‘Yellowstone’s Kevin Costner Explains Why ‘The Western is America’s Shakespeare’

by Lauren Boisvert

If you want an example of a Western done right, look to “Yellowstone.” Modern in all the right places, yet still exuding that old-world charm that captures us so completely. It’s in the landscape, and the biting one-liners, rooted deep in the story. The Western aesthetic is everywhere in “Yellowstone,” and Kevin Costner calls it “America’s Shakespeare.”

But what exactly does that mean? In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter and the main cast of “Yellowstone,” Kevin Costner expanded on what the Western represents in America. Plus, why the heart of “Yellowstone” is never going away.

When asked why there aren’t that many Western projects in the 30 years between “Dances With Wolves” and “Yellowstone,” Costner replied, “Because they’re really hard to make. From a Western standpoint, the reason why there are so many bad ones is because they don’t realize how complicated it was. And Westerns aren’t based just on the gunfight. They’re based on the literature of how people lived their life and how they spoke with each other. The danger that was involved with living in an unknown area without really a level of protection that we know today, this particular century.”

He then spoke on why, specifically, the Western genre is so difficult. “So people […] were tough. They had to be resourceful. They had to be a lot of things,” he said. “And so when you make a Western, if you don’t acknowledge those abilities, that native intelligence, and also the random acts of violence that occurred when you’re out here, I think that’s why they can miss the mark more often than they make it. It’s complicated. It’s our Shakespeare, really, the Western. You know, ‘yep’ doesn’t just mean yep. It might mean, ‘that’s the last word I’m having with you, fella.’ But it’s our Shakespeare, if you will.”

Kevin Costner Likens the Western to Shakespeare, Praises Taylor Sheridan for His Work on ‘Yellowstone’

Costner then took the time to praise Taylor Sheridan for creating “Yellowstone” and all the work he puts into it. “And we have our creative influence, Taylor,” said Costner, “who’s the author of all this, has a great grasp of not only the economy of language that goes with [those] kind of Western themes. He actually has more knowledge about it than really anyone I know. And he’s elected to give incredible speeches to Kelly [Reilly] and to myself. And Kayce says ‘yep’ to most everything. ‘Yep,’ but what it means is exactly what we said it means,” Costner laughed.

He concluded, “But I think Westerns when they’re at their best, invest in the language as much as they do in the gunfight.”

Essentially, what Costner means is Shakespeare is complicated and hard to get right. But, people do it. Just like with “Yellowstone”; the Western is definitely difficult, but sometimes you just hit it out of the park. Costner has said that the “foot’s on the gas” for season 5, and we couldn’t be more excited.