When an actor is prepping for a role, you’d think any prior experience is good experience. Eric Nelsen, the actor who plays Ennis on the Yellowstone prequel 1883 from Paramount+, thought the same thing about his horse riding experience. But if fans of the 1883 cowboy universe have learned anything of late, it’s that the showrunner Taylor Sheridan demands accuracy and authenticity in his creations.
Basically, a level of detail exists in the shows that actors continue to compliment after filming. Nelsen echoed similar sentiments as his costars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill about preparing for life on the frontier: it was more intense that they originally imagined.
According to Nelsen, he was confident that his childhood spent around horses would help him succeed at Sheridan’s “cowboy camp.” At camp, the actors learned how to really ride horses and wagons. Becoming proficient wasn’t good enough; Sheridan demanded accuracy, and almost any character on a show about life on the western frontier would know how to ride extremely well. Riding wouldn’t have been a passion or hobby in the 19th century. But rather simply a life skill, so the actors needed to become so comfortable that riding appeared second nature.
Nelsen thought he his childhood around horses gave him a leg up
Nelsen said that his father was a horse trainer his whole life, which would lend some much-needed familiarity to horses for him. His father trained thoroughbred polo horses, and his mother showed horses. Nelsen’s character, Ennis, would have much more experience, sure, but a family of horse-lovers is a good starting place, right?
Yes, but there was still much to learn for the actor.
“But then we got to cowboy camp,” Nelsen said. “I was pretty confident coming into it because I was like, ‘Oh, I know horses and I feel okay with this.’ And boy, I learned real quick, I had a long way to go still.
“The level at which these cowboys [ride], who we were training with, who are some of the best in the entire world, it’s just mind blowing.
“But needless to say, day in and day out, for three weeks, all day long, riding, roping, shooting. If anything, it got us out of our heads. We weren’t worried about the riding, so we were able to really focus on the work and our characters and being in the moment.”
If you’re enjoying the authenticity and historical perspective of 1883, it’s in large part thanks to measures like this from the producers. The actors feel normal in their frontier-era garb and behaviors. So much so that they can focus on the act of being human more than existing in a prior era of American history.
“Every day felt like I was living in a movie with how beautiful our surroundings were, and the livestock, and the animals, the nature,” Nelsen said. “It all just came together.”