2023 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Brown

Exclusive: Nancy Travis of 'Ride' on Playing the Ultimate Rodeo Mom on the New Hallmark Drama

On the new Hallmark Channel series Ride, Nancy Travis plays Isabel McMurray, a ranch family matriarch who's seen more than her share of tragedy. It's a bit of a departure for Travis, who's perhaps best known for her roles in sitcoms such as Last Man Standing and The Bill Engvall Show, but it's one she thinks she may have willed into existence. 

"Maybe it was coming out of COVID and being trapped in a house in a city, but I fantasized about having a ranch and being a rancher," Travis says. "This project came to me, and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, what an opportunity to actually film on a ranch and to play this extraordinary woman who is such a champion in her own everyday way.'" The actress says she jumped at the chance to play Isabel, who she says is a passionate advocate for her own family, as well as "a fighter full of grit and grace." 

There's more from Travis below, including her thoughts on her character's history, the "will they or won't they" element of the show, and how much she knew about rodeo life prior to stepping on set. 

Wide Open Country: As viewers, we learn a little about Isabel's backstory fairly early on in the show's premiere episode, but we don't go all that far back. Where do you think she's from, and how did she become this fierce family protector? 

Nancy Travis: I think that's something that will come out later as the series goes on, but Isabel is a woman who just always wanted to be a rancher. I don't think rodeo was necessarily a big part of her life, but she loves the land, and she loves working the land, and she just had this dream of having this ranch with this man that she fell in love with, whose passion is rodeo, so she has gone along with it. She uses rodeo to help support her dream of having this ranch, and then she tragically loses her husband when she's pregnant with her third child. 

Isabel has three sons, and when we enter Ride, Isabel has been a single parent for years. We see her just trying to make ends meet, and not just financial ends but also emotional ends. She's just trying to negotiate her way through what seems like a daunting experience.

Nancy Travis in "Ride"

2023 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Brown

WOC: Isabel also does a lot for others without thinking all that much about herself. Do you think she deserves a little me time? 

NT: She's not a rewards-oriented person. She doesn't do what she does for a pat on the back or a "congratulations." I think she's very much a work-a-day person, and for her, it's all about keeping her family close because they mean the world to her. She's not somebody who is on dating apps looking to meet a guy. It's not her thing. The big love of her life is gone, and right now, the love of her life is her family and her ranch. The simple pleasures in life are her reward.

WOC: Isabel isn't bull riding or fighting like her sons, but she is involved in some of the more business-centric aspects of rodeo, like sponsors and what it takes to win over judges. How much did you know about rodeo life going into the show, and how quickly did you learn more? 

NT: I didn't know anything. 

Part of Isabel's backstory is that she loses her husband to bull riding, so a lot of it for me was trying to figure out how a woman who has suffered so much loss — maybe the greatest loss of her life — to a sport ... how does she still support it? That was a challenge. 

We filmed in Calgary, which is very much an epicenter of rodeo. The Stampede happens there every year. It's one of the biggest rodeos in the world. And so being in the area and filming on a working cattle ranch with people that live this life, like wranglers and rodeo people, that really was a learning experience for me. I came to understand how it is so much a fabric of life there, and it all ties in because rodeo is also just a demonstration of the skills that you use on a ranch, like roping and riding. So it's just fascinating. I love that world. I love it.

WOC: How does she come to terms with it, because without giving too much away, she doesn't just lose her husband to bull riding? 

NT: I think a lot of what Isabel and what a lot of mothers have to do at Isabel's point in life is to let go. There is only so much you can control. 

I say a line in the show, "No mother wants her son riding bulls," and that was actually said to me by a wrangler that we were working with in Calgary. I think it's very true. You may not like it, but if it's someone's passion, it's not necessarily something you can get in the way of. For Isabel, a lot is about just letting go. She's holding on in such a desperate way, but once she's able to let go, she's rewarded. She finds a certain peace. 

Beau Mirchoff, Nancy Travis on "Ride"

2023 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Brown

WOC: There's a little something something going on between Isabel's son, Cash, and her late son's widow, Missy. How much do you think Isabel knows about the long-standing attraction between the two, or about what's going on in Cash's heart? 

NT: I think that Isabel is a very instinctive person. She knows the people in her world very, very well. She may not know specifics or literal events; she has instincts about things. 

I think Valeria comes into her life, and she embraces her mostly because she's brought to her by her son Austin, and so without question, she embraces her, but she's suspicious. She certainly has a sixth sense that there's something going on with this girl, but she doesn't know what it is. She sees something between Missy and Cash, but she doesn't know quite what. She wouldn't put a name to it or call it out, but she's a very instinctual person, and her eyes are always open.

WOC: You mentioned shooting in Calgary. What's the best part about shooting up there? 

NT: God, I love Calgary. I'd never been there before, and I loved it. There's this very vibrant downtown with an amazing emerging food scene. There are great restaurants, and there's a nightlife. There's colleges and universities, so there's young people there. And then, not even an hour outside downtown, there are extraordinary ranches and beautiful landscapes. We would drive to set an hour every day, and that drive alone as the sun's coming up was mesmerizing. It was the perfect preparation to step into Isabel's britches.

WOC: Some critics and viewers have called Ride a family-friendly Yellowstone. Why do you think it's valuable to make shows that different generations and groups of people can watch together? 

NT: One of the odd good things to come out of COVID, certainly for me personally, was that my sons are grown and my family at this point, everyone's moving in their own directions. COVID brought us all back together again. That's not to say that we watched TV together, but we were all together for meals, where we hadn't been for years. If there's a television show that can do that, I can't think of a better excuse to watch TV. 

What I love about our show is that after so much darkness that we've gone through, it's a very hopeful show. It's a very life-affirming thing. We film in this big huge expanse of a place that reminds us that there are some things that are much bigger than us, and those things are not scary. Those things are beautiful, wonderful, and should be celebrated.

"Ride" is available to stream live on the Hallmark Channel on Peacock and is also available on demand the next day.

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