‘1883’: 5 Questions With Eric Nelsen About Ennis & the Dramatic Ending in Episode 5 (Spoiler)

by Jim Casey
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Actor Eric Nelsen tackles the role of Ennis on the Paramount+ Yellowstone origin story, 1883. The young cowboy, along with his cowpunching cohort Wade (James Landry Hébert), initially helps Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott) wrangle wild cattle for the trek from Forth Worth, Texas, to Oregon. However, Ennis and Wade soon begin to journey with the wagon train that features a troupe of German immigrants, as well as James and Margaret Dutton (Tim McGraw and Faith Hill) and their daughter Elsa (Isabell May), among others.

Of course, there’s some chemistry between Ennis and Elsa, which manifested during an action-packed Episode 5 (January 16).

Outsider caught up to Eric Nelsen to ask him 5 Questions about his role on 1883, Episode 5’s dramatic ending, and more. Warning, spoilers ahead.

1. What was your immediate take when you read the script for bright-eyed Ennis, because there’s a lot of pain and death in 1883?

Eric Nelsen: When I originally read the script, I thought, “Wow, what a great opportunity to kind of go against the grain of the show a little bit and kind of be that guy that kind of pokes through a little beacon of light.” And my hope was that when Ennis came on screen, people might smile because, as we see the struggle and the pain and the reality of the world they’re living in, most of the time you’re not doing that.

And so I thought if I could be that little twinkle every now and again, I think it’ll be important for the story and will be great moments for Ennis. So luckily, Taylor Sheridan was on board with it and fully supportive of my choices as an actor and encouraged it. So it all lent itself to what we see on screen, which gives encouragement to the audience. And it’s just unfortunate that what happens, happens at the end of all of it.

2. How soon after being cast as Ennis did you realize he dies in Episode 5?

Eric Nelsen: Yeah, so I had no idea coming into it. And so I got cast, then all the excitement kicks in and the adrenaline and I start prepping. And I think it was the first week Taylor invited me over to a dinner at his house. So it was probably about two or three weeks later. I got invited to a dinner where he wanted—and Isabel May was there—us all to get to know each other and start building connections and everything. And he asked if I had read the rest of the episodes and I said, “No.”

So he said he was sending them to me that night. And so he sent them to me and I read them and the next day I show up back at his house and I’m like, “No, why did we have to do this?” But I quickly realized as I read the rest of the episodes, why it’s so important in Elsa’s storyline and the structure of the show for it to happen. And so, yeah it was probably a few weeks after I found out I had the role that I knew that Ennis was dying. So it was just as much of a gut punch for me as for the audience.

3. Have you ever tackled a role as challenging as Ennis, especially in Episode 5?

Eric Nelsen: No, no. I’ve never worked on a project like 1883 and the arc and kind of storyline I get to tell, especially in Episode 5 is such a bold one and as an actor, so much fun to tackle something like that. We really see a shift in Ennis. We see his innocence and kind of hoping to be accepted by James Dutton in the beginning to really standing his ground and being strong and his feelings and emotions towards Elsa and not letting anybody get in the way of that.

And then we ultimately see him in a way, sacrifice himself for the love of his life. So the emotional arc was just on another level and so grateful to have been able to be in those shoes and get to portray that. And ultimately, yeah it’s an episode I’ll never forget working on and although tragic, so powerful in its own right.

4. As an actor, is it difficult to play dead, because the last shot of Episode 5 is powerful?

Eric Nelsen: It’s incredibly difficult, actually. You’d think you’re just laying there with your eyes closed, but there is so much emotion happening. It honestly took everything I had not to cry each take. I mean, I’m supposed to be laying there, passed away. So obviously I can’t be crying and feeling the emotions that Elsa’s giving, but when she’s screaming and holding onto me and laying on my chest and I’m thinking through what just happened, it took every ounce for me not to lose it every single time we shot it.

So it was very difficult. And there’s a heaviness on set at times like that and everybody feels it. I mean, camera operators are crying, directors are crying. So nobody there is feeling peachy. And so that hangs and everybody feels that. And as a group, I think we all were on the page. So it’s difficult, but it’s emotional and provokes a lot of feelings within one’s self. So the more powerful moments you get to experience on set are very special times.

5. Taylor Sheridan loves to keep the same actors in his universe, so have we seen the last of Ennis?

Eric Nelsen: I can’t tease too much other than you’re right. Taylor Sheridan’s great gift is he holds on to the people he loves and has worked with and uses them in other aspects of his career and his work. And so I hope it’s not the end. And I really look forward to seeing how things unfold, not only for Ennis and Taylor, but Eric Nelson and Taylor as well.

Outsider.com