In 1923, James Badge Dale continues the legacy of 1883‘s John Dutton Sr., while Marley Shelton debuts as his better half, Emma Dutton. And right off the bat, it becomes clear these two charismatic actors have developed a natural shorthand. Much of our chat ahead of the series’ premiere results from their riffing back and forth, which has me eager to see more of them on-screen together. As 1923 continues, their Emma & John will solidify themselves as part of the Dutton pantheon, to be sure; something Shelton & Dale are also excited by.
“We’ve joined the pantheon, I like that!” Shelton grins wide as Dale agrees. “It’s so funny, you get this whole new extended family that you didn’t know you had,” he laughs.
“It’s an honor to be pulled into this tapestry and entrusted to carry the mantle of being a Dutton,” Shelton adds, before Dale juxtaposes with “Every day I feel like I’m going to mess this up and they’re going to take away my Dutton status.”
‘1883 got me so galvanized and excited’
Dale may be nervous because, as he reveals, he didn’t dive into 1883 before filming 1923. But not Shelton – she was in all the way. “I binge-watched 1883 pretty much immediately when I signed on,” she tells me with that same glowing smile. “And I was floored. I thought it was just incredible, and 1883 got me so galvanized and excited to pick up with 1923 where they left off, to see what we could do and where we could take it.”
James, or ‘Badge’ as Marley calls him, slinks into his chair with a Grinch-like grin as she finishes. “I’m going to be really painfully honest with you… I came in a little late,” he smirks. “Halfway thru filming I started watching 1883. And I’m watching myself, this younger version played by this kid, Audie. I’m watching his work as an actor, and I’m like ‘Man, I missed it! I messed up. This kid is so good,” he lauds of little Audie Rick who first portrayed John Dutton Sr. as a 5-year-old in 1883.
“I’m calling Taylor and I’m like, ‘Hey man, we need to reshoot all this stuff!” he adds while flashing a grin to Marley.
John Dutton Sr. is the Connective Tissue Between ‘1883’ and ‘1923’
All jokes aside, this baffles me. In the 1923 premiere, Dale’s adult John Dutton Sr. sounds and looks so much like Tim McGraw as James Dutton that it’s eerie. How he got away with this without meticulously studying McGraw as his on-screen father (at relatively the same age as his portrayal of John Sr., no less) is a testament to his talent. Props are also due to 1923‘s costume designer, Janie Bryant, for aiding in this. Bryant used James Dutton’s same 1883 color palette and styling for Dale’s adult John Dutton, and it works brilliantly.
1923 is far better for it regardless, as John Sr. is the only character to carry over from 1883. Through Dale, the show feels more like a sequel than it would otherwise. Yet the actor was careful not to take this too far.
“We live in these weird areas,” he says of being an actor. “Sometimes the less self awareness you have, the better off you are, you know? If I’m trying to copy something, or if I’m more concerned with this thing over here, then I’m missing what’s right here in front of us,” he motions to Marley. Wise words. Or as James Badge Dale calls it, “actory stuff.”