‘Yellowstone’: Cole Hauser Explains How Rip Wheeler Is ‘His Own Animal,’ Has ‘Ultimate Freedom’

by Jon D. B.

In Yellowstone canon, Rip Wheeler technically doesn’t exist. “He’s off the grid,” Hauser confirms of his character.

There’s no birth certificate, no social security number, nothing for this orphan turned enforcer. Which makes for the perfect man in black via the perfect actor for the job: Cole Hauser.

“There’s a certain freedom to it,” the 47-year-old California native says of how this informs his breakout role. “He doesn’t have a bank account. Doesn’t have a license, you know?” Hauser adds with a laugh that’s clearly sparked by how much he loves inhabiting such an unencumbered man.

Hauser’s been in Hollywood for decades and has amassed one of the most impressive film resumes you’ll find. His career is the result of pure talent and old-fashioned hard work; both of which he brings to Yellowstone in spades. Ironically, it took the show’s “off the grid” Rip Wheeler to put Cole Hauser “on the map.” But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

His Rip is the actor’s dream. A throwback to the essence of the Western: lawlessness. The Wild West was won by dirty men without a shred of paperwork. There were no trails to follow outside the hoofprints of their horses. And even that wasn’t likely to earn you anything other than a messy death. This is what Rip embodies for Hauser.

‘You just don’t play with those guys. And in return, they leave you alone.’

“The police that know of him don’t mess with him. He’s kind of like that black hat. That black hand in the mafia. You just don’t play with those guys. And in return, they leave you alone,” Hauser continues for awards platform Gold Derby.

“In a way, he’s kind of a part of the Montana landscape, you know? He’s his own animal,” he offers of how Yellowstone‘s mastermind, Taylor Sheridan, initially pitched Rip. “I just thought, ‘Wow.’ That is, to me, the ultimate freedom of a character. To be off the grid with nothing that allows anybody to know who I am. It’s another wonderful detail to the character.”

Photo credit: Emerson Miller, Yellowstone Season 4, Paramount Network Press)

“He’s like nobody I’ve ever met or played in my life,” the actor admits. “I’ve met some extraordinary people. I’ve been taught by some extraordinary people through acting. Whether their soldiers or cowboys, pilots or astronauts, and this list goes on. But [Rip] is nobody I’ve ever met.”

When it comes to pulling from real-life experiences for Yellowstone‘s most lawless character, however, Hauser says it boils down to that innate human vulnerability: love.

“There is a way about him that I love. Kelly [Reilly] allows me to play with her with this beautiful honesty and love,” he praises of his iconic Beth Dutton co-star. “They way he looks at her; treats her. It’s just a juxtaposition to how he treats the bunkhouse, or anybody else for that matter.”

Rip is no “puppy dog,” Hauser cites, “but there’s definitely a softer side. And you get to see into his heart. Those moments, sitting on the porch with [Beth] in Season 3, when John gave [Rip] the letter. Reading it in that moment, her saying those things to me, and asking her to say it again because it takes him so aback with what had just happened,” he reveals. “John giving him a home is just, you know, it’s an acknowledgement to the loyalty and love that [Rip] has given in his life. That he’s given to the ranch. To this family.”

Hauser loves when Sheridan writes these “beautiful moments.” It’s in these moments, the Yellowstone stalwart says, that we really get to know Rip Wheeler.

Watch the Full ‘Yellowstone’ Interview with Cole Hauser Below

The actor offers plenty more in his full interview below as he continues filming Season 5. Cole Hauser returns as Rip Wheeler on Yellowstone this November 13, exclusively on Paramount Network.