At least at first glance, Paramount's new series Yellowstone has all the makings of a successful modern Western drama — a real estate company that threatens the land of the locals, a family reeling from a devastating loss, and Kevin Costner looking longingly into the distance from atop a horse. It's certainly got drama seamlessly woven into its plot, but is Yellowstone a true story?
Costner's character heads the Duttons, a rancher family fighting to keep ownership of their land. There's no sign of a real family with that name in a historical situation like the one seen in Yellowstone. Still, though the show doesn't appear to be based on specific people, the story has the potential to be just as compelling as real events, judging by what Costner has said about the script. "You dance with the prettiest girl. You go to the best script. And the best script was Yellowstone," Costner told Channel Guide magazine. "I like the world that [creator Taylor Sheridan] created. It was an easy decision for me."
As there's no real John Dutton to base his character on, TV Insider reports that Costner researched American history related to the region to create his own backstory for Dutton, adding another layer to the realism. And Yellowstone is definitely rooted in a real setting, as you might've grasped from its name. Channel Guide magazine also reports that the series was partly filmed at Chief Joseph Ranch, a historic working ranch in Montana, so the actors are no strangers to the actual setting their fictional characters are a part of.
"Those mountains [are] like the ocean, every day they look different," Costner told Vanity Fair of the location, where the outlet reports they spent five months shooting. "It’s a feast for the eye, really."
The cast was also really trying to wrangle horses and animals during the shoot for the first season, and another of the show's stars, Luke Grimes, made it clear that it was an authentic experience. “I’ll tell you, any time you’re on a horse trying to act, it’s a crapshoot,” he told Vanity Fair in the same piece. “You never know what’s going to happen. Wild animals aren’t very good actors. They have a mind of their own. There’s a lot of fun memories trying to hit marks and say lines on the back of a beast.”
The show is getting hype ahead of its premiere, no doubt because of the talent behind it. Aside from Costner's obvious star power, Sheridan is best known as the writer of Hell or High Water and Sicario, and as the writer-director of Wind River, which rounded out what Esquire calls "a thematic trilogy exploring the new American West." That same Esquire profile dubs Sheridan "our generation's greatest Western storyteller."
As for Costner, he admitted to The New York Times that he's not a fan of many Westerns, so he must know what Yellowstone is capable of in order to be on board. "Most Westerns, I just don’t like them. But there [are] six or seven that really marked me because they somehow got under the skin," he said. "You didn’t know the type of individuals you were running into on the trail, if they’re in need of water, in need of food, a psychopath. When those situations are drawn carefully... a real dilemma sets itself up for very heightened drama."
It's clear from the scope and scale of Yellowstone that the team behind the show believes in its potential — now fans will just have to wait to see if the show can breathe new life into TV Westerns.