The Yellowstone Prequel 1883 Called For Rigorous Training At Cowboy Camp

"Yellowstone" fans are die-hard, and they're eagerly awaiting the prequel series, "1883." The show premieres on Paramount+ on December 19, 2021. I got a chance to chat with some of the stars, including Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Sam Elliott, Isabel May, LaMonica Garrett, Eric Nelsen, Gratiela Brancusi, and guest star Billy Bob Thornton during a press event and premiere at the Wynn Las Vegas. May I just say that Sam Elliott's mustache is even more magical in person? 

The cast had to attend "Cowboy Camp," which lasted for about three weeks. Some of them spoke to /Film about their experiences, from learning to ride (if they hadn't before) to shooting guns, dealing with weather, and more. 

Here is the info on the show for you:

"1883" follows the Dutton family as they embark on a journey west through the Great Plains toward the last bastion of untamed America. It is a stark retelling of Western expansion, and an intense study of one family fleeing poverty to seek a better future in America's promised land — Montana.

'It Was a Little Intimidating at First'

Some of the cast, like Elliott, are not going to need cowboy camp, of course, but there are a lot of things that go along with a journey from Texas to Montana. You're fighting bandits, Indigenous tribes who already live on the land you're passing through and/or trying to claim, dealing with insane weather, and so much more. In fact, the cast told me that there was a windstorm the day before they left for the premiere with 60 mile-per-hour winds and dust that shut production down for the day. This shoot was no walk in the park. Add layers of woolen clothing and work with horses, and you need cowboy camp. 

Faith Hill who plays Margaret Dutton and Isabel May who plays her daughter, Elsa Dutton, joked about the camp. May said:

"I was there relatively early on, so it was about a three week process for myself. It was really fun. You just ride horses all day and herd cattle. And it was a little intimidating at first because the people that work there, they're remarkable ... And then, the pain in your butt, after the first five days, is something else. But anyway, it was so fun."

Riding, Roping, and Shooting

Faith Hill was there as well, calling the staff "legit." "Yeah, it was. It was fun," she said. "I learned, after the first day, that I would be wearing gloves for the remainder of the time for cowboy camp ... [we learned] how to drive a wagon. And then, remember the last week? They moved us into the period saddles?"

"Oh, trust me, I remember that very, very well," May answered. Hill said they started with the Western saddle and then moved to period-accurate saddles from 1883, which, according to Isabel May, was "like sitting on cement." 

LaMonica Garrett plays Thomas, a former Buffalo Soldier in the Civil War who is on the wagon train to protect the people heading West. "Three weeks," he said of cowboy camp. "Learn how to ride, learn how to rope, learn how to shoot, learn how to ride a wagon. Like yeah, everything cowboy. We did it."

It's a good thing he did, because, according to Garrett, show creator, writer, and director Taylor Sheridan won't ask his actors to do anything he can't do — but he can do it all. "Taylor's amazing," Garrett said. 

"Like he doesn't ask you to do anything that he wouldn't do. Like one part we were, we're shooting a scene with gunfire, one of the horses like just took off. He spooked out, ran off, and we have wranglers. We have like 20 wranglers on set that can go and get that horse. And he's directing this episode. When he yelled 'Cut,' he jumped on his horse and went and got that like clear across the ranch. He's a cowboy first. And you could tell, he's not going to ask you to do anything that he won't do himself."

That's not all. He continued, telling me: 

"There was another time where he wanted me to sprint on the horse like just 200 yards, my horse wasn't doing it, I was like, 'I don't think my horse does that.' This is early off in filming. He said, 'Get off.' He jumped on, had my horse doing back flips and you know, flash dancing, doing all ... maybe it's me, all right, let me give it another shot. Like he ... I'll figure it out."

Everything You Need to Bring an Authentic Cowboy to the Screen

Eric Nelsen plays Ennis. He's a cowboy, through and through. To do that convincingly on screen, you have to know what you're doing. On the carpet, he told me that "Cowboy Camp was a few weeks of long, long days, riding horses, roping, shooting guns, everything you needed to learn to bring an authentic cowboy to the screen. And having had that opportunity, I was very grateful, so I didn't look like a complete fool when I had to do it on screen."

Having seen him on screen, I can assure you, he looks completely legit. 

We don't meet Gratiela Brancusi's character, Noemi, until episode 3, but even she, playing a woman of Roma background, had to go through it all. When I asked if she did cowboy camp, she said "Yes, ma'am! It was not the best part, but [...] I just loved it. I just love being on a horse and learning how to ride, wagon, and roping, and yeah, I love it."

Let's just say, they really did have to be prepared. Remember that wind storm I mentioned? Garrett gave us a little taste of what cowboy camp prepared the actors for:

"Being in Montana. It was you know, 60, 70 mile-per-hour winds. It was 15, 20 degrees. You're outside every day. The horses know when bad weather is coming. So if you have a shootout, they're not participating how they should. It makes it bad for everybody. And my suit my jacket is wool, my chaps are like 10 pounds. I got three layers underneath. I got a Bandolero strapping me down. Like, of all the cast, they just throw as much stuff on Thomas. I have half a city on my horse. Like everything that we don't know where to put, let's put it on Thomas and his horse, King. And you're in 100 degree weather in Fort Worth ... in the middle of summer in Texas. It's brutal. And it just kept getting brutal, and we're going back to probably a brutal situation now, but it looks beautiful. And that's the end goal."

Folks, I have seen the first three episodes in the series, and cowboy camp was worth it! Stay tuned to /Film for more info from the premiere of "1883"!