With two heritages to honor, where does Brecken Merrill, the bright young actor behind Yellowstone‘s Tate, see his Dutton heading? Will he become a Yellowstone rancher like his father? Or embrace the Indigenous Broken Rock legacy of his mother? Or will it be both – a marriage that could save both his families?
Outside horrific tragedies no child should have to suffer (see: abduction, killing a grown man in self-defense, and loss of a baby brother as the tip of the iceberg), Tate Dutton’s personal story has been a slow-burn. Yet the show’s most interesting dichotomy rests on his teenage shoulders. Yellowstone could be faulted for not exploring his dual-heritage more, but it’s important to remember that Tate, just like Brecken Merrill, is only now becoming a teenager. He has his whole life ahead of him, and I can assure you I had no idea what I was going to “be” when I was fourteen.
But Brecken does. He wants to be – is – an actor. As for Tate, that fate remains obscured. “I honestly have no idea. I don’t know what Taylor’s up to, all I know is it’s going to be a wild ride,” he tells me of Taylor Sheridan‘s grand plan for the youngest Dutton by-blood.
“But me, personally? I hope I become a Dutton,” Brecken exclaims. “I hope I own that ranch someday.”
He knows this won’t be anytime soon, as do audiences. His on-screen father, Kayce (Luke Grimes) stands to inherit the Dutton Empire first. As Brecken adds, “I think that’s another show for another time, but I would love to play the next John Dutton, for sure.”
‘I think that’s another show for another time, but I would love to play the next John Dutton, for sure’
Joining the series at such a young age, Yellowstone was, in fact, Brecken’s introduction to the Western genre. And it’s turned him into a cowboy for life.
“After filming Yellowstone, I was like, ‘Dude, cowboys are sick! I gotta watch more frickin’ Western shows!” he laughs. “There’s this one show me and my mom watched, called Hell On Wheels. It’s an older Western, but I loved it.”
Nothing will make you feel quite as old as a young actor referring to a 2011 Western like a relic from the past. But Brecken was born in 2008, so to him, it’s a childhood great as many Clint Eastwood and John Wayne classics are to us old-timers.
Thanks to Yellowstone, this is the world he wants to live in now. If the rest of his acting career was Western-based, Brecken Merrill would be happy as a pig in excrement. “I love Westerns! Riding horses, shooting guns, who doesn’t love that?” he lauds.
The 14-year-old plans to stick with the equestrian skills Yellowstone has taught him for life, too. He plans to stick with it “forever,” offering a “Shoutout to Diane” who taught him all of his horse-work on set.
Brecken Merrill Has Learned Heaps Through ‘Yellowstone’s Indigenous American Representation
Yet all that cowboy training hasn’t overshadowed the Indigenous legacy Tate shares with his on-screen mother, Monica Dutton (Kelsey Asbille). The Native American past, present, and future of Monica and her Brocken Rock kin is wildly under-represented in Hollywood, but not on Yellowstone. Under Sheridan’s guidance, it’s become as integral to the plot as anything else.
This opened Brecken up to a whole new world; one he cherishes. “I’ve learned a lot. For the funeral scene, they have this traditional [ceremony] going on. Moses Brings Plenty, who’s an amazing actor in the show, I ask him ‘What is this for?’ And he teaches me a lot about the tradition and the culture, and I love it,” the Yellowstone star tells me of the moving funeral scenes for baby John in Season 5.
Fans know Brings Plenty as Mo, an MVP of the series and beyond-welcomed addition to any episode. But to Brecken and their colleagues, Brings Plenty is also the Indigenous Affairs Coordinator for Yellowstone. Through Mo, like many of us, the young American actor has learned heaps of Native American culture. Which is a shining achievement of Yellowstone at large. And exactly why representation is so important.
For more from Brecken Merrill in-between filming Season 5, be sure to check out our full interview below:
Yellowstone‘s Brecken Merrill dives deep into that big Season 5 death, Tate Dutton’s future, and working with Kevin Costner in Outsider’s exclusive interview. Watch Season 5 of Yellowstone on Sundays on Paramount.Outsider
Brecken and the cast return for Yellowstone Season 5 each Sunday at 8 PM ET / 7 PM CT, exclusively on Paramount Network.