1883's Isabel May Talks Bonding With Tim McGraw And Bringing Optimism To The Dutton Family

James and Elsa Dutton in 1883
(Image credit: Paramount+)

Just because Yellowstone Season 4 already reached its deadly conclusion doesn’t mean fans have to say goodbye to the Dutton family just yet. 1883 is moving along strongly and swiftly on Paramount+, with Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Isabel May leading the ancestral charge. (As well as li’l Audie Rick’s John Sr.) So far, fans have witnessed one of TV’s darkest and most fatality-filled journeys, with Sam Elliott’s Shea Brennan leading the Duttons and a plethora of others across the still-developing United States. Despite all the hardships and setbacks, though, May’s Elsa Dutton has stood out as a spark of optimistic light in a family that often oozes cynicism. 

Tim McGraw’s James Dutton is certainly guilty of such oozing, but it sounds like he doesn’t share that attitude when the cameras aren’t rolling. When Isabel May spoke with CinemaBlend about all things Season 1 — all non-spoilery things, anyway — I asked her about building the daddy-daughter bond with the country music icon, and she had nothing but kind words for him and his craft, saying:

Yeah, Tim takes this very seriously. He takes his character very seriously. He cares deeply about the story. I don't know, I think there's just a connection that we had right off the bat. It took very little to care deeply about him, and to feel this paternal kind of warmth emanating from him. He has three daughters, so he understands what it is like to have a child, especially a young woman as a kid. Yeah, it hasn't taken much to fall in love with everyone in this cast. But Tim's a pretty remarkable man, and I feel very lucky to be performing alongside him. He's very special.

Raising three daughters, on top of being married to co-star Faith Hill, certainly does give Tim McGraw an advantage when it comes to portraying a loving and doting father in 1883, even if many of the lifestyle specifics couldn’t be more different. And it has to help that Isabel May seems filled to the brim with positivity, and harbors such love and appreciation for the superstar playing her fictional father. And while the look on James Dutton’s face is usually in the realm of “sneering and/or looking fed up with nonsense,” that’s not so much the case when Elsa is around. (Although it cycles back and forth whenever Ellis is also around Elsa, such is the life of a protective father.)

Which isn’t to say that Isabel May and Faith Hill aren’t just as close or anything, since the two actresses came across during another press interview as if they were actually mother and daughter. It’s a shame that the standalone world of 1883 isn’t one where unstoppable giggling is the norm, because May and Hill could likely fill a time slot with their mirth-filled kinship alone. 

Elsa Dutton in blue dress on 1883

(Image credit: Paramount+)

Speaking of mirth and similarly sanguine vibes, Elsa Dutton may very well be the most positive-minded character in the Yellowstone universe thus far, approaching the treacherous trek with her head held high. (Tate Dutton would almost count, but he’s faced multiple traumas already in his young life, so I doubt his optimism keeps hold for another decade.) Those feelings will no doubt become partially tainted by some of the events that play out in 1883, but it’s all about living in the moment. And that plays into how Isabel May portrays Elsa, whose bright smiles run counter to the darkness surrounding her. When I asked her about bringing such hopeful energy to the Dutton family, here’s what she told me: 

Yeah, I think it's what makes the show special. You're hearing her thoughts in the narration and the voiceovers, and it's the backdrop to this really, really tragic, incredibly difficult life-altering journey that they've decided to go on. You know, we've been shooting in the actual locations and experiencing the train to the fullest extent. So she romanticizes everything, and I can understand why. It's so almost tragically beautiful. We're always looking at our phones; we're looking down, not up. Seeing these incredible sunsets in Texas and these beautiful mountain peaks in Montana has been a really incredible experience. So having that incorporated into the story, I think, is a nice contrast to the terrible depictions of the realities of that experience.

Despite all the potentially nightmarish situations that the Duttons and the rest of the wagon train have experienced in 1883 so far, as well as all the hard-knocks drama to come, Elsa serves as the beacon of aspiration helping to keep the American Dream alive. And it’s fueled by, logically enough, the gorgeousness of an unexploited America. Which is exactly what John Dutton has attempted to maintain control of throughout Yellowstone’s four seasons thus far. Like grandmother, like grandson. 

Fans can tap into Elsa Dutton’s positivity every Sunday when new episodes of 1883 debut on Paramount+ streaming, and stay tuned to see how Rita Wilson’s upcoming appearance will compare to hubby Tom Hanks’ surprising cameo. And be sure to check out our 2022 TV premiere schedule to see all the new and returning shows popping up in the coming months.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.