1883 was the first acting project that Tim McGraw and Faith Hill starred in together during their respective careers. The real-life husband and wife played James and Margaret Dutton — the ancestors of Kevin Costner’s John Dutton — in Taylor Sheridan’s limited series.
The prequel told the story of how the first generation of Duttons arrived in Montana to settle the land that became the famous Dutton Ranch in Yellowstone. But the truth behind why they chose that Montana land was heartbreaking. Before filming that scene with on-screen daughter Isabel May (Elsa Dutton), McGraw says she asked him one question that just tore him apart.
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill high-fived each other when they signed on for ‘1883’
When Sheridan brought McGraw and Hill the deal for coming on board Yellowstone prequel 1883 as the series’ leads, they knew they were in for a hard job ahead of them. But that didn’t stop the longtime couple from signing on the dotted line.
“We sort of gave each other a high five and a kiss and signed the contract,” McGraw recalled on Entertainment Weekly’s The Awardist podcast.
They knew shooting would be difficult. But McGraw and Hill had no way of properly preparing for how physical it would really be. On their 25th anniversary, the couple found themselves filming an intense river scene in cold water at 4 o’clock in the morning.
“It was, hands down, one of the most terrifying [scenes to shoot],” Hill recalled. “I thought I was going to cross, maybe at the river’s edge or something. I didn’t realize that it was going to be literally going across this river. [Taylor said], ‘That was real Western right there, girl.’”
Isabel May asked Tim McGraw one question that tore him apart before filming their final scene
McGraw and Hill are the parents of three grown daughters who are close in age to May, their on-screen daughter who narrates 1883. Hill admitted that there are “a few places within the series” that she “seriously can’t speak about” because she had to “go to such places to get what was needed.”
“That was tough, what she said. ‘See you in the valley.’ … I can’t imagine not being with my child in their final moments of life,” Hill said, fighting back tears.
McGraw says that when he filmed May’s final scene sitting under a tree in Montana, they had to shoot it three or four times. On the very first take, McGraw says he and May were both “just a blubbering mess.”
“The scene that we ended up using — and I think it was the next to the last take we took — she’s laying on my lap and we’re getting ready to shoot and she just looks up at me and says, ‘What’s the thing you love most about your daughters?’ And then they said, ‘action,’ and it just tore me apart,” McGraw revealed.
Isabel May says Elsa Dutton on ‘1883’ might be the best role of her life
At the age of 21, May is just starting out in her career. But she says that it’s going to be difficult topping a role like Elsa — especially since she inspired the character during an audition for Mayor of Kingstown.
“I played potentially the greatest role I might ever have the opportunity of playing, and I still don’t know how to take it,” May told Deadline. “I don’t understand what I did or what it is about myself that may have influenced Taylor in that moment, when this character sparked to life in his head.”