Even as Texas cities continue to grow, most urban-dwellers aren’t more than a short drive from large, open spaces. And in those vast expanses it’s easy to imagine what Texas may have been like in the state’s Wild West days.
The series “1883,” now streaming on Paramount Plus, takes place in Reconstruction-era Texas that was still, in many ways, wild, and a vast, rural landscape takes center stage. “1883” is a prequel to the popular TV series “Yellowstone,” and follows the ancestors of “Yellowstone”‘s Dutton family as they make the dangerous journey westward.
Eric Nelsen plays “Ennis,” a cowboy with a lighthearted, romantic side. Nelsen spoke with Texas Standard about filming on location in Texas and what it was like working with co-stars Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Sam Elliot.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Could just give us a few words about what the show is and what we should expect from it?
Eric Nelsen: “1883″ is, as you said, the origin story to the Yellowstone family, and it follows their journey across the country, really. And Taylor Sheridan, our showrunner and director, does a very, very intense job of depicting exactly what life was like on the wild frontier. You know, he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He really shows the raw, gripping, real story. Each and every episode there’s a lot of stuff that might be hard to watch. Some stuff might be just unimaginable, but it’s what these people went through. And it’s being told in such a real way that audiences have been going nuts for it. So it’s just been incredible to see.
What’s it like to put yourself in those boots of someone who went through this?
It gives me a whole newfound appreciation for what we have today. I can tell you that the courage that these people had and the constant uncertainty of the times back then just lend itself to unbelievable circumstances. For me to be able to ride on my horse and then when I’m done, hop in my nice car and go to my nice house and kind of rest on my bed, having filmed this show and really being through and through involved with what life was like back then just gives me an incredible, overall newfound appreciation for everything we’ve got going on today.
You mentioned showrunner and Texas native, Taylor Sheridan. I understand he had you guys go through a thing called “cowboy camp” at the beginning where it really dumped you into all of these experiences. What was that like?
Honestly, it was the greatest gift he could have given us actors because before we showed up on set, he put us through a couple of weeks of intense, intense cowboy camp training where we basically rode horses all day long, every day. We learned how to cut cattle. We were learning how to rope cattle, learning how to shoot guns of the period. So by the time we did get the set and the cameras were rolling, the last thing on our mind was, Am I riding this horse, right? Am I holding this gun right? We could really, really focus on just being in the moment with our partners and fully immersing ourselves in the scenes. Honestly, it was the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life, too.
You’re a Florida native, but you married a Texan. Had you been on a horse before this or was this all new stuff? I can’t imagine that you’d had a chance to herd cattle before cowboy camp.
I had not had a chance to herd cattle, but I did grow up, both my parents owned horses, and my dad actually was a thoroughbred polo-horse trainer most of his life, and my mom showed, and so I was in the world. I was comfortable on the animals. But it’s funny because I think since both my parents were so into horses when I was growing up, I kind of went a different direction. And then I got to cowboy camp and, I, of course, booked the show, and about two days into it, I called them and I was like, “I’m so sorry, I should have been into horses sooner. This is amazing. I’m loving every second of this!“
How would you describe your character, Ennis?
First of all, he’s a cowboy through and through. You know, this is his world, and he’s very comfortable in it. But we see pretty early on that – and it’s also, you know, he’s a light-hearted character in this dark story. And so he kind of punches through with some humor and some lightness. And he’s also got a little flirty, romantic side to him.
I think all the months and years spent just herding cattle and looking at horses the whole time and then this is really pretty girl comes along and kind of rocks his world, so to speak, he wants to explore that, and he’s got no shame in that. He’s trying his best to woo her and win or over, but it’s a slow start, and then we kind of see that it picks up pretty quickly. Ennis is pretty happy to have the Duttons on the journey, to say the least, specifically, Elsa.
I want to talk a little bit about the rest of the cast because you’re working alongside Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, husband and wife and music superstars doing some serious acting here. What’s it been like working alongside them?
It’s been incredible because before the show, I was just, you know, mega-fans of their music, so I already had this fanboy thing going on for him. Then we got to set and started working together, and I quickly realized, wow, they’re just as gifted at acting as they are in music. And you know, the fact that Taylor cast them as husband and wife I think is so incredible because they’re not faking the chemistry. They’re not having to fake the romance and the love that they have for each other. And it’s just beautiful, and it comes across on screen. I’m so, so happy that they are the ones playing these roles because I don’t think anybody could have done it like they’re doing it.
We don’t have time to mention everybody, but Sam Elliott, who plays “Shea Brennan” – kind of a legend, right?
Oh, Sam Elliott is is beyond legendary in my book, and the world’s too. I mean, every day I come to set and I look at my cast chair, Eric Nelsen, and it’s sitting right next to Sam Elliott’s. And I’m like, when is this dream going to end and when am I going to wake up? And it’s been five, six months now and I’m still, every day I get to set the hair stands up on my arms.
You watch them on TV and in movies your whole life and you you’ve got this idea in your head of maybe what they’re going to be like and you hope that they live up to it when you meet them and work with them, and you just want them to be good people. And I can say without a second hesitation they’re better than you could ever imagine them to be. They’re sweeter and kinder. And you know, Sam is such a giving giving human, naturally, and his support to all of us was immense from day one. And, you know, he’s family at this point. And so it was just unbelievable. And I’ll never take a second of this for granted, that’s for sure.
What’s it been like filming in Texas?
First of all, I love Texas. So the fact that we got to do this here, I was already so happy just off the start from that. But yeah, I mean, we were doing cowboy camp in the middle of summer and it was a really, really hot summer. And we’re out there, you know, with the chaps and the boots and everything we’ve got to wear. Yeah, I’m pretty sure we all shed about 15 pounds by the time cowboy camp was over, just in water weight alone.
But the fact that our show takes place in the cities and towns that we’re filming in is so special because nine times out of 10, when you’re working on a movie or a show, you’re in the back of some studio lot, you know, maybe on Warner Brothers’ lot in L.A., and you’re pretending you’re somewhere else. But in Taylor’s shows, he likes authenticity to the max, so it’s just bringing the whole immersive world together for us before we even step foot on set. And that’s, I think, the magic of what he does.