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'1883': Isabel May on Showcasing the Strong Lineage of Dutton Women in 'Yellowstone' Prequel


Fans of the Paramount Network's hit series Yellowstone have no doubt wondered how it all started. How did John Dutton (Kevin Costner) acquire his vast property in Montana that he's so desperate to protect? How did the Duttons come to settle down in Montana in the first place? Series creator Taylor Sheridan decided to answer all of our questions with his Yellowstone prequel series 1883, premiering Sunday, December 19 on Paramount Plus. Country stars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill play John's ancestors James and Margaret Dutton, but one of the most interesting characters is their teenage daughter Elsa, played by Isabel May.

While 1883 is definitely a career-making performance from May, it's not her first time leading a series. The California native previously starred as high school freshman Katie Cooper in the Netflix series Alexa & Katie. Prior to that, she appeared in the recurring role of Veronica Duncan on the sitcom Young Sheldon. Growing up in Santa Monica, she was just down the street from Hollywood, which made it easy for her parents to put her in acting classes, thanks to her sixth grade English teacher. She kicked off her career just a few years later with films Age of Summer and Let's Scare Julie. Her filmography might not be as long as some of her 1883 peers, but series creator Taylor Sheridan could tell she had the acting experience to bring Elsa Dutton to life.

Read More: Who Plays Beth Dutton on 'Yellowstone'? Kelly Reilly Brings the Series' Toughest Character to Life

If you love Yellowstone, you know that Sheridan is partial to strong female characters. Beth Dutton is certainly a fan favorite for a reason. She's a powerhouse, beloved for her tough nature, no-nonsense personality, and ability to do pretty much anything. Wide Open Country caught up with May to discuss the strong lineage of strong Dutton women and what it took to get prepared for her lead role on the show. Turns out, she's just as big a Beth Dutton fan as we are.


"I could only hope that people draw on some of our qualities and characteristics and go 'Oh, Beth reflects that a little bit.' That would be awesome. I think our characters are pretty wonderful too."

1883 kicks off with the Dutton family arriving in Texas where they prepare to travel north (eventually to Montana). Elsa adds some unexpected dimension to the cast, giving an interesting perspective on the time period from the mind of a teenage girl. Seeing this new world with a sense of awe and wonder which you just can't get from the eyes of a jaded cowboy. She also narrates the series which ends up being incredibly powerful thanks to the nearly poetic writing from Taylor Sheridan. Watching the show, you'd think that May grew up on a ranch herself. Her character is incredibly skilled on a horse and as the oldest sibling (her younger brother is Kevin Costner's great-grandfather John Dutton), she ends up assisting her father and the other wranglers when they need additional riders. Interestingly enough, May hadn't ridden a horse before she landed the TV show. Similar to the cast of Yellowstone, that would quickly change because she was sent to "cowboy camp." Now, according to her cast member Sam Elliott, she's one of the best riders on set.

"It was incredible. What a luxury to just be able to ride a horse all day in these beautiful serene and kind of just stunning. It was like being on cloud nine. But I watched as best I could, the wranglers ride and just tried to imitate everything they did. And then I also feel like mentally if you tell yourself you look good on something or you're doing something right, you actually kind of reflect it. Also, the minute I found out I was doing the project, [I] tried to ride horses as much as I could before cowboy camp."

If fans thought that 1883 was going to be a carbon copy of Yellowstone set in the past, guess again. It has just as much drama and intrigue as its predecessor, but with completely different characters who make their own mark on the Yellowstone universe. Isabel May is definitely one to watch this season. And viewers will have opportunities to see her work outside of her Elsa Dutton role as well. She's filmed two additional films, The Moon & Back and I Want You Back, and I have no doubt many more future projects are in the works. We can only hope we get to see much more of Elsa in 1883 because I really can't wait to see what's in store for her character.


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