For three seasons, Cole Hauser has stolen hearts and launched a million cowboy hat sales as Rip Wheeler, a stoic and menacing badass with a secret heart of gold who keeps the Dutton Ranch running and the family's enemies at bay.
For Hauser, the character of Rip Wheeler was an opportunity to play a deeply complex character who's as comfortable fighting a biker gang as he is sharing a tender moment sipping whiskey with Beth Dutton underneath the Montana stars.
When Wide Open Country asked the actor how he approached playing the beloved character, Hauser referenced the duality of Rip's strength and heart.
"One of the reasons why I was drawn to him is what you just described. I think ultimately in the very first episode there was more of the strength and less of the heart," Hauser tells Wide Open Country. "But I think as Taylor [Sheridan, series creator] got to know me as a person...We spent the summer together and I was riding a lot with him and we got to know each other -- his upbringing and mine as well...I think going through all those talks [about] both sides of our lives, he started putting together that this would be something that he would like to see in Rip. Obviously, he implemented those into the show."
Of course, Rip Wheeler's "heart" is best showcased through his relationship with the fiery Beth Dutton, played by the masterful force of nature Kelly Reilly.
"She's a dear friend and I trust her," Hauser says of Reilly. "I think the biggest thing right out of the gates with Kelly and I, which I think Taylor saw and a lot of people that were behind the scenes [saw], is just how much we trusted each other. I think when you have that ultimate kind of actor trust in each other, the limits are kind of -- they're limitless. You're not scared to take risks together or push the envelope. That was something that just innately happened to her and I. It doesn't always happen, but it did on this...Obviously the audience loves it and it has helped the show grow, I think."
Hauser says filming on a ranch in Montana is a welcome return to the rural life he grew accustomed to as a child.
"I grew up on a really nice ranch in Oregon for about four years," he says. "I rode horses and we had cows and chickens... goats. Those were kind of my earliest memories of being a kid. Getting away from that and moving to Florida and then back to California, where I was born, there wasn't a lot of that. So to get a role like this obviously many moons later and have the opportunity to get back to the things that I remember I loved as a child has been a dream come true."
The popularity of Yellowstone has led to two highly anticipated spinoffs: 6666, set in Texas, and Y: 1883, a prequel starring Tim McGraw and Faith Hill as John Dutton's ancestors James and Margaret Dutton and Sam Elliott, who plays Shea Brennan, a wagonmaster and Civil War veteran.
Hauser says he's glad to see the cast members join the extended Yellowstone universe.
"I met Tim [McGraw] a hundred years ago when he was doing Friday Night Lights in Austin, briefly. I don't know him very well. I'm obviously very happy for him and Taylor. I think they'll do great together," Hauser says. "I've worked with Sam Elliott. I'm a big fan of his... I think he's a wonderful actor. I think this world is perfect for him. We did The Hi-Lo Country together and got along. He played my boss -- [he was] actually kind of like a Kevin [Costner] figure, or a John Dutton I should say. I've always watched him and I think the world of him. So I'm glad he's a part of the family."