We're now in the middle of the first season of Yellowstone's prequel series 1883, led by the incredibly all-star cast of Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Sam Elliott, Billy Bob Thornton and LaMonica Garrett. The origin story of the Dutton family we love from Yellowstone is already just as popular as you'd think it would be. It's easily one of the best western TV series ever made, but, according to series creator Taylor Sheridan, it was one wild ride getting made. At the series premiere at the Wynn Las Vegas in Dec. 2021, he explained that he was given a seriously tight deadline from ViacomCBS.
Sheridan signed a multi-year deal with the network and was in the midst of working on multiple shows including Mayor of Kingstown, 6666 (another Yellowstone spinoff) and more. The network loved the pilot episode he had written for 1883 so much, they told Sheridan that they needed the series to air in 7 months to help with the launch of the Paramount Plus streaming service. Kind of a crazy request for a series that only had one episode. No cast, crew, anything at all. Luckily, the network was willing to let Sheridan do whatever he needed to do to get it done.
"It was impossible to have something air in seven months that wasn't cast, with no locations, and no other scripts. I said this first episode I've written is the best thing I've ever written. If I can't have the time to make it right, I need everything else. I need the toys, I need the cast, I need the team. You will need to trust me, and it's going to hurt. And I did not hear the word no, at all," Sheridan explained.
He apparently had been working on his idea for 1883 for nearly the same amount of time as he'd been working on Yellowstone itself and hadn't 'found the hook.' While he hadn't necessarily figured out where he was going with the show, he decided he had found the perfect 'personification' of 1883 with a young unknown actress he had auditioned for Mayor of Kingstown. Isabel May read for the role of Iris (which ended up going to Emma Laird), but Sheridan knew that she was his Elsa.
"I saw she could represent innocence and hope, and I called Paramount and said, 'I got good news, and then, I got some you-need-to-trust-me news.' At this point I had not figured out how to tell this story and I had Sam Elliott over here and I had Tim McGraw here and Faith Hill and I had not found the bridge between them all. When I met Isabel, the whole story, all 10 episodes, went right through my head. I called Paramount and said, 'I'm going to sit down and start writing...but I need to hire the lead, the female lead, who's a complete unknown, right now, before I start writing. Because it won't work if we don't get her.'"
Luckily, May decided to commit to this unknown series without really knowing who her character was.
"I tested for a role in the Mayor of Kingstown and I was not right for it, and he knew that, and I knew that," May explained.
"Then, he wrote me a lovely little letter and said he would find something for me, and I thought, oh, okay, five years from now. And then, two weeks later, I got a phone call and he said, I haven't written it yet but you're Elsa and I want you to be Elsa, do you want to be Elsa? I said, of course, I want to be Elsa. Then he outlined what it would entail and what story he wanted to tell, and yeah, I just was swept away."