Taylor Sheridan’s script for his Yellowstone prequel is full of wonderful characters, but few carry the weight of Noemi and Thomas. Gratiela Brancusi and LaMonica Garrett bring career-best performances respectively, and speaking to both actors reveals the wealth of passion they bring to the Western.
Noemi is a performer’s dream. Brancuci’s Roma pioneer is a true survivor in every sense. Yet unlike most media, 1883 does not define her by the suffering of her past. Much the opposite. The same can be said of LaMonica Garrett’s stellar Thomas, who he calls “the soul of the show.”
Instead, Sheridan’s script focuses on the power of Noemi and Thomas as human beings, not persecuted minorities. Both come from peoples subjected to humanity’s worst atrocities. Yet it is their personalities, strengths, resilience, and budding love for one another that takes center stage.
When their eyes meet, Brancusi and Garrett convey everything we need to know in that moment. But portraying such rich characters also means a sense of unrivaled responsibility from both actors; one each carries as masterfully as Sheridan’s script.
‘1883’s Gratiela Brancusi on the ‘Resillience’ of Noemi
“Shea and Thomas have this scene in Episode 4 where Shea says he’s ‘shocked’ that these people aren’t afraid of the unknown, and Thomas replies ‘You ain’t never had a whip to your back.’ And she was raised in that,” Gratiela Brancusi tells me of Noemi from her LA home. “But it is a different kind of hell, you know? And that doesn’t make it any easier. But I think there’s a resilience in her spirit that she inherits from her ancestors.”
In the Europe her character is escaping, “Roma people were enslaved for 500 years… Slavery would’ve been abolished about 20 years before Noemi travelled to the U.S., but they were subject to ethnic cleansing for a very long time. The term ‘Gypsy’ is associated with a lot of prejudice,” Brancusi continues.
In present day, “Some people don’t mind [the term ‘Gypsy’] in the community, but others prefer to be called Roma or Romani,” she clarifies. “But I don’t think Noemi really cared about that at the time. I think she cared about staying alive,” the 1883 star laughs.
Like Thomas, Noemi would’ve been through hell and back multiple times before even subjecting herself to the horrors of 1883‘s American Westward Expansion. But instead of milking their shared trauma on-screen, 1883 opts to let these two fall in love through their merits rather than the atrocities of mankind.
‘1883’s LaMonica Garrett on Representation in Westerns
As a result, audiences are treated to a beautiful, naturally unfurling love story between two captivating souls. In a mainstream Western, no less; a genre historically void of minority representation.
Speaking to LaMonica Garrett before 1883’s release, his deep passion for this genre – and the history that inspires it– became immediately apparent, too. The versatile actor grew up obsessed with Westerns, but filming 1883 provided his first crack at it.
And like so many who share his heritage, Garrett struggled to find “any black characters” that looked like him in the Wild West; if they existed at all. It’s one thing, however, to pander representation for the sake of representation. It’s another entirely to have a character like Thomas “represent this history in such a strong manner,” Garrett told me.
“One-in-every-four cowboys throughout the 1800s were Black. There were Black cowboys back then,” he emphasizes. And as 1883 races on, he’s now an integral part of changing of the status quo as Buffalo Soldier veteran and Pinkerton Agent Thomas.
When asked how it felt to wear the historic Buffalo Soldier uniform for the first time, Garrett lit up. “It takes you to a different time, man,” the 1883 star smiled wide. “Putting on the Buffalo Soldier Sergeant uniform for the first time… You put that on, and it hits a certain way.”
‘I already knew it was significant… But to represent it in such a strong manner is special’
1883 hits different for LaMonica – and audiences of all backgrounds – as a result. “It hit me in a certain way when we were in Fort Worth and there were hundreds of background actors. We’re all hanging out, and a handful of the black background actors came up to me and said ‘Hey man, how does it feel? How does it feel to wear the Buffalo Soldier’s Jacket?’” Garrett continued.
To prepare for Thomas, Garrett delved as deeply into the history of black cowboys as he could. Through powerful historical accounts, LaMonica found fruitful inspiration for Thomas; a wildly complex man who sees the absolute worst and best of America in a single lifetime.
Coupled with Brancusi’s gripping Noemi, Garrett is beyond grateful to be able to bring these characters – and their captivating love story – to such a wide audience.
“I already knew it was significant, but knowing what it means not just to myself but so many other people, and to represent it in such a strong manner is special,” he offered. “It started out big for me, and it just kept getting bigger.”
And for this viewer’s money, there’s no love story on television better than 1883‘s Noemi and Thomas’. Here’s to a happy ending.