After months of immersion in dusty fields and extreme weather, surrounded by horses and cattle in the open sprawl of Texas and Montana, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill forgot what it was like to experience the comforts of a luxury hotel.
“When we walked in, it was like, wow, this is what a hotel is like? After all the years I’ve been on the road, it took a minute to adjust because we’ve been that deep in it,” Hill said.
She and fellow country music powerhouse McGraw were celebrating the premiere of “1883,” the gritty Western prequel to “Yellowstone,” at the opulent Wynn Las Vegas last weekend.
Hours before arriving, McGraw said he and the cast were, “shooting in a 60-mile-per-hour dust storm on horseback through rough terrain chasing bad guys and then we get on a plane, land in Vegas and see all of these lights. We felt like it was in outer space.”
The married pair star as James and Margaret Dutton, the patriarch and matriarch of the Dutton family and great-grandparents of John Dutton, portrayed by Kevin Costner in “Yellowstone.”
Created by Taylor Sheridan, whose pedigree extends to “Yellowstone,” the story follows the Duttons as they travel through the Great Plains – with the help of Shea Brennan (played by the stately Sam Elliott) and his partner Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) – to Montana.
The series, which debuts on Paramount+ Sunday, also features Billy Bob Thornton. But it is the poetic narration by the Dutton’s daughter, Elsa (Isabel May), that imbues the oft-harsh drama with poignancy.
McGraw and Hill expounded to USA TODAY on the challenges and delights of filming “1883.”
Welcoming General… Tom Hanks?
There will be numerous cameos sprinkled throughout the 10 episodes, but one of the most notable comes in a flashback scene when John Dutton, a Confederate officer, is comforted by Union General George Meade. Despite the grime and low-brimmed hat, the eyes are instantly recognizable as Tom Hanks. It didn’t take much persuading to recruit the Oscar-winning actor.
“Tom and Rita and Faith and I have been friends for a really long time,” McGraw said. “We’ve tried to do some things together that never worked out, so when this little cameo was there I called him up and said, ‘There’s this cool part…I hate to ask, but…’ and he said, ‘I’m in. Tell me when and where and I’ll be there.’ The emotion in that scene was pretty authentic.”
Learning the ropes
Sheridan was adamant about the cast demonstrating realistic skills appropriate to the era, and McGraw and Hill were among those who participated in “cowboy camp” upon first arriving in Texas.
While McGraw grew up riding horses, he needed to elevate his equine skills for the level required on film. The most fun he had during camp, he said, was during the roping clinic. Hill, meanwhile, endured the daunting task of learning to drive a wagon.
“I thought it might be fairly simple. No, it is not,” she said with a chuckle. “It’s very dangerous, actually. But it’s one of the things I do best – maybe because I learned to drive with a stick shift? I do wrangle cattle (in the show) and really enjoyed that. I’m not sure why, though, because it can be terrifying when they’re staring you in the face. To learn all of these things from the most incredible wranglers and stunt women while having the highest level of safety, it’s been fun. I kinda feel like a bad—.”
Enduring the elements
Being bound in corsets and stifling layers of clothing was unpleasant enough, but severe weather produced more trials.
“The elements were the most challenging thing,” McGraw said. “It was either super hot or super cold. But it’s also another character in the show – the vistas, the scenery. Being in the elements on horseback and doing the things we’ve been able to do has been special.”
“We have been in some extreme heat, girl. And then the layers and layers of clothing. And then going to Montana with the freezing cold and the wind was insane. And then coming back to the panhandle of Texas and dealing with the same type of wind as Montana. Sometimes we had to pause for safety reasons. It’s not glamorous at all,” she said.
Balancing marriage and acting
McGraw and Hill decided early in the process that they would not rehearse together.
“We felt strongly because we’re together all the time and married 25 years, this is the one space that we needed,” Hill said. “I didn’t want to know how he was going to react to something; otherwise it would have felt not as authentic. We wanted to bring life to these characters.”
McGraw said he realizes that some fans of the couple’s music might be drawn to the show because of their name recognition, but he hopes that once immersed in the story, they’ll start to see the characters, not the two Grammy-winning music artists.
“We wanted to bring elements of our relationship to James and Margaret. Faith is the sun we all circle around and Margaret is the steel in this (Dutton) family,” McGraw said.
While Hill says her only music plan is “listening to a lot of it right now,” she’s fully embraced acting.
“It’s been long hours, but I don’t mind the hard work,” Hill said. “To have this opportunity, I would jump at it in a second again. I love the process, but maybe something a little more glamorous (next time)!”
McGraw, meanwhile, will embark on a 17-city tour in April, a plan that was already established when he signed on for “1883.”
“Music is my first love. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do anything without music. It’s even how I met my wife. It’s the thing in my life that has brought me everything,” McGraw said. “I’ll retire one day, but I’m never gonna let (music) go. There’s nothing like being on stage and getting energy from the crowd. It’s the most addictive drug in the world.”