Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren on Why ‘1923’ Was “a Step Into the Unknown” – Hollywood Reporter

Subscribe for full access to The Hollywood Reporter
Subscribe for full access to The Hollywood Reporter
The iconic pair enter Taylor Sheridan’s ‘Yellowstone’ universe as Jacob and Cara Dutton, making their mark on the expanding family tree.
By Jackie Strause
Managing Editor, East Coast
Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren each took a leap of faith when signing on for 1923.
“We didn’t read scripts before we signed up. Neither Harrison nor I,” Mirren told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the Paramount Network series’ Dec. 18 premiere. “If Harrison was involved, I knew it would have a certain quality.”
Mirren and Ford each spoke separately to THR, but when asked what drew them to Taylor Sheridan’s latest series in Yellowstone‘s Dutton family saga, their answers were the same: each other.

Related Stories

“He says, me. And I say exactly the same: Harrison,” said Mirren when asked about reuniting with her Mosquito Coast co-star more than 30 years later, this time for the little screen. “I think we’re both a bit more achey,” she says with a laugh about what’s changed for the pair of iconic actors. “We loved working together then, but we were very different. He was a huge movie star and I was sort of comparatively unknown. There was a big difference in our status.” She adds, “I’ve caught up a little bit, luckily.”

Mirren and Ford are the starring attraction in 1923, which is a prequel to Sheridan’s megahit drama Yellowstone and the next chapter in the creator’s expanding TV universe following spinoff 1883. They play Jacob and Cara Dutton, respectively, with Jacob being the patriarch of the Yellowstone Ranch and brother to James Dutton (Tim McGraw’s character in 1883), and Cara being the matriarch.
But aside from putting faces to the names on the ever-expanding Dutton family tree, both Mirren and Ford say the sheer scope of the Sheridan’s next Western is what motivated them to make the TV commitment.
“One of the hooks was Helen; she’s been attached to the project before I was aboard. And I was attracted to the ambition of the piece,” says Ford, reiterating that he didn’t have a script when he signed on. “I had met with Taylor, who gave me a very brief outline of what he had in mind, and I went on faith and my experience with Yellowstone, 1883. He’s produced a work of incredible ambition, scale, scope [and] cinematic ambition. Taylor thinks of each of these episodes as a one-hour movie. And that’s the product that we’re getting.”
Mirren says she also trusted the quality of Sheridan’s body of work when it came to the role, given how little she knew about the storyline at the onset. “It was a step into the unknown — off a diving board, into the water, without knowing what you’re going to hit on the way down,” she recalls. “And then the scripts arrived and we went, ‘Oh, wow. Great start.’ I was thrilled with the start of the whole thing.”

Indeed, the first viewers see in the Dutton origin story is a flash-forward of Cara (Mirren) chasing down a man and killing him with a shotgun before he can kill her. “Violence has always haunted this family,” warns a returning Dutton from 1883 in voiceover, the deceased Elsa (Isabel May). She connects the dots between the first chapter and 1923 when she informs viewers that her parents, James and Margaret Dutton (McGraw and Faith Hill), died in 1893, making orphans of John and Spencer Dutton (James Badge Dale and Brandon Sklenar). She also warns that another Dutton death is on the horizon.
With 1923 set to introduce this new generation, 1883 viewers will get their next chapter. But for the uninitiated viewer, the series also explores the early 20th century, when pandemics, historic drought, the end of Prohibition and the Great Depression all plague the Mountain West, which the Duttons call home. And it’s that arc of American history that excited Mirren.
“The Japanese are very good at remembering their ancestors and giving their ancestors credit. We tend to forget. Of course, we remember our grandparents, but that’s about as far as it goes. When actually, we are all here because of a line of people who procreated and led us to this point. And when you think of the change between 1900 to 2000, it’s so enormous. I think it’s so great to investigate history through the eyes of a family,” she explained.

After they began filming, in August, she said it was time for another leap of faith. “I think we shot three scripts and then we didn’t know what was going to happen after that,” she recalled. “So it’s a voyage of discovery and adventure. I love it, it’s like real life.”
Ford also hedges his expectations, telling THR the “pleasure is the work itself.” But given the baked-in audience and popularity of TV’s hit series Yellowstone, 1923 — which premiered to a sizable audience following an episode of the Kevin Costner-starring drama — seems poised to stick around. The eight-episode season, unlike Yellowstone, which only airs on Paramount Network, will stream on Paramount+.
The Indiana Jones star, who is also set to take on his first streaming series with the forthcoming Apple series Shrinking, says he didn’t have time to reach out to onscreen family members Costner or McGraw. “I admire what Kevin and Yellowstone group are doing. I admire what I saw of 1883. I didn’t want to have other peoples’ information. I wanted to have my own experience with Taylor,” he says of his process with Sheridan. “Taylor Sheridan is an extraordinary writer and has an extraordinary imagination. A wealth of information to ground this in reality. The way he explores characters is very intriguing and interesting to me, so I really wanted to work with him.”
He also didn’t need to take advantage of the cowboy camp that Sheridan offers all of his actors to prepare for ranch life. (He was also shooting Shrinking at the time.) “I’ve owned horses for 40 years. I lived in Wyoming for 40 years. I’m still living there part-time. It’s just getting back in contact with horses, really,” he says.

Viewers only get a brief introduction to Jacob in the premiere, and Ford says he doesn’t want to say much more. “I hate describing a character for an audience before they see it,” he says. “My ambition for an audience is to have an experiential moment with the film. I want them to go in without anticipation and to be able to just enjoy what they’re seeing, rather than be told what they’re going to see.”
But he does set the stage about where Jacob fits in the world of 1923: “He’s 77 years of age. He is a rancher in a very complex time and place. Butte, Montana, which is where the bulk of the story takes place, in 1923 was the second-biggest city in America west of the Mississippi. There was a lot of change going on. It’s just prior to Prohibition, just prior to the Depression. The competition for the grass between sheep and cattlemen is reaching conflict stage. There’s a drought. The market for beef has kind of dissipated and railroads are very important, they haven’t quite reached the Duttons’ ranch; they’re still driving cattle. And all of those produce economic decisions which make the viability of holding that land in the Dutton family under tension.”
One element that is already clear from the premiere is that the marriage is strong between Jacob and Cara, which isn’t surprising given the chemistry and respect of the actors behind the union.
“Both of us since [Mosquito Coast] have worked constantly; we’re both workers. I think now the body of that experience plus our age and everything we’ve been through — I’ve had my relationship with my husband, he’s had his relationship with Calista [Flockhart], his wife — and that’s made us into the adults we are now. I would say we are, at last, sort of adults. (Laughs.) It takes a long time to get to adulthood.”

And Ford echoes that sentiment, while looking forward to the exploration ahead, as 1923 has a two-season order.
“I have been very satisfied and encouraged and challenged by the work at hand,” he says. “We have another season, I hope, to get to know this character and see him in different circumstances. But I’m having a great time. I’m really enjoying it.”
1923 also stars Darren Mann, Michelle Randolph, Dale, Marley Shelton, Brian Geraghty, Aminah Nieves, Jennifer Ehle and Jerome Flynn. The series is produced by MTV Entertainment Studios, 101 Studios and Bosque Ranch Productions. New episodes release on Sundays.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
Inside the business of TV with breaking news, expert analysis and showrunner interviews
Subscribe for full access to The Hollywood Reporter
Send us a tip using our anonymous form.


Leave a Comment