We’ve got to go with Elliott on this one. 1883 would’ve ended up gorgeous regardless through Taylor Sheridan’s devotion to authenticity and the brilliant on-location cinematography. But the soul of this Yellowstone prequel couldn’t land with a lesser actor in the role of Elsa Dutton.
Sheridan knew this, and as co-star Faith Hill told Outsider during our roundtable interview, the show’s creator literally crafted Elsa for Isabel May, then built his 19th-century tale around her. And according to Sam Elliott, this is just another feather in Sheridan’s cap.
“Taylor is a brilliant writer. He is a genius. It is really inspiring on a lot of levels,” the Western icon tells Hollywood Reporter.
As for his Elsa Dutton castmate, “Isabel May is only 21. Never had much experience on a horse, but looks like she’s been riding a horse her whole life,” Elliott continues. “And every time she opens her mouth in a scene, she is just mesmerizing.”
Again, we’re with Elliott here. May’s meticulous portrayal of 1883‘s Dutton daughter is a career-making performance. As Elliott says: “This is going to be the beginning of a long career if that’s what she wants.”
Taylor Sheridan Built ‘1883’ Around Isabel May
While May has led a two-season Netflix show and lent her talents to Young Sheldon, she’s yet to find her “breakout” project. That would change immediately after she auditioned for Taylor Sheridan‘s other new show, however.
Isabel May read for the part of Iris in Mayor of Kingstown, also on Paramount Plus. The role went to Emma Laird, but everything plaid out exactly as it was supposed to.
“What made her wrong for Iris made her, I felt, the personification of this world of 1883,” Sheridan tells Deadline. “I called Paramount and said, ‘I got good news, and then, I got some you need to trust me news.’”
Before meeting May, Sheridan admits he “had not figured out how to tell this story… I had Sam Elliott over here and I had Tim McGraw here and Faith Hill and I had not found the bridge between them all.”
But when he met Isabel, he says “the whole story, all 10 episodes, went right through my head.”
After her Kingstown audition, Sheridan wrote May a personal letter telling her he’d have a future letter for her. She thought it’d be years down the line.
“And then, two weeks later, I got a phone call and he said, I haven’t written it yet but you’re Elsa and I want you to be Elsa, do you want to be Elsa? I said, of course I want to be Elsa,” May adds in the same interview. “Then he outlined what it would entail and what story he wanted to tell, and yeah, I just was swept away.”
Audiences are so far, too. May is brilliant in 1883, and Outsider is hoping for many more seasons to come.