Elisabeth Caren
Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford

Elisabeth Caren
Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren

Elisabeth Caren
Fill 1
Fill 1
April 28, 2023

Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford in1923

The duo star in the Yellowstone prequel 1923, performances creator Taylor Sheridan calls "riveting to witness."

Robert Abele

"He told me she was locked."

"And he told me that he was locked!"

Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, the stars of 1923, are sitting next to each other on a sofa in a Hollywood Hills house, confirming with overlapping assertions that when it comes to securing top-drawer talent for his expanding Yellowstone universe, Taylor Sheridan is a canny pitchman. The 1923 creator's campaign to woo Ford and Mirren to play Montana ranchers Jacob and Cara Dutton — when neither had said yes — involved individual invitations to Sheridan's Texas ranch, wine, steak ("excellent steak," Mirren notes) and a lot of conversation. Mostly because no script existed yet.

Watch our Under the Cover video with Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford

"To commit to something without reading, having no idea what the script's going to be, was a real jump into a dark pool, not knowing whether there was a bottom there or not," Ford says. "We talked less about what the story would be and more about his process."

What he and Mirren learned on those trips was that Sheridan doesn't want to put an idea to paper until he knows who's playing his characters. Since they were both fans of Sheridan's work — including the movies Hell or High Water and Wind River and the Yellowstone prequel 1883 — the notion of a custom-fitted part sounded appealing.

"He doesn't want to write and get turned down by a person," Ford says. "It made sense to me. The way we were fitting that evening felt right ... I could trust this guy." Sheridan confirms the confidence in his approach: "I knew if I got them on the plane, I'd get them in the series."

By the time the scripts were ready and production was on its feet in Montana, with all the animals, equipment, crew and very real weather in place, 1923 — which chronicles the Dutton ancestors' intense battle to hold on to their land against drought, theft, a bad economy and worse antagonists — had become as big as anything either Ford or Mirren had ever made.

"I knew it was going to be physically pretty spectacular," Mirren says, "but to walk on set and see the number of moving parts, all hauled up to the top of a mountain, I was absolutely amazed."

Ford's trust in the showrunner-executive producer, meanwhile, reaped uncanny emotional dividends as scenes took shape. "When the scripts were coming, I was struck by how many major moments in my character's life had a substantial and not coincidental shadow of the same things in my life."

He brings up the pivotal ambush sequence from the third episode, when Jacob is gunned down and rushed back to their home. "I watched a rehearsal with a stand-in being brought into the kitchen, and Helen coming in, sweeping everything off the counter, taking command ... ." Ford hesitates, his voice cracking slightly. "Even when I talk about it now, it emotionally relates to the airplane crash I had and what my wife went through." In 2015, Ford suffered a near-fatal crash in Los Angeles while piloting a vintage World War II plane. "There have been five or six of those kinds of things that have shown up in the script, and it's really remarkable. There's something that feels bigger than myself, and it's great to be able to serve these ideas."

This is the megastar's first scripted television role since the 1970s (he also stars in Shrinking, a dramatic comedy that debuted on Apple TV+ just six weeks after 1923 premiered), but he dismisses the distinction. "In our trade, there's no difference between television and film. It's just a longer walk to get to a movie."

Mirren asks, "To get to the set, you mean? From your trailer?"

"Well, no," Ford says. "For a person to go out of their house and go to a movie theater."

"Oh, right."

Mirren, of course, is well aware of what keeps a viewer at home, having made iconic the role of Jane Tennison on the legendary British police series Prime Suspect. She notes that English TV has always had an appreciation for what the medium could do.

"In the earlier part of my career, the phrase was, 'British film is alive and living on television.' But the whole landscape of how we watch filmed drama has changed, hasn't it? You have huge screens in your living room and cinemas have gotten smaller. It's a very interesting time."

For her, 1923 — which has received a second-season renewal — is novelistic in its breadth. "In a grander sense, I feel the whole thing is sort of like an American version of War and Peace, Tolstoy's great novel. It's this huge sweep of history but seen through the eyes of intimate family relationships."

In terms of scale, Ford likes the notion that each episode is like an intense movie, but he acknowledges that 1923 is new for him as a character piece. "This is really the first time I've had to play that kind of relationship onscreen," he says of the marriage portrait. "I'm enjoying the domestic intimacy part of it."

To read the rest of the story, pick up a copy of emmy magazine HERE.

This article originally appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, Issue No. 04.

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