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Sam Elliott on His 'Complex' '1883' Character: 'I Don't Think I've Ever Had a Role Like This' [Interview]

Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan's prequel series 1883 is star-studded, to say the least. With country music stars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill playing John Dutton's (Kevin Costner) ancestors James and Margaret Dutton, it almost seemed like it couldn't get any better. But then beloved western star Sam Elliott joined the cast and was immediately a perfect fit for the Yellowstone world.

Elliott stars in the new series as Shea Brennan, a veteran of the Civil War who leads a wagon train of immigrants (and the Dutton family) from Texas through the Great Plains. It's a complicated and layered character that no one other than Hollywood's favorite cowboy could do justice to.

When he initially read the script, Elliott was a bit worried about some of the more physical demands of the role. He hadn't been on a horse in 20 years and wouldn't be able to go to cowboy camp with the rest of the cast to train before filming began. But he was instantly drawn to the character of Shea and the world that Taylor Sheridan had created. As Elliott puts it, it was "poetry."

"I knew right away that there was no way that I was not gonna do this project," Elliott told Wide Open Country and other media outlets. "I had a lot of reservations for different reasons, most of them physical, but there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to do this."

Read More: '1883': LaMonica Garrett Brings to Life the True Legacy of Black Cowboys [Interview]

The Yellowstone prequel series took the main cast members, including Tim, Faith, Sam, Isabel May (Elsa), LaMonica Garrett (Thomas), and Billy Bob Thornton (Marshal Jim Courtright) down to Fort Worth where they were regularly filming in weather over 100 degrees. It wasn't ideal, considering many were wearing wool coats. Then they traveled up to Montana where they were filming with a wind chill factor in the teens. Not to mention the dust storm that took over their camp in Amarillo. It wasn't easy, but Elliott says that makes sense.

"It's been a difficult one but it should be difficult considering what the story is about," he says.

The spinoff is focused on giving an authentic look at how hard the Dutton family's journey to Montana was and how they originally settled down on the land that Kevin Costner's character is so determined to protect on his Paramount Network series. Taylor Sheridan wanted to make things look as close as possible to what real life was like. Oscar nominee Sam Elliott was certainly the best choice for Shea, a character that Elliott admits is much more layered and complicated than anyone he's ever played before.

"There's a lot more going on in Shea's head than other cowboys I've played," Elliott explains.

"Number one, he's a veteran of the Civil War. Number two, he loses his family right off the top of the first episode. Number three, he's got this contingent of immigrants he's taking care of. Showing the way, guarding along the way, and he's sensitive to those losses. He has great compassion for these people. That said, at the same time he'll shoot a guy for stealing something. This is a complex character."

Yellowstone has garnered quite the following since its debut four seasons ago and Elliott is very aware of what's become. Even Tom Hanks is a fan and had a cameo in 1883's second episode. Elliott says the series is more like starring in a 10-hour movie than a 10-episode TV show.

"I don't think I've ever had a role like this," he explains. "The look of it, the expanse of it, the size of it, it's just not typical television by any means. It's a monstrosity of a project in terms of the cast, in terms of the money we're spending, in terms of the size of the crew, in terms of the locations. It's definitely one of the biggest things I've ever been involved in."