheridan is doing is really casting a very cold and piercing eye upon American history. Of course, he tells it in a very dramatic form, and there is certainly an element of romance, if you like, involved in it because they are real people who fall in love, who argue, who fight, who separate."
The voiceover makes sense if you've seen "1883," but the circumstances of living in this period were violent for many families, not just the Duttons.
'I Don't Know What's In The Future For Jacob And Cara'
From what we see in the first episode, Jacob and Cara have a genuine partnership and are quite affectionate with each other. Whether or not we'll see a lot more of that is up in the air, both for audiences and for the actors. Mirren was asked about how much time Jacob and Cara have for romance while running this empire. Mirren said she wondered that as well, and that the experience was like real life in that they don't really know what's coming:
"When we started filming, I think we had the first three episodes in our hands. We had no idea what was going to happen after that. So it's been an unfolding adventure for us.
"So I don't know what's in the future for Jacob and Cara. Certainly, dark clouds are gathering around them in terms of climate, they're dealing with drought. They're dealing with political — they're dealing with people who want to take over their land. So there are a lot of forces coming in upon them that I think that in the future they will be struggling against."
In addition to their immense ranch, Cara and Jacob have been raising John Dutton Sr. (James Badge Dale) and his younger brother Spencer (Brandon Sklenar), who was born after the events of the previous prequel series. Mirren said the two men are very different from each other:
"Cara has no children of her own, and she's brought these boys up. And in a later episode, I talk about what kind of a boy Spencer was. Obviously, he was a boy that she always had a great connection with. He went off to fight in the war [WWI], and he's still working out his trauma related to that. And I think it's a wonderful element that Taylor Sheridan has brought into the story, this widening it out on the larger world scale.
"But I think Cara understands that if anyone is going to save the ranch, it's Spencer. Jack [Darren Mann, Cara's grandnephew] is a great character, but he's very hot-headed. He's very out of control, and she knows that he's emotionally unstable. Whereas Spencer, I think she feels, has got the stability and the purpose to save the ranch if the ranch needs saving."
In episode 1, Spencer is off in Africa working as a hunter (in case you were wondering about the lion in the full trailer), but it sounds like he has a key role to play in this story.
'It's So Easy To Cause Such Incredible Damage With A Gun, And I Find That Just Very, Very Difficult To Deal With'
Cara Dutton is the matriarch of the Dutton family, but many were surprised to hear her speak with an Irish accent in the first trailer. Of how that affects her character, Mirren said:
"I play her Irish, and because she's Irish, I think she has faith. I think she's a Christian, a Catholic, and I think she has carried that faith with her. She doesn't advertise it. It's not a big thing. I wanted to have a little crucifix up on the set, but I said, "It's got to be really small. So you notice it if you notice it; if you don't notice, it's fine.' But it's just a little indication of where Cara's faith is. So I do think she's a woman of faith. But at the same time, she's practical, she's down to earth, and she's realistic."
Mirren also admitted to liking her "comfort too much" to be a pioneer woman. ("I want my electric blanket at night," she joked.) That said, she revealed that Cara was constructed around her personality in the same way Sheridan modeled the Jacob character on Harrison Ford. She thinks it's because Sheridan "likes to write for the actor and the personality of the actor that is going to play the role."
The beginning of the trailer (and the episode) shows us an injured Cara holding a gun and threatening someone who has hurt her. Mirren was asked about her experience with scenes like that. Mirren explained that while she played a sniper in "Red," she'd never worked with a gun like the one in "1923." She said:
"I don't like guns. I find them very, very frightening. It's so easy to cause such incredible damage with a gun, and I find that just very, very difficult to deal with.
"In fact, we open the whole series with that moment, which is painful for Cara. It's why she cries out afterwards in pain and agony about what she's just done. But it comes out of a very violent ambush that her family has just experienced. She's witnessed her friends and relatives being shot down in front of her. So she's in a very heightened state when she makes that act."
Though we don't know who exactly is hurt yet, it's a powerful scene, and it very much sets the stage for what's likely on the way, just as the opening scene of "1883" set us up for a rough crossing of the countryside.
'What An Incredible Gift Taylor Sheridan Has Given To Actresses'
From what we've seen so far, "Yellowstone," "1883," and now "1923" have some powerful roles for women. Mirren was asked how Cara fits in with women like Elsa (Isabel May) and Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly), and she praised Sheridan's writing and the entire production:
"What an incredible gift Taylor Sheridan has given to actresses — and about time, incidentally. I watched some of 'Yellowstone,' but mostly, I watched '1883,' I think. Because for me, the fascinating side of this is the history of it and that extraordinary march west across America that was so full of courage and pain and suffering and desperation and creativity. It's extraordinary people, it has always fascinated me, that part of American history.
"And so I watched '1883' with great, great interest [and] fascination and thought that journey was revealed so viscerally. And I know that the cast and crew, really, it was absolutely real, everything that they did. None of it was blue screen or digitally … Everything was absolutely real. I think they wanted to have as close to the real experience as possible."
When this series is set, society is going through massive changes, particularly for women. The generational differences between the female characters are apparent in the first episode, with Cara focusing on duty and what needs to be done, and her future granddaughter-in-law (Michelle Randolph) and other young women are looking at the world with a sense of freedom and change. I asked Mirren about how those societal changes affect Cara and her relationship with the other women on the show. Here's how she responded:
"[Cara] is of her generation, and I'm very curious to see how the whole concept of women's liberation and suffragette-ism, which is coming, is going to affect Cara. I don't know yet because that happens … Taylor hasn't written scripts. But he has a great sensibility and understanding of women, and he writes great women's characters, very proactive. Very 'in the story,' not an accessory on the outside looking in, which used to be so often the case.
"I think that 20th century, you think of what happened between 1900 and 2000, that century, it is extraordinary, where it started and where it finished. And I think specifically for America, it was the creation of America, really, in the 20th century. The America that we know and understand now. Of course, there was an America before, and Taylor absolutely is going to deal with that. He's always given huge attention to the Native American story."
'I Love The Way It's Really A Study Of American History'
Helen Mirren is, of course, British and plays an Irish woman who has been in America for some time. She was asked about her perceptions of the American West before she joined "1923," and she said that back in the late 1960s, she was on tour with a theater production when she took a three-day journey by train from San Francisco to Detroit, which gave her a sense of the country and what it must have been like to settle there. She recommends all Americans take a trip like this at some point "because it reveals to you the landscape that these people walked across."
Mirren mentioned a 12-hour span around Salt Lake City where "you didn't see a single blade of grass or a tree or a bush or a river or a rock to hide from the sun. It was just a flat plain. And I thought, 'Oh my God. People walked across this carrying their food, carrying their water. Women and men and children walked across this.'"
She says that trip gave her some perspective on who the Americans are and that "it was like a huge light bulb going off in my head." She explained:
"Many of them, all of them, probably, immigrants coming from little villages, little stone houses in Ireland or in Serbia or in Scotland. And they come to this vast landscape, and that creates the American dream, it creates the American mythology, and it creates the Americans' understanding of themselves, it seems to me. That was partly why I really wanted to do this work, because I love the way it's really a study of American history as much as anything."
"1923" will premiere on Paramount+ on December 18, 2022. Paramount Network is also hosting a linear airing of the debut episode following a new episode of "Yellowstone."
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The post Helen Mirren on Her 1923 Character, How Taylor Sheridan Writes Women, and The American West [Interview] appeared first on /Film.