1883 Star Tim McGraw Explains How He Joined Yellowstone Universe For Flashbacks And Prequel

James Dutton walking through tall grass on 1883
(Image credit: Paramount+)

When Yellowstone's fourth season was still in production, I can't imagine that the fandom readily expected to one day see a full-blown prequel spinoff, nor that it would be fronted by a real-world superstar couple, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Yet here we are, celebrating the arrival of 1883 on Paramount+, and I can speak to the excellence of their work as the new series explores the origin story of the Dutton family's ranch. McGraw hasn't spoken much about joining the world of Yellowstone outside of social media posts, he opened up to about how it all came about.

While promoting the December 19 series premiere of 1883, Tim McGraw spoke with CinemaBlend and other press about many different elements of bringing the historical western to life. When I asked about how it all came about, from the Yellowstone Season 4 premiere's 1893 flashback to the longform spinoff drama, here's what the Grammy winner said:

It was, I guess, a year ago. It was probably longer, because during the last two or three years, I think time's gotten so skewed. But I think about a year ago, Taylor called and asked if I liked Yellowstone. I'd never met Taylor before. And I said, 'We loved Yellowstone from the very first day.' And then he said, 'Well, I'd like you to be on the show,' and then I said I'd like to be on the show, but I want to come up with something really different and cool. I don't want to be just some singer that comes to the bunkhouse and gets taken to the train station. Then he said he had an idea, and he called me a week later and told me about this flashback part being in the 1880s and being the original Dutton that founded Yellowstone ranch. That intrigued me right off the bat. So I said, 'Yes, I'm in for that.'

Power to Tim McGraw for calling what shots he could in setting himself up for a huge role within Yellowstone's mythos. I imagine it would be extremely easy for Taylor Sheridan to bring famed country music stars into the fold as temporary bunkhouse tenants, even though Ryan Bingham's Walker might have an issue with someone else trying to be the resident troubadour. In any case, McGraw thankfully had the instinct to hold out for a meatier role, which came in the form of John Dutton's great-grandfather.

To the surprise of no one at this point, the big bosses at Paramount were clearly impressed with what Yellowstone co-creator Taylor Sheridan crafted with the flashback sequence. Below, Tim McGraw explained that next step in the process of turning 1883 into an epic standalone project.

We shot the flashback stuff, and a couple of months later, a month and a half or so later, he called me and said he was about to go into a meeting. He thinks the network wants to make a prequel based on these flashbacks. You go through all the business discussions about getting the deal right and all these kinds of things. But I said, 'If we can get everything right, then we're in.' And then he started sending scripts, and when we got the first couple of scripts, it was magic, just beautiful stuff. He's such a talented writer. When you get something like that...it's the best thing I've ever read. All the scripts I've read, including books that I've read and everything, this is one of the best things I've ever read.

Having starred in such films as Friday Night Lights, Country Strong, The Blind Side and more, Tim McGraw doesn't necessarily have the lengthiest filmography, but that obviously isn't a true indication of how many scripts have come his way over the past  15+ years. Regardless, it's still a huge compliment for Sheridan's screenwriting skills, and that opinion was the same across the board with 1883's cast. (Not to mention others that have worked with actor-turned-filmmaker across his various films and TV shows.) Who else would appear on his own show referencing Sam Elliott's work on Road House weeks ahead of debuting a spinoff that actually stars Sam Elliott? 

Had the good news ended there, Tim McGraw would have still been happy to sign on, but once a legend like Sam Elliott gets thrown into the mix, it's a no-brainer on the highest level. He expressed that idea in closing out his explanation, saying:

When we got that stuff, and we started reading the scripts - Faith and I together - we knew that we wanted to be a part of it. We just knew we had to be a part of it. And then when Sam Elliott came on board... We got Taylor, a great script, I get to work with my wife, I get to ride horses all day, and then Sam Elliot's on board? That's sort of a box that it's hard to get out of.

It's hard to tell at this point exactly how long 1883 will last, and whether or not the show will stretch into the future that was shown during the Season 4 premiere, but we can only hope. (I mean, if Tom Hanks even found a reason to get involved, anything can happen.)

Be sure to tune into 1883 when its first two episodes debut on Paramount+ (opens in new tab) on Sunday, December 19. Those who aren't yet subscribers will be able to watch the series premiere that same evening on Paramount Network at 9:00 p.m. ET, following a new episode of the mothership series. 

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.