Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, and the 1923 Cast on the Show's High-Stakes Battle for Land and Legacy

The Yellowstone prequel recruits two of drama's finest performers to anchor a new Dutton family story set in the American Mountain West's past.

by | December 16, 2022 | Comments

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Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren pick up the Dutton family mantle in Yellowstone prequel 1923. The duo play husband-and-wife ranchers Jacob and Cara Dutton who, as any fan of the original Paramount Network drama knows, face a world of intense challenges — from nature, from commerce, but mostly from other people.

“The conditions that are agreeable to Jacob is the lack of pressure from humanity,” Ford said during a recent press day for the series, which streams exclusively on Paramount+ starting on Sunday. “The approaching influx of population is a threat to his way of life. He can see it coming, and it’s coming like a train.”

Harrison Ford and Helen MIrren in 1923

(Photo by James Minchin III/Paramount+)

The latest installment in Taylor Sheridan’s quickly expanding universe drops in on the Dutton family as they work to build their livestock empire during a time when their Mountain West home witnesses the economic downfall of the Great Depression, and onslaught of bad weather and distressed crops, pandemics, the end of Prohibition, and the territorial battle for grass.

The series also stars James Badge Dale as John Dutton Sr., Jerome Flynn as Banner Creighton, Timothy Dalton as Donald Whitfield, Robert Patrick as William McDowell, Marley Shelton as Emma Dutton, Brian Geraghty as ranch hand Zane Davis, Brendan Sklenar as Spencer Dutton, Darren Mann as Jack Dutton, Michelle Randolph as his wife-to-be Elizabeth Strafford, and Amina Nieves as Teonna Rainwater.

(Photo by Emerson Miller/Paramount+)

The show draws inspiration from the Sheep Wars, an era in American history where cattlemen and sheepherders went to war over land.

“He’s under enormous pressure,” Ford said. “There’s a drought going on and the competition for the grass between sheepherders and cattlemen has come to produce real conflict. The economic times are making it more difficult for ranchers and farmers to get loans to sustain them through the year, because the yield comes at the end of the year. But the loans have dried up, and modern comforts are arriving which Jacob knows are going to change the way of life and bring more people.”

The preservation of the Dutton family’s business and legacy is a throughline throughout Sheridan’s multi-generational story, and there’s concern that technological advancements and the modernism of the 1920s may infiltrate their lifestyle. But there’s another pressing matter at hand: a pending marriage between young lovers Jack Dutton and Elizabeth Stafford promises a new addition to the Dutton family, and not everyone is excited about it.

(Photo by Emerson Miller/Paramount+)

“As far as my character Emma is concerned, I think she’s almost a bit threatened by Liz,” Shelton told Rotten Tomatoes about her role in the Dutton family. “Because Liz, her future daughter-in-law, went to school in Boston. I think that Emma’s really afraid that preserving the ranch, the Dutton way of life, and its legacy might be at stake with this new couple.”

Liz is definitely reluctant in her induction into farm life, said Randolph (pictured above with Mirren). Becoming a Dutton means putting ranch life first, which may mean putting her big city goals on hold. It’s an accurate story element, Mirren said, noting that she learned first-hand from a 1923 crew member who lives on a farm.

Darren Mann as Jack Dutton in 1923

(Photo by James Minchin III/Paramount+)

“Any person who lives on a farm, whether it’s a cattle farm or an agricultural farmer growing vegetables or fruit, they are the slaves to nature and everything,” she said. “So, this young girl who’s been brought up in the East, she’s rather spoilt, and she’s been educated. But she’s fallen madly in love with a young boy on the ranch, and she wants to marry him, but she has to understand what she’s going to have to give up for that. What the life is going to be, as Cara knows so well, because it has been her life for the past 40 years.”

Four decades is a long time, and it’s clear there is Dutton history on this land — learn all about it with a Paramount+ binge of the first Certified Fresh prequel 1883, starring Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Isabel May, Sam Elliott, and LaMonica Garrett. The legacy of the land has invaded their DNA.

What do you do when that lifeblood is threatened? The Duttons — of every generation seen so far — fight back to protect what’s theirs. It helps that Jacob holds a seat on the Montana Livestock Association, a leadership position that is handed down to future generations, as shown in Yellowstone.

“This is actually the beginning of the Montana Livestock Association,” Dale, who plays John Dutton Sr., said. “If I’m not mistaken, I think they still are the most powerful livestock law enforcement entity in Montana.”

(Photo by Emerson Miller/Paramount+)

“We’re battling over land, and it’s this idea of Who owns this land?” he said. “Everyone is using this land to live, to keep their animals alive, and to keep their livelihood going. This tension over this grass is an incredibly selfish thing.”

The series’ trailers show Cara as a matriarch on the defensive and out for blood, but the character isn’t prone to threats of violence, Mirren said.

“It’s a very extreme and violent experience that she’s been through that has driven her to that point,” the Oscar-winner continued. “I would say that’s not her normal behavior, so to speak. The Cara that we see in the subsequent episodes is a well- balanced, sensible, forceful, intelligent, practical human being.”

When backed into a corner, with their home and livelihood being threatened by the country’s financial ruin, the harsh drought climate, and neighboring threats seeking to take property that isn’t theirs, the Duttons take matters into their own hands.

(Photo by Emerson Miller/Paramount+)

“As we’ve seen from Yellowstone, the Duttons have a way of handling things,” Geraghty explained. “Sometimes, they’re kind of practical and straight down the line, and other times, they do things a bit outside the box.”

Or, as Mann put it: “We’re gonna go show them what’s up. We’re gonna lay into these these fellas because we need to preserve our way of life.”

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