Why Sam Elliott Doesn't Really Want People To Think Of 1883 As A Yellowstone Spinoff

Shea Brennan sitting outside in 1883
(Image credit: Paramount+)

Few TV casting decisions will ever make as much sense as Sam Elliott being added into the Yellowstone universe for Paramount+’s prequel drama 1883, with real-life couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill portraying the ranch-founding generation of the Dutton family. The show, which takes place in and around the titular year, is a hard-nosed look at how one person’s idea of the American Dream can be a total nightmare for everyone in his or her path. And while the streaming spinoff wouldn’t exist without Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone as a flashback-introducing foundation, Sam Elliott doesn’t think 1883 necessarily needs that recognition to stand on its own two successful feet. With boots on those feet, a’course.

Ahead of 1883’s big debut spread across both Paramount+ and Paramount Network, Sam Elliott spoke with CinemaBlend and other press about bringing his character Shea Brennan into existence, and what fans can expect to see from the massive cross-country journey he’s leading. When I asked him about being part of a dream team working with Taylor Sheridan, and how the experience has been for the legendary actor, Elliott said:

I've never worked with anyone like Taylor before. I mean, I've certainly I've worked with some good directors, I don't mean that. But Taylor is so talented and so complex on so many levels that I would say that I've never worked with anyone like him. That said, I think we share a lot of common bones. You know, he has this love and understanding of the West, and the history of the West — the history of this country — that makes him the right guy to make a project like this and tell a tale on the Oregon Trail. I don't know a lot of other people around that could pull that off. It's been a joy working with him, I think for everybody. I think I can speak for the entire cast. Yellowstone is all over this. We're tainted by Yellowstone, which on some level, I can't stand. Because I think 1883 stands alone, and will, once it comes out. People are gonna say, 'Oh yeah, well, the only connection there is that it got John Dutton to Montana.'

Sam Elliott definitely wasn’t dropping any disparaging comments about Yellowstone in and of itself, to be sure. Rather, the mustachioed actor was merely speaking to the idea that 1883 can be fully enjoyed as its own thing, completely independent of the mothership series, and that the connective narrative tissue isn’t necessary for this harrowing tale to be effective for audiences. The new series features a gripping story, attention-grabbing characters, gorgeous locations, and wild-west action. It’s essentially all the things people like about Yellowstone, but change a few names and might as well be a completely different franchise.

Of course, that would require someone else being responsible for 1883’s creation beyond Taylor Sheridan, and that just doesn’t seem possible. (Not only because Elliott has that opinion, but it certainly adds credence to the idea.) After all, who else but Sheridan would appear on Yellowstone referencing Sam Elliott’s Road House work in the same year when the latter actor would play a character partially responsible for the Yellowstone ranch being founded in Montana? Who else will have a TV show that features a scene with Tim McGraw and Tom Hanks? Nobody, probably.
Even beyond all of his compliments about Sheridan’s creativity and impact as the spearheader of 1883, Sam Elliott had more kind things to say about the showrunner, even about his work off the set. In his words:

But Taylor is all over everything in this thing. He's like Yellowstone; I mean, he's everywhere. So it's a joy to work with him. He's all-powerful and all that, but he's a nice man on top of it. He's a brilliant horseman. He's done more for the horse industry than anybody that I know of in my lifetime. I mean, it's a joy to work with him. He's a taskmaster. He told me in the beginning, when we first started this thing, and he was trying to convince me to do it — or maybe about the time that I'd said I was gonna do it — he says, 'You're gonna hate me at the end of this fucking thing.' So, you know, we're approaching the end, and I have yet to hate him, so we'll see what happens.

After watching a few episodes of 1883, one can understand what Taylor Sheridan meant, as Elliott’s character Brennan is haunted by family tragedies and is subject to fits of rage regarding frontier justice. Beyond the emotional turmoil, the role is also quite physically demanding for the 77-year-old actor, who still looks more fit, skilled, and comfortable riding horses than I ever would. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if there’s a third brutal element coming for Sam Elliott, like his character has a flashback where he has to pour a bunch of ants into his eyeballs or something. Would that be enough to make someone hate Sheridan?

1883 streams new episodes on Paramount+ every Sunday, with Episode 2 set to air on linear TV on December 26, following a new episode of Yellowstone, but maybe just pretend that connection doesn’t even exist while watching. 

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.