Helen Mirren has a reputation for playing queens onscreen, but she believes her latest character in Yellowstone spinoff 1923 is no different.
Mirren stars in the new Paramount+ period show as Cara Dutton, wife to Harrison Ford’s Jacob Dutton and matriarch of the Yellowstone ranch. 1923 is the latest prequel series from Taylor Sheridan, following on from last year’s smash hit 1883.
Ahead of its arrival on the streaming platform on Sunday, December 18, Newsweek interviewed Mirren and her fellow castmates to find out more about the highly anticipated show.
Cara Dutton: A queen in her own right
In her seven decades onscreen, the 77-year-old has taken on a number of roles relating to royalty. Included on her resume now are British monarchs Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Elizabeth II (for which she won an Oscar), Queen Margaret and Queen Charlotte, as well as Russian Empress Catherine the Great. Add to this her voice roles as ‘Snow Queen’ in The Snow Queen, ‘The Queen’ in the Prince of Egypt, and more recently Magdalene “Queenie” Shaw in The Fast and Furious franchise.
Newsweek put it to Mirren that her new role as Cara Dutton, a ranch owner who gets stuck in with farm work, must be a refreshing change of pace for her. That’s not the case though, insists Mirren. “Well in a funny way, Cara Dutton is a bit of a queen, of her own little empire,” Mirren told Newsweek. “She’s certainly the Queen Consort, let’s say like a Camilla [Parker Bowles] or a Prince Philip. Part of a powerful partnership.” The biggest differences between her previous royals and this 1923 “queen” is the wardrobe.
“I have played a lot of queens and I do love the dressing up of the queen. You know, the jewels, the diamonds, the crowns and all that stuff, I do love that. But Cara it’s all work boots, an apron, a funky old skirt.” Mirren continued, “We deliberately cut my costume down to basically two or three outfits, because I said she wouldn’t have 10 or 15 dresses in her wardrobe. She’d have a very minimal number of clothes.”
Despite the Yellowstone ranch being the largest of its kind in Montana in the modern day Yellowstone series, the same ranch is struggling in the year 1923 as the state is contending with the Great Depression which hit Montana a decade early. Award winner Mirren shares top billing with 80-year-old legend Harrison Ford in 1923, and they could understandably be an intimidating presence for some. Co-star James Badge Dale said it was the opposite in their case. “They’re kind of the most fun people on set,” Dale told Newsweek. “You have to keep it fun, and that’s what keeps it lively. And that’s what works when the cameras start rolling, that energy that we all kind of share.”
Dale plays John Dutton Sr. in 1923, the same character we met in 1883 when he was just a boy. Now grown up, he’s married to Emma Dutton, played by Marley Shelton. Dale said he noticed Shelton and Mirren clicking both in front of and behind the cameras. “Oh yeah, best friends now,” Shelton laughed. “She’s amazing, absolutely amazing. I had a pinch me moment with her. We were filming a big ambush scene, I was crouching behind a log in the forest, and I look over and see Dame Helen Mirren and legendary Harrison Ford, and we were playing cowboys and shooting guns. I got to do that for 12 hours, and it was such a surreal moment.”
No Digital Effects
1923 is a throwback in its setting, but also in its creation as it doesn’t rely on computer generated images like other projects these days. This is something that Mirren felt particularly impressed with.
“What is extraordinary about doing this piece is working in that real environment. Everything about 1923, as it was with 1883, the authenticity and the reality and the non-reliance upon digital effects, everything you see on the screen is really happening, being filmed as it really happens, and I think that’s, that’s, that’s a wonderful experience as an actor,” Mirren explained. That suggests that, as Shelton revealed, when you see Mirren and Ford shoot a gun or ambush someone, it’s really happening and there’s no digital trickery put in place. Mirren is no stranger to starring in a CGI-heavy movie (see the aforementioned Fast and Furious) but to her, nothing beats the real thing.
“It’s great and wonderful digital effects we can have nowadays. You can create unbelievable fantasies on the screen. But there’s also something very powerful about just shooting what’s in front of you, and that’s what you’ve got [in 1923]. “Especially when you’re shooting in an environment like Montana, and you have these amazing, incredible landscapes, incredible skies. That part of that nature becomes a character within the film, it becomes a powerful motivator in the story,” Mirren said.