Entertainment

'1883' Star Eric Nelsen on Joining the 'Yellowstone' Universe and Working With 'Bighearted' Sam Elliott

Jenny Anderson

The Yellowstone prequel 1883 is already a massive hit. The new series, which stars Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Sam Elliott, LaMonica Garrett and Isabel May, is the most watched original series premiere ever on Paramount+ and the biggest new cable premiere since 2015. And it's no surprise. The series tells the origin story of the Dutton family and, just like Yellowstone, features family drama, high stakes action and plenty of romance. (After all, what would Yellowstone be without the sparks between Beth and Rip?)

There's more than one love story at the center of 1883. Of course, there's James and Margaret Dutton (McGraw and Faith Hill), who share some steamy scenes and showcase the strong marriage required to make a harrowing journey across the Great Plains. But their daughter Elsa, portrayed by series narrator Isabel May, is also one half of a budding romance. Early on in the series, Ennis (Eric Nelsen), a young cowboy hired to help a group of immigrants travel from Texas to Oregon, catches her eye. The feeling, of course, is mutual.

For Eric Nelsen, his role on 1883 is a dream come true. The Emmy-winning actor is now a part of the ever- growing Yellowstone universe, created by acclaimed writer, director and show runner Taylor Sheridan, and he gets to do it all from his new home of Fort Worth, Texas.

Wide Open Country caught up with Nelsen to talk about Ennis and Elsa's romance, working with Tim McGraw and Sam Elliott and being a part of the origin story for one of the most talked about families on TV.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Were you already a Yellowstone fan before getting cast in 1883?

It's interesting because my wife was a massive fan and she kept saying, 'Watch the show, watch the show, watch the show.' And I just hadn't had time. There already were, I think, three seasons at the time. And then the pandemic hit. So it was the perfect time to catch up on the show. So that was my pandemic binge show...I was completely hooked and loved every second and it was my favorite show on TV. So yes, before '1883' was even a thing in my mind, I was a mega fan, as was my entire family.

photo of Eric Nelsen
Jenny Anderson

What's it like to be a part of telling the Dutton family origin story? 

Obviously, there's an incredible amount of responsibility riding the coattails of a show as successful as Yellowstone. So we wanted to do the best that we could to honor what Yellowstone has done for us. So I think there was an added level of responsibility, but also nerves and excitement because you just want things to go so well because they've teed it up perfectly for us, which is such a rare opportunity. To jump on board a show that already has such a massive fan base built in and history and a legacy....it added that much more excitement because we knew what we were telling was so important to so many people already because of Yellowstone... It's a blessing really.

Authenticity is clearly important to Taylor Sheridan. Could you talk about the importance of capturing the true hardships that people experienced during this time?

Taylor Sheridan's gift is to really [show] authenticity. In his mind he doesn't want actors playing. He doesn't want actors pretending like they're riding these horses or taking this journey. He wants actors who are actually immersed in it and doing it every step of the way. As an actor, it's the greatest gift I could be given...He sent us to a multiple week cowboy camp before we started filming.... [It was] horses all day, every day. We roped, we cut cattle, we shot guns and we ate the food that cowboys would eat back then. Everything you can imagine to immerse ourselves in this world.

So by the time we got to set and that first camera was rolling, it was the last thing we were thinking about. We weren't thinking about 'Can I stay on this horse?' We weren't thinking about all the technical things that were going into our shoot. It was more about living in the world and completely immersing ourselves as we had been... So it was incredibly important to all of us and we're all grateful to Taylor for giving us that opportunity.

Your character has a great dynamic with Tim McGraw's character, James. What was it like working with Tim McGraw?

Tim is an awesome guy. He's the big brother on set, you know, always messing around. He's singing, he's just goofing off. He's just a really, really fun guy to be around. He's always making people laugh and smile. But as you've seen on the show so far... I'm interested in his daughter [Elsa Dutton] and he's a protective father...So he likes to riff even when the cameras aren't rolling, which is kind of funny. He's a lot more method than I was expecting him to be on certain days, which all lends itself to helping me stay in character. But there would be times where I would just catch him just staring at me when we weren't even filming. He would just be on the other side of the room, just like really giving me a glare, trying to intimidate me. Of course, it worked every single time. So now I'm like, 'oh gosh, what's he about to say or do?' And then he's like, 'all right, let's go film this thing.' And he's, like, still really intense. Then at the end of the day, you know, he'll drop the act and we'll laugh about it and stuff. But he's pretty good about putting that fear of God in somebody with those eyes.

I view Sam Elliot as an icon of westerns and cinema in general; What was it like to take on a western role alongside him? Did he give you any advice at all?

I'm just like you -- mega fan of Sam Elliott. He was everything in my eyes. So when I first found out he was in the show, I freaked out of course. You go through your stages of 'I hope they're everything I hope they are.' You have an imagination of what they might be in real life and who they might be and you just want them to be great people because you're such a fan and you hope for the best. You meet them, and sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren't. Sam Elliott is the most genuine, kind, loving, bighearted man I every met in my entire life. So all the nerves and anxiety of meeting one of your idols went right out the window the first second I met him.

I didn't even introduce myself or even get time to put out my hand to shake his. He just gave me the biggest hug. And he's like, 'I'm so excited to be on this journey with you...this is gonna be so much fun'...Everybody he talked to, whether it was an extra or a lead or even people on the street, he loves to hear from fans. He loves to stop and talk to people and he really just has heart.

What can we expect from Ennis and Elsa's relationship this season?

I will say [episode four, 'The Crossing'] is a huge turning point for Ennis and Elsa's relationship...There is, as you can see,  something definitely brewing between the two and it gets very exciting. I do have a lot of scenes coming up with Isabel May's character. So definitely look forward to that. It's blossoming. I can say that.

 

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'1883' Star Eric Nelsen on Joining the 'Yellowstone' Universe and Working With 'Bighearted' Sam Elliott