Why Helen Mirren Joined Cast Without a Script

When Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan wined and dined Harrison Ford on his Texas ranch last year, he got the Indiana Jones actor to agree to star in his new spinoff series, 1923, without a script. The pitch—to be a member of the Dutton family—couldn’t have been too hard of a sell. Yellowstone has been the most-watched series on cable television for consecutive years on the Paramount Network, even as it heads into hiatus before the end of its fifth season. At the show’s center is the Dutton family, and to play one of its members is like landing a prominent Marvel role.

But Harrison Ford wasn’t the only new Dutton family member cast in 1923. Alongside heartthrobs like Brandon Sklenar‘s adventurous Spencer Dutton, a new matriarch played by Helen Mirren also joined the cast. According to the actress, she was sold on the show without reading a single word from a script. “For the first time in my life, I wasn’t given a script,” she told a panel hosted by Deadline and the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles. “I had no idea what it was going to be, and likewise for Harrison [Ford]. We were asked to participate, and you do what you do as an actor and say, ‘Lovely, sounds really interesting. I’d love to read the script?’ But there is no script. Taylor likes to write for the people that he knows are going to play the role. That was a combination of flattering and at the same time sort of rather nerve-wracking because I’d actually never met Taylor Sheridan and maybe when he meets me, he won’t want to write for me.” Imagine not wanting to write for Helen Mirren!

In 1923, Mirren’s character takes on a much larger role than what was originally teased in the previews. After a surprising shootout in Episode Three that takes Ford out of commission for some time—and even ends the lives of other Duttons in the cast—Mirren follows a man into the woods and blows him away with a shotgun. She’s then forced to take care of the family ranch, help heal the wounded, and deal with the townspeople’s perception of the attack all on her own.

The actress also revealed during the panel that she added “The Irish thing” about her character, after doing a bit of research into the specific period of American history. “I thought about how when you see Westerns, you don’t see enough people with accents even though they were all recent immigrants,” Mirren explained. “Apart from that, honestly, it’s amazing writing, and what’s on the page, it arrives and it’s kind of perfect. It’s extraordinary.” Mirren and Ford will both return for Season Two of 1923, as the battle to protect their ranch is only just beginning.

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Assistant Editor

Josh Rosenberg is an Assistant Editor at Esquire, keeping a steady diet of one movie a day. His past work can be found at Spin, CBR, and on his personal blog at Roseandblog.com.

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