‘1923’s Spencer Dutton speaks: Brandon Sklenar on working under a lion, new TV love and ‘mission’


It’s Spencer Dutton time.

Since Paramount+’s “1923” kicked off in December, the mysterious Spencer Dutton (Brandon Sklenar) has become a smoldering fan favorite far from Montana’s Yellowstone Ranch, working as a for-hire hunter taking down threatening big game.

A sudden love affair – and speedy engagement – to British socialite Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer) serves as a life spark for Spencer, especially after tragic news from his aunt Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren) that Spencer’s brother John (James Badge Dale) and Yellowstone caretaker uncle Jacob (Harrison Ford) have been shot by rivals.

“That’s definitely a big shift – this is now a man on a mission,” says Sklenar, 32, of his  “Yellowstone” prequel breakout character.

When “1923” resumes from winter break on Feb. 5, the lethal but sensitive Dutton scion will be back on the Yellowstone ranch “protecting his family and his legacy,” Sklenar says. “He’s found love again, which has given him purpose.”

Sklenar spoke to USA TODAY about Spencer’s painful past and peril-filled future. (Edited and condensed for clarity.)

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Question: You showed swagger and some of Spencer’s impressive facial hair playing Burt Reynolds in Paramount+’s “The Offer,” about the making of “The Godfather.” How was it playing the icon in that ’70s period drama?

Answer: I’m convinced the one reason I got the role was my mustache because I was 10 years younger than Burt in the story. It was so rich playing someone like Burt Reynolds at that time.

Viewers met Spencer as a boy (played by Charlie Stover) in “Yellowstone” flashbacks. He was the youngest son of “1883” settlers James and Margaret Dutton, both now deceased. How tough has life been for Spencer?

He’s kind of driven by trauma. He saw his murdered father die in front of him.  His mother froze to death. Childhood trauma definitely influenced his decision to go fight in the war, where he killed dozens. Trauma is all he’s known, pretty much.

What did “Yellowstone” creator Taylor Sheridan describe as the key to Spencer Dutton?

He’s this war veteran running from his past and dealing with his PTSD by putting himself in as much danger as possible because he didn’t really care if he lives or dies. But by doing this dance with death, he found reason to live. That was the hook.

Julia Schlaepfer, playing Spencer’s British love Alexandra, is actually an American actress. How did you build that chemistry?

Julia does a great job with that (accent). Taylor specifically did not have us do a chemistry read before casting us. I don’t know how he knew, but it works and I’m grateful. It’s so crucial because their story is so rooted in these two fighting each other.


The new relationship seems to be heading into hallowed “Yellowstone” nontraditional love stories, like Rip and Beth’s. How real is it?

I’ve heard the Rip and Beth comparisons. That comes from this soul connection that doesn’t make much sense; they both know it’s not smart to be together. It’s something you can’t explain or put words to.

Spencer has already been attacked by a leopard and a lion in five episodes. How was that to shoot scenes under a lion after the first episode’s cliffhanger? 

I was actually under a 200-pound stuffed lion that looked incredibly real and was obviously incredibly heavy. We had a real lion on the set that day and combined that with movie magic to make those scenes work.

It was surreal watching you drive a vintage car in the Kenyan countryside.

We were in various locations, including South Africa and Kenya for 2½ months. When Taylor Sheridan says you’re in a location, you’re not in Santa Clarita (California, where the series is filmed). Those vehicles aren’t reliable, but they’re fun to spin around. We had a herd of elephants that day on set. At one point one started running around, and before you know it, four elephants are running around. It was wild. The instinct is to run, but that’s the last thing you should do.

Now onto Montana: You grew up in New Jersey, how are your horse skills?

Much better than six months ago. You spend every day on a horse for two months with the best wranglers out there, you’ll get pretty damn good on the horse. I’m pretty confident now. And there’s something ingrained in our DNA when you get on a horse, especially in Big Sky country.


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