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Sam Elliott on ‘1883’ and achieving his best at 78: ‘There’s not going to be a better one’

In Taylor Sheridan’s interconnected “Yellowstone” TV shows, Sam Elliott is proud to be No. 1. His prequel “1883” was the first “Yellowstone” spinoff.

“I’m glad I was there at the beginning and not three or four or five shows down the line,” said Elliott, who played Shea Brennan, a guide tasked with helping Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Isabel May’s characters migrate west to settle land. The role earned him a Screen Actors Guild award earlier this year.

“1883,” which debuted in 2021 exclusively on the Paramount+ streaming service, tells the beginning of the “Yellowstone” saga about Kevin Costner’s John Dutton, who is the patriarch of a powerful rancher family in Montana. “1883’s” 10-episodes are now airing Sundays on the Paramount Network, giving more people a chance to watch.

Prior to joining “1883,” Elliott had watched a little bit of “Yellowstone” because his sister is a big fan.

“I just watched a half an hour with her one day, and it reminded me of ‘Dallas,’” he said.

“I’ve watched more of it since we shot ’1883,′ mostly out of curiosity,” he said. “I truly feel that Taylor is brilliant as a writer, but it’s another thing maintaining the quality over the long haul.”

Costner’s “Yellowstone” will end in November, but the other spinoffs, including season two of “1923” and a sequel set to debut in December, will continue.

Filming “1883” wasn’t easy. The weather was extreme — with heat in Texas and then freezing temperatures in Montana.

“It made it more of a challenge but it brought an authenticity to it,” said Elliott. “What was it like for the people who were on those wagon trains going to Oregon back in the day?”

Then there was the homesickness, which Elliott describes as “the hardest thing about this show for me personally. It was a killer… It’s hard on relationships. You can’t live a relationship long distance.” (Elliott is married to actor Katharine Ross.) “And I had gone through some health issues and surgeries just before we started. It was tough for me to get going.”

Elliott is very familiar with playing tough, salt of the earth characters like cowboys. He starred in the movie “Tombstone” and TV movies including “The Quick and the Dead” and “The Shadow Riders.”

He thinks Westerns have a relatability that captures the audience. “I’ve always thought there were three classic struggles in Westerns. It’s man against man, man against nature and man against himself. There’s a lot of people who can feel or understand that.

Elliott was especially fond of working with May and LaMonica Garrett. Of May he says, “Isabelle is just stunning. … I was so taken with her. I mean, she’s just she’s a lovely girl for starters and she’s just brilliant. I’m eager to see where her career is going to take her.”

Garrett played Thomas, a frontiersman who helps Shea on the trail. Thomas and Shea form a bond throughout the series. “Nothing ever entered into it (with their characters) that spoke of race. It was just these two brothers that cared for each other,” said Elliott. “LaMonica and I hit it off right away.”

When filming wrapped, Elliott kept a badge his character wore in all of his scenes.

“The prop man gave it to me on the last day,” he said. “I was wearing my own spurs. I always wear my own spurs.”

Elliott recently started rewatching the series on Paramount Network and said “I know that at this point in my life, there’s not going to be a better one that’s going to come along than this. I feel like on some level, if I quit right now, I will have done what I set out to do when I was 9 years old wanting to be an actor. I’m spoiled.”

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Follow Alicia Rancilio at https://www.twitter.com/aliciar

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