Part of that, of course, is also due to Taylor Sheridan’s writing of the character. Sam Elliott even commented on Sheridan’s description of Shea in a recent interview with Cowboys & Indians Magazine.
Specifically, Elliott opened up about one of the first scenes in the show where we see a lot of emotions and vulnerability from Shea. His daughter and wife just died of smallpox, and Shea has to take care of the bodies. Losing these two really withers Shea’s will to live and impacts his decisions for the rest of the show. Especially when he gets angry with the pioneers.
“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.”
Perhaps for Shea, anger and violence are a shield he can put up to temper his sorrow and grief. By staying focused on survival and getting these pioneers across the plains, he doesn’t have time or energy to drown in grief.
“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!”
Sam Elliott Praises ‘1883’ Creator Taylor Sheridan
This isn’t the first time Sam Elliott has sung Taylor Sheridan’s praises. Even before the show premiered in December, Elliott was discussing how “brilliant” of a writer Sheridan is.
“It all starts with the writing. And Taylor Sheridan is a brilliant writer,” Elliott said in a statement. “I think the Western genre speaks clearly to both of us. The classic struggles of man against man, man against nature, and man against himself. It’s all there, in ‘1883,’ and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Sam Elliott played a key role as Shea. Not only did he help the pioneers cross the plains in whatever way he could. But he also inspired the Duttons to embrace the journey. He helped Elsa cope with her grief after she lost Ennis. And Shea also inspired Thomas to pursue his dreams and hopes to their fullest extent.
In the end, Thomas started a new life with the girl of his dreams. And Elsa lived her life as freely and openly as she could.