1883 Star LaMonica Garrett Uses 'Cowboy' As A Verb — And With Very Good Reason [Interview]

LaMonica Garrett uses "cowboy" as a verb now. After a lifetime of Western fandom (via his mom), he's playing a cowboy in the Paramount+ series "1883," the prequel series to the hit show "Yellowstone." Garrett plays Thomas, a former Buffalo soldier in the Civil War who now works for the Pinkerton Detective Agency alongside war buddy Shea (Sam Elliott). The Taylor Sheridan-created series required a ton of training, and tells a powerful story that not only showcases Black cowboys, who were a major presence in the creation of the United States, but what it was like to travel through wilderness and settle in a place that already had residents and wasn't kind to anyone, especially those without much preparation.

Garrett has played his fair share of memorable roles over the years, including Mar Novu/Monitor and Anti-Moniter in the "Arrowverse," Deputy Sheriff Cane in "Sons of Anarchy," and Mike Ritter in "Designated Survivor." He was also close to playing in the NFL and was a top scorer and one of the four players announced for the All Slamball Team

I had a chance to chat with Garrett about his role in "1883," what he learned about the contributions of Black cowboys, his mom's fandom, and what he had to go through to get ready for this role.

'King is My Ride or Die'

When I talked to you at the premiere, you told us about cowboy camp, which one, sounds exhausting and two, sounds like so much fun. I know you have a history with sports and Slamball. How did that help you with cowboy camp and shooting?

Well, cowboy camp, cowboying is a rough thing in itself. So any athleticism would help prepare. You know my background, but still it was challenging because they're using muscles you haven't used in years, or you've never used, riding horses, and roping cattle and doing that kind of stuff. So having an athletic background helped, but it was still a unique, something unique that a lot of people just haven't done no matter what your background is.

Was there anything in particular that really stood out as the hardest thing to learn, or something you liked the most?

Maybe like loping on horses. That was a little tricky for me, and over the course of the season, I figured it out, but it didn't happen right away in cowboy camp. And loping on horses, you could trot on a horse, which came pretty natural. But the speed, like getting after it if you're chasing bandits, and especially if you have a gun in one hand and the reins in another hand, and just going 30, 40 miles an hour or however fast we're moving, that was a challenge. And that takes complete confidence, and being comfortable on that horse. And that just takes a while in the saddle.

Do you have a favorite horse?

Oh, my horse, King. I have two horses. Jack Boone is one of them, and King is the other. And King is like my, King is the first horse I was on in cowboy camp and we hit it off immediately. But King's a little lazy, so when we're sitting around, and you're on your horse, and you have a scene and you have a lot of dialogue, King is the horse for that. But if you got to get out there and really get after it and cowboy, Jack Boone is the athletic horse of the two. So, he's the one that it took a while for me and him to get on the same page. But we're there now, but yeah, King is my ride or die.

I love it. I love that cowboy is a verb now, too. I totally get that.

Yeah, oh yeah.

Buffalo Soldier, in the Heart of America

The last time we spoke the show hadn't aired yet, so how are you feeling about the incredibly positive reaction you guys have gotten?

It feels great, especially when you're working six day weeks, 12 hour days, and you're away from your family, and you're going to all these different locations, and [it's] hot in Texas, it's freezing in Montana. It's a difficult job, but when you see the reaction from the fans, it makes it all the worthwhile. And we know we're telling a unique story, like something that hasn't been told before, and in a genre that is resurfacing now, but hasn't been around for a long time. So, it makes what we're doing special.

Speaking of that and the fact that we're revisiting the genre now, tell me a little bit about what you learned about Black cowboys, and about Buffalo soldiers.

I knew a pretty good amount about Buffalo soldiers, just from my own research over the years, the Black cowboys it's — I had no idea. You know some of the famous ones like Bass Reeves, and Bill Pickett and Nat Love. But going deeper under the surface, you find out so many more did so many historical things to bring out this Western frontier, that I just wasn't aware of. And from here all the way through Canada, it's just a rich tradition of it. And the more you read about it, you're like wow, how is this not been mentioned before? It seems like it's too much there not to even talk about it a little bit. And it just hasn't really been mentioned over the years.

The Pinkerton agency which Thomas joins, it also has a great history. What did you find out about that, and how much did you know about them beforehand?

I didn't know much about them. I stumbled across them when I was doing research for another role I did years ago on "Designated Survivor." I was playing a secret service agent. And I read that the Pinkertons were the original secret service, that morphed into all these different responsibilities. But in the beginning, they were watching President Lincoln. Not while he — John Wilkes Booth and the assassination, but before that there was an attempt on his life, and the Pinkertons were there to protect him. And Abraham Lincoln pretty much gave the Pinkertons their credibility, saying that these guys were this, and they were that. And the Pinkertons, they were bigger than the US Army at the time.

Oh, wow.

And they had Black agents, they were the first to do that. They were the first to [have], female, women agents. They were the first to do that. It was like, oh wow. And they have a ... It's a checkered history, there were a lot of pros, and there were some cons. Like I read something, I think it was Jesse James or Billy the Kid, they were hot on his trail. And they found out he was in some kind of house, and they went to that house and they shot up the house and ended up killing an innocent person. So at that point, it was a frown on the whole agency, and they stopped pursuing him at that point. But yeah, I didn't know they were as big as they were back in the 1800s.

Best Friends Forever

I know we mentioned this when we were chatting on the red carpet — the ladies like you in this show. And I think there seems to be a connection as of episode three, with Noemi [Gratiela Brancusi]. Anything you can tell us about where that might go?

I think it's going to be fun to watch everything play out. I don't want to give too much away. But I think just, Thomas the character, when I read all the scripts he just jumped out to me as just someone that, he's easy to love, he's easy to root for, and he covers a lot of ground. He can give you sage advice, he can go be a badass over here, he can comfort people that need comforting. He has empathy, he has a toughness to him. He's just, he's a 360 character ... in this genre those characters weren't really written for people that look like me, in the past for Westerns. So, it's just refreshing. And it's just, seeing this world from a different lens, I think it's something that people are craving for. And I'm just glad to be playing it.

One of the coolest things that I've seen in the first three episodes, is the relationship between Thomas and Shea. I'd watch a show, just the two of you on a road trip. am Elliott had mentioned that every morning Thomas convinces Shea not to kill himself, and that they're absolutely ride or die. What's your take on that relationship?

Absolutely, it's the right hand knows what the other's doing. They've been doing this day in, day out for so long. And it's just, back in that time, you didn't have cell phones or TV or like, "Hey, let's go to the bar, and watch the game, and get a beer or something." All you had was the trail, or all you had was each other, you guys and your horses. And you build a bond. You're pitching teepees, you're getting coffee in the morning by the fire, every night you go to bed, it's just you two. So it's like, it's a close relationship. And me and Sam, we hit it off right from day one when we first met each other in cowboy camp. And that just carried over right into filming. And I love their relationship, that's one of my favorite things about out the show is the relationship with Thomas and Shea, especially given the time period.

The Shootout in Fort Worth

Obviously when we join these two characters, there is a lot of history there. So as an actor, do you guys discuss this? Do you have the same backstories, or do you have separate ones that work for each of you?

We come with our own backstories, then we meet with Taylor, and Taylor kind of — the little blind spots that we're missing, Taylor fills them in for us or tells us if we're completely off all together. But a lot of the work that we put into it separately, they kind of aligned to what we had individually. And it just, and Taylor, one of our first scenes together was the toilette scene, where we're in the Pinkerton agent office. And we just, we were rehearsing and we kind of just, we're bouncing back and forth off each other. And Taylor saw how funny it was, and he just left us alone. Like, "You guys got it from here," and he went behind the camera, and we've been hitting it off ever since.

How is it working with him? Because he has such an expertise about this time period, and is just fascinating.

Who, Taylor or Sam?

Oh, Taylor.

Oh yeah, Sam too. Sam, he's a super cowboy, that's something in itself. But yeah, Taylor, he reads a lot. I notice we're on set, and if he's not directing, if he's just there hanging out with us in our little village, he's got a book, and he's just reading. He reads, he reads, he just has a ton of information that bleeds out into the pen. So he's very informative, and that's why I think this story is so authentic, and that's why people are gravitating towards it.

You've got this crazy scene in episode 2 with Billy Bob Thornton, and this whole shootout. What was that like?

Just watching Billy Bob navigate that room was amazing. We did that scene before we did the, him and his... You know, in the Marshall's office. So the first time meeting Billy Bob, we hit it off. And seeing him just, he's jumping on a moving train. We've already been working, we already know each other, we're smoking already. And to see him come in and just jump in seamlessly like he's been there from day one, and just absolutely kill it. Me and Sam were talking afterwards, like, "Man, that guy's good." "Yeah, yeah." And every take he did was different. It would be hard in the editing room to choose which one to take, because he is who he is, and you see it when he works.

'Action Thomas'

What sort of stuff can you tease for Thomas going forward, what we're going to see from him?

With Thomas, you're going to see a lot of different sides of him. You're going to see, he can be this kind and empathetic guy, but you see when someone crosses his code, he has this code, this right and wrong code. And if you cross the other side of that, you'll see how fast that kindness turns into him just snapping, and going full Thomas on you, like action Thomas. You're going to see him... He's just so well rounded, he's easy to root for. If I say anything else, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Directly in the next episode, directly in episode four, you'll see something you haven't seen from Thomas. And it just makes him more of that character that you root for. But to me, he's the humanity and the soul of the show.

Okay, so you've got now a Western, you've got DC Universe. Is there anything, like a genre you haven't done that you want to do, or something you want to go back to?

I love sci-fi, I love like sci-fi action, something in space. I love action and sci-fi, so anything along those would be exciting. Whether it's cowboying in space, or action in another country. We just watched 007 ["No Time to Die"] last night, that was fun. Or like a Jason Bourne kind of thing. I don't know, I didn't even know I wanted to do a Western as much as I did, until it came around. I'm like, "Wow, this is amazing."

Are there any Westerns you watched to get ready for this?

I knew a lot of Westerns growing up, like we watched "Bonanza"s and the "Wagon Train"s and the "Gunsmoke"s. "The Rifleman," my mom is an aficionado of anything TV Western. She knows all the actors, all the scenes, everything you could imagine, from "Little House on the Prairie," to the Neo-Westerns, like the "Dallas"'s. I remember watching that with my folks growing up. My favorite Western is "Unforgiven." One of my favorite actors is Gene Hackman, and Morgan Freeman. And them two and Clint is just, he's classic cowboy. So that just, and the pacing of it, the way it moved, the story, it was so fun to watch. That's one of my favorite movies regardless of genre, just in general, up there with "Shawshank" and "Usual Suspects," but "Unforgiven" is it for me.

You got to tell me what your mom thought when she saw the first few episodes.

It was amazing. My mom's never been to a premiere, I've never brought her to the red carpet. It's like the big lights, they're from a small town in Mississippi, they'd rather sit back and stay in the shadow and watch me do my thing from afar. But I'm like, "Mom, you got to come to this premiere," so I brought her and my dad to Vegas, and my sister and my brother. And when I saw my mom after the first two episodes, and we saw, it was a theater, at the one theater in Vegas, my mom's face lit up. She came and gave me a hug, she was like, "You're a cowboy, you was riding that horse." Like, "Yeah, Mom," she was so excited and so, "So when's the next one? When can I see the next one?" I'm like, "You got to wait, Mom. You got to wait. Week to week, they're going to show more and more."

But she was so excited. She's the one that brought it to my attention, that she's never really seen a Black actor have his name and picture in the opening credits. And when she made me... Like, oh, wow. I never really thought about that, like you don't know what you don't know. So I went back and looked, and there was only like three or four times in TV Westerns, where there was a Black actor that had his name and his image. Back then it was all about, in the beginning, in the opening credits, you see your face with the name, or the actor would ride up on his horse in the opening credits, and then kind of smile at the camera, then ride off. It was all about that, those opening credits.

And Danny Glover had it in "Lonesome Dove." Who was it? It was someone, I forgot his name [it's Raymond St. Jacques], in "Rawhide," the last season of "Rawhide" that Clint Eastwood made his appearance in. Otis Young did it in "The Outcast," three years later in like 1968. And Roy Worthy, I think, in "The Magnificent Seven" in 1998. And other than that, I really don't know, with the traditional old Westerns, not like the newer, the "Wynnona Earp"s and those kind of, the Neo-Westerns. But those old school classic Westerns, there really wasn't none. I was like, "Wow, Mom," she said she got emotional at that. And I did too when I first saw it, because I didn't know why it made me emotional. I just know it was something that I'd never seen before. And when she said that, it hit home. Like, that's why it got me the way it got me, because I had never seen it before.

You made your mom proud, that's so cool.

Yeah. That was amazing.

"1883" streams on Paramount+ on Sundays.