Harrison Ford says yes to working with Helen Mirren in 1923 and busting cowboy myths

Prequel to hit show Yellowstone focuses on the patriarch and matriarch of the Dutton family

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Drama series Yellowstone’s growth into a fully-fledged television universe has been truly remarkable to behold.

When it made its debut back in June 2018, the modern Western introduced audiences to John Dutton III (Kevin Costner) and his attempts to run Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, all while battling family drama, as well the intervention of the national park services, developers and the Broken Rock Indian Reservation.

Created, directed, and written by Oscar nominee Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water), Yellowstone quickly struck a chord with audiences. They were enamoured with the family-squabbling and hyper-dramatic plots, as well as the show’s beautiful cinematography, which showed its characters at one with nature as they ran the ranch, all against stunning shots of mountains and scenery.

The show continues to be hugely popular with audiences, so much so that it recently started its fifth season. More than that, the prequel series 1883, set more than 130 years before Yellowstone, showed how the Duttons came to originally own the land.

Sheridan is far from done, too. His latest addition to the Yellowstone television universe is 1923, the follow-up series to 1883. It stars screen legends Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren as Jacob and Cara Dutton, the patriarch and matriarch of the Dutton family and ranch, who have to try and endure and overcome a number of setbacks throughout the 1920s, including a drought, competition from other ranchers, the Prohibition era and the Great Depression.

“One of the real draws for me was the opportunity to work with Helen again,” Ford recently told a round-table of reporters over Zoom at the press day for 1923. “She was the first one on board [for the show].”

Harrison Ford says he relished the chance to be out in nature rather than in a studio, while filming 1923. Photo: Paramount+

Ford and Mirren had previously played a married couple in the 1986 film The Mosquito Coast.

Unsurprisingly, Ford was also attracted to the opportunity to work with Sheridan. When he first read the scripts for 1923, the actor was hugely impressed by the way that Sheridan had articulated his initial, verbal ambition for the show on the page.

“He puts the mythology of the cowboy and American history under the tension of truth, “ explains Ford. “There's a [big] degree of distance between what America represents itself as and how it behaves.”

More than that, though, Ford was attracted to the character of Jacob, describing him as a “dense and complicated” individual, who was actually a bit of a “challenge” to portray.

“He has hard choices to make. He makes those hard choices like an animal with his back against the wall. It's very interesting to me,” says Ford. “Cowboys are resolute. They’re stern. They're tough," he later said. "We know that about cowboys. But Taylor has given me the opportunity to express that in contexts that we don't see very often.”

Rather than focusing his research on Yellowstone, Ford instead made sure to watch every episode of 1883, as it preceded the actions of his character.

“I love the work that Kevin [Costner’s] doing. I love the show. But 1883 was more important for me to concentrate on,” continues Ford. “It was very useful in helping me understand the way of this storytelling.”

Helen Mirren, Taylor Sheridan and Harrison Ford at the premiere of 1923 in Las Vegas on December 3. Getty Images

Another key part of Ford’s process of playing Jacob was finding the exact right costume. Ford insists that once he finds the perfect outfit for his characters, “he’s part of the way to finding the man.”

Of course, having played Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise, as well as Indiana Jones, Ford’s mere presence on screen is enough to entice and excite viewers. Always humble, the star attributes his huge success over the last 50 years to the talented people behind the camera.

“I mean, the range of directors I've had the opportunity to work with certainly has been extraordinary. I've been very, very lucky. I also came up at a time when the movie business was so closely connected to culture. We had such an influence on culture. It was really [a] very good time for the movie business.”

At this point, Ford doesn’t actually see any difference between shooting a show such as 1923 for television, and a blockbuster feature film such as Indiana Jones and The Dial Of Destiny, which will be released next summer.

“We used to think of television as having less ambition for actors than feature films. It's no longer the case at all. 1923 is one of the most ambitious undertakings I've ever taken on. I'm so pleased with what I've seen so far. I’ve been enjoying working with very high-quality actors and actresses. We have the [same] technical capacity or ambition to shoot this as a feature film. I'm thrilled with the whole project.”

There is one major bonus for Ford when it comes to shooting 1923 over Star Wars and Indiana Jones, though.

“We’re spending a lot more time outdoors in real places rather than on sets that have to be manufactured to create a reality. The minute you walk out into that cold, and you're in your 1923 costume, you begin to understand what the real life of a cowboy is like.”

1923 is out now on Paramount+

Updated: December 26, 2022, 5:06 AM