‘1883’: Sam Elliott Explains How Shea Wanted to ‘Dispense Justice’

by Courtney Blackann
Photo Cr: Emerson Miller/Paramount+ © 2022 MTV Entertainment Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Sam Elliott’s “1883” character is super complex. He’s not only fighting inner demons constantly, he’s also tasked with leading a group of immigrants across the Great Plains on a dangerous journey. And he’s doing it immediately after the death of his wife and child. However, along the way, Capt. Shea Brennan had some justice to serve up. And Sam Elliott explains how this was crucial to the storyline.

Speaking with the “1883” crew in a behind-the-scenes tell-all, Sam Elliott discusses how Shea had a mission. And while that mission involved getting everyone safely to Oregon, or at least trying, he was also not going to let any bandits cross him or the people he was attempting to protect.

“Shea, I don’t think he had much regard for outlaws. And certainly not for killers. I think he probably thinks the fewer of them the better. Some guys came in and killed some of his immigrants and he felt bound to dispense some sort of justice,” Elliott says.

And Shea does right by his people. He doesn’t stand for anyone’s BS and he won’t be crossed. Despite wanting nothing more than to wallow away in his own sorrow, Shea is a true leader. He’s tough when he needs to be. And he’s tender when he needs to be.

Captain Shea is also someone the people can depend on. His experience in the Civil War gives him the grittiness he needs to survive in the harsh terrain of the West.

Sam Elliott Calls His “1883” Character ‘Confusing’

Sam Elliott describes his “1883” character as someone who’s a bit confused and oftentimes doesn’t make much sense.

“There’s so many things about this guy that are incongruent,” Elliott said. “They don’t make sense somehow. The fact that he’s that vulnerable character who kind of bares his soul up there in this opening that we’re talking about — and at the same time is willing to shoot some guy in the head because he stole somebody’s bacon.”

He further adds:

“Again, it’s on the page. It’s on the page and that’s my job,” Sam Elliott concluded. “It’s all a gift, it’s a rich gift that has been given to me by a man that I have a lot of respect for as a writer. I think everybody on the show would tell you that. Everybody!”

Yet through it all, Shea is a fan favorite of the series. He’s fighting all these demons, and yet, he’s a likable guy. He represents all that time period has to offer. And Sam Elliott plays the part so well. At the end of the series, Shea takes his own life once he lets his dead wife see the ocean through his eyes. It’s the only appropriate ending for the character.