‘1883’ Star Isabel May Explained How Elsa Dutton’s Grief ‘Just Felt Right’

by Amy Myers
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In the latest episode of 1883, Isabel May’s character, Elsa Dutton, experienced her first love and first heartbreak all within the same day. May captured Elsa’s complex emotions and deep sadness with perfection, expressing just about every stage of grief before our very eyes just seconds before the credits rolled. The performance was nothing short of impressive, and the actress herself took her time to make sure she nailed this crucial turning point in her character’s young life.

There wasn’t a dry eye across the 1883 fandom when Elsa found Ennis dead on the ground following that fateful firefight. Those first few moments when she cradles him in her arms in silence and looks to her father in desperation are almost as heartbreaking as the sobs that overtake her when her mother comes to comfort her. Not only did Elsa lose her first love, but she also lost her innocent perspective of life.

In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, May recounted how she connected with her character as well as the steps she took to portray this vital moment.

“Sometimes, reality doesn’t feel like reality. You feel like you can pinch yourself and wake up from a bad nightmare, but unfortunately, when someone passes, they pass and there’s no going back,” the 1883 actress said. “So I just wanted that moment to settle and I took my time with that, as long as I needed. It almost got to the point where people were going, ‘Is she going to actually do something?’ while we were shooting. (Laughs.) But it just felt right.”

‘1883’ Actress Reveals Heartbreaking Inspiration Behind Iconic Scene

When reflecting on this epic moment in her career, May shared that the inspiration behind this scene came from a pivotal conversation with 1883 director and creator, Taylor Sheridan. According to the actress, Sheridan shared a bit of grief that he experienced in his own life that helped her shape the response Elsa had to Ennis’ death.

“Taylor told me his experience of watching someone process the death of someone they loved,” May explained. “It was something that he’s experienced. It was him seeing true, profound grief for the first time. So I just processed what he said and I tried to live it the best I could. I’ve never experienced that kind of grief myself, so the best you can do is just connect to the words that someone puts on a page and then burrow yourself into those words and hope that you can do it justice. But there was something about the way that he explained his own experience that hit me deep down.”

Despite thankfully not knowing this type of sorrow in real life, the 1883 star was able to utilize Sheridan’s experience and apply it flawlessly to her character.

“I can’t imagine seeing someone you’ve fallen in love with die just like that, before you’ve even had a future with them,” May admitted. “And I think it would take a moment for you to actually understand that it happened, for real.”

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