What is happening in our world? Who is doing what? what is going on now? These are questions that will be answered. Enjoy.
Day of the Soldado Movie and Yellowstone TV Series
Deadlines loomed. Episodes needed editing. The L.A. suits expected callbacks. But first, we rode. Or rather, Taylor Sheridan straddled a sleek quarter horse named Rosie and I held fast to Mr. Blue Jeans, a white nag. It was a gloomy morning at Jake Ream’s ranch in Palmyra, Utah, about sixty miles and a century removed from the ski lifts and limos of Park City. Sheridan pulled his white hat over his Irish brow, grabbed the reins, and whispered softly to his favorite bay.
Seven years ago, Sheridan was a forty-one-year-old struggling actor living in a dingy Hollywood apartment with his wife, Nicole; their young son, Gus; and a few hundred silverfish. He has since established himself as a writer-director and creative force with Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River, a thematic trilogy exploring the new American West.
This summer brings the release of Sicario: Day of the Soldado (June 29) and the premiere of Yellowstone (June 20), a ten-hour drama made for the Paramount Network. Sheridan hopes it will deliver the “John Ford experience to television, now that even my cousin who works two jobs has a giant flat-screen.”
“Our country’s model has been: When full up here, go that way and reinvent yourself. It’s like a parasite: Devour this region and then move to the next.”
Without giving too much away, the series centers on John Dutton (played by Kevin Costner), a seventh-generation cattleman trying to save the largest privately owned ranch in the country from an encroaching army of developers, Native Americans, and artisanal ice cream shops. Every generation rewrites the western, and with Yellowstone Sheridan paints a picture of a nation with nothing left to exploit. “Our country’s model has been: When full up here, go that way and reinvent yourself,” he told me. “That has been our business policy. It’s like a parasite: Devour this region and then move to the next.” The cowboy’s karmic debt has come due.
Paramount gave complete creative freedom, and a $90 million budget, to a man with no television experience. For Sheridan—who wrote and directed every episode, a total runtime of five hundred minutes—the stakes could not be higher. But his star isn’t worried. “The people that Taylor admires from a film standpoint,” Costner told me, “he has a real chance to be better than all of them.”
At the moment, Sheridan’s days are mostly spent in an editing bay near his home, or in his writing cabin, plotting a hoped-for second season. The saddle is the only place where he can turn off his brain, his ambition, and his rage. But there are exceptions. “I don’t ride buckskins,” Sheridan said, his sunburned face and blue eyes reminiscent of, well, a goddamned cowboy. He ticked off broken ribs, wrists, and collarbones—all on the backs of horses with yellow-colored hides. “They try to kill me. They’re like blonds. I stay away from blonds.”
He grinned and rode off. (Not into the sunset.)
Sweatshirt by Kimes Ranch; T-shirt (worn throughout) by RRL; hat by Greeley Hat Works; gloves (worn throughout) Sheridan’s own.
Sheridan’s hometown of Cranfills Gap, Texas, sounds like something out of a Zane Grey novel, but it’s a real place about an hour west of Waco. He was raised on a cattle ranch called FEA; his mother had always wanted to live in Arizona, and the land became her Far East Arizona.
As he drove through the canyon roads of the Wasatch mountains, Sheridan talked of playing hide-and-seek on horseback as a child. By twelve, he was driving the family pickup into town. By fourteen, he was herding cattle. The soil was thick with remnants of Comanche weapons from their battles with Norwegian settlers. There was frozen rain in the winter, 100-plus-degree heat in the summer, tornadoes in the spring, and floods in the fall. “Where I grew up, my salvation was in the solitude,” Sheridan said. “Friends weren’t something you had.” There was trouble at home, but he wouldn’t share the details. “Let’s just say I loved the ranch because I could get out of the house and escape.”
After high school, his parents divorced. Sheridan’s mother got the ranch but couldn’t afford to keep it, falling victim to a series of ill-advised loans, a painful episode that later informed Hell or High Water. For years after the sale, he and his mother didn’t speak.
Sheridan exhaled and turned his massive pickup off a gravel road onto a two-lane blacktop. “I left, and never thought I’d go back,” he said. “But then you realize the ghosts weren’t there. The ghosts are wherever you are.”
“Where I grew up, my salvation was in the solitude,” Sheridan said. “Friends weren’t something you had.”
Sheridan enrolled at Texas State, in San Marcos, after the ranch was sold. He dropped out and moved to Austin, where he mowed lawns and painted houses. A talent scout spotted him at a mall and asked if he wanted to be a model. Sheridan said he was more interested in acting. Soon he was in Chicago, auditioning for a Montgomery Ward commercial. The actors were called in two at a time and asked to talk about themselves. Sheridan waited his turn, but the first actor kept talking over him.
“Hey, man,” Sheridan told him, “you interrupt me again, I’m gonna knock you out. Just letting you know.” The guy nodded and then started interrupting him again. Sheridan punched him in the jaw, gathered his stuff, and left, thinking that was that and he’d be headed back to Texas. But he got the part.
“You know why I hired you?” the producer asked him.
“Because that’s the funniest damn scene I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Sheridan spent a year in New York and then moved to Los Angeles. He hated the place then, and he hates it now. “I’ve felt real lonely in Los Angeles and New York,” Sheridan told me in Utah. “But never out here, never where there’s space.”
“I’ve felt real lonely in Los Angeles and New York,” Sheridan told me in Utah. “But never out here, never where there’s space.”
He went broke and started camping in the hills above L.A. Once a day, he’d come down to shower at the gym and check his pager (“This is back in the era of pagers”) for messages from his agent. He rarely got any. Then he’d drive back up into the country and crack open Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces, an essayistic ode to the outdoor life he was now missing. He’d read the opening line over and over: “It’s May and I’ve just awakened from a nap, curled against sagebrush the way my dog taught me to sleep—sheltered from the wind.”
Nothing gave him peace. Not drinking, not California-style new-age spirituality. Instead, Sheridan immersed himself in reading, working his way through Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry. Then, through some friends, he met a group of Native Americans in Los Angeles who introduced him to others in an encampment north of the city, near Ojai. No one had any money; they fixed each other’s cars and repaired each other’s homes. Many were from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and Sheridan, feeling adrift, decided to drive there, an experience that would color many scenes in Wind River. He saw a bar with a “No dogs, no Indians” sign. Cops stationed just outside the reservation, itching to stop a car with a broken headlight. A gas station where they wouldn’t pump for him because he mixed with the Lakota.
The tribe gave Sheridan a home when he didn’t have one. They invited him to participate in their rituals, sit in their sweat lodges, and, finally, tend the fire at sun dances, during which men and women tethered themselves to a tree for four days until they reached some state of bliss.
Eventually, Sheridan headed back to Los Angeles, where he spent the next decade scoring the occasional bit part on Walker, Texas Ranger and Veronica Mars when he wasn’t getting passed over for the Dallas reboot or The Walking Dead. To pay the bills, he “taught a damn acting class, which shows you that anyone can teach acting.” One of his students was Ariana Grande, whose mom would overpay when she knew Sheridan was hard up.
Coaching had its drawbacks: “Everybody on set would think I was fucking the woman if it was an actress.” He smiled. “Actually, if it was an actor, they thought the same thing.”
On Nicole Sheridan: Jacket by Polo Ralph Lauren; sweater by Theo & Spence; jeans by Ariat; hat by Greeley Hat Works. On Taylor Sheridan: Jacket by Filson; hat by Greeley Hat Works.
Back at the ranch, Sheridan and Rosie worked on cutting, a cowboy sport in which horse and rider try to separate a heifer from the herd. When he can get away, Sheridan drives across the West with Nicole and Gus to competitions. “It’s kind of like a linebacker trying to get the angle on a running back,” he said. “You can’t get behind the cow.”
Once he warmed Rosie up, a small herd was brought in and the two gave chase. Soon Sheridan let go of the reins, steered his bay with just his legs until the cow was cornered, and gave Rosie a pat on the neck. He rode with the confidence of a man who’d directed some of Yellowstone atop a horse he kept tied up next to the video village. In the next round, Sheridan drove a white-faced calf from the herd. It zigged and zagged, then sprinted under Mr. Blue Jeans’s belly and my non-cowboy-issued Stan Smiths. There was maybe an inch of clearance. Mr. Blue Jeans hemmed and hawed but didn’t buck. The ranch hands went silent.
Sheridan galloped over to me. “You know how lucky you are? Any other horse would have thrown you over the fence or pancaked you. Jesus, I’ve never seen that before.” He explained that pancaking is when your horse dumps you and then falls on top of you.
At age thirty-eight, Sheridan received what most starving actors would consider a big break: He was cast as deputy police chief David Hale on FX’s edgy biker drama Sons of Anarchy. “Let me dissuade you that everyone you see on TV is rich,” Sheridan told me. “I was making 150 and I had to be exclusive. After you pay your taxes and your manager, you might clear ninety. I had a baby boy and a wife. I realized I’d never do anything as an artist in that cycle.” After two seasons, he asked for a raise. The producers said no, so he quit. Sheridan considered taking a job as a ranch manager in Wyoming, but he couldn’t bring his family. In early 2011, he swore to Nicole that he could write them out of their misery. She dipped into their meager savings and bought him the screenwriting program Final Draft.
Sheridan went back and read the scripts for every TV show he’d ever auditioned for. “Television is an extremely rigid structure,” he said. “You’ve got a teaser that lasts a minute that sets up the episode. Then you have four or five acts depending on what network you’re on. Show me the teaser, and I’ll tell you how the whole thing’s gonna end.”
Emily Blunt in Sicario
He demolished those conventions in Sicario, a drug-war thriller inspired by his own trips to the border and the various shady characters he met there. Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a naive FBI agent, is nearly murdered after the “good guys” use her as bait. Then we leave Blunt for most of the next half hour as CIA ops leader Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), a shadowy off-the-books mercenary, conduct a mission in a drug tunnel where it’s not apparent who is who. The final act tracks Gillick over the border to carry out an execution that is part business, part vendetta. The film, directed by Denis Villeneuve, leaves you questioning your choices: Look who you rooted for and look what unimaginable violence has resulted.
“People have seen so many films that they can intuit what happens next,” he told me. “They can feel ‘Here’s what’s coming.’ I wanted it to feel like anything could happen at any point. Kate could die. Josh Brolin could die. You have no idea what I’m going to show you.” Sheridan proclaims himself anti-exposition. “You don’t need a guy calling his wife in a scene and explaining everything that’s happening,” he said. “To me, what’s really interesting is you can get to know someone so intimately without knowing anything about them.” Initially, he put Sicario in a drawer, figuring it was too dark for a Hollywood studio, and turned to a more personal project.
“People have seen so many films that they can intuit what happens next. I wanted Sicario to feel like anything could happen at any point.
Sheridan’s home state was in the depths of the Great Recession and a biblical drought. Desperate farmers were selling the water from their stock ponds to fracking companies. Horses were being cut loose to fend for themselves. Around the same time, Sheridan’s cousin, a legendary U. S. marshal named Parnell McNamara, was forced into retirement, the last in a generations-long line of state lawmen. “It felt like Texas, and our family, were losing a way of life,” Sheridan told me.
As he pushed Gus in a stroller down Sunset Boulevard one evening in 2011, it hit him. He knew how the script originally called Comancheria would end. (The title refers to the name for west Texas before the white man took over. “Some twenty-six-year-old marketing executive changed it to Hell or High Water, said Comancheria sounded like a venereal disease,” Sheridan said. “Asshole.”) He raced home, handed Gus off to Nicole, and slammed out the first sixteen pages. The first draft—more or less the version filmed four years later by David Mackenzie—was done in six days.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster in Hell or High Water
The story follows Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), a pair of bank-robbing brothers on the run from Marcus (Jeff Bridges), a Texas Ranger loosely based on Sheridan’s cousin. Who you are supposed to sympathize with is unclear. (This is intentional, and a hallmark of Sheridan’s work. His favorite John Ford film is Fort Apache, in which Henry Fonda’s vainglorious Army commander leads his cavalry into an ambush.) The upright Marcus revels in making racist jokes at the expense of his half-Mexican, half–Native American partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham), while Toby and Tanner are on the wrong side of the law, but for the right reasons: Well into the movie, Sheridan reveals that they have been stealing to save their late mother’s ranch from foreclosure.
Halfway through the script, a cowboy trying to ride his herd away from prairie fires crystallizes the desperation: “It’s the twenty-first century and I’m racing a fire to the river with three hundred cattle. No wonder my kids don’t wanna do this nonsense for a living.” (Mackenzie couldn’t find an actor who could ride and deliver the monologue at the same time, so the screenwriter stepped in.)
The struggles of rural America are an abiding theme in Sheridan’s films. While no fan of the current president, he understands the anger that propelled Donald Trump to the White House. “Here’s the worst two words put together in the past ten years: white privilege,” he said. “Oh, really? Help me, Mr. Harvard-fucking-Ph.D., convince the man who’s losing his ranch, who can’t afford his kid’s college—he has no health care, he has no fucking clue what Obamacare is, he’s never seen a social-security-fucking-office, his only concept of federal government is taxes. How do I convince that guy he’s privileged? You won’t do it.”
The news that Hell or High Water had sold for nearly $500,000 came while Sheridan was riding in Wyoming on Good Friday in 2012. “I was so glad no one’s Christian in L.A., because they were open!” he said with a laugh. “They could actually make this deal. They didn’t have to wait until Monday.”
Sheridan’s third script, titled Wind River, concerns a murder on an Indian reservation. Basil Iwanyk, who produced Sicario, agreed to let him direct after being impressed by his ballsy notes about an early cut of John Wick, another Iwanyk production. (Mainly, Sheridan wanted to know what the fuck was the deal with Wick’s dog.)
I asked Elizabeth Olsen, who plays FBI agent Jane Banner, if Sheridan ever appeared nervous on set. “Um, no.” She laughed. “He is, like, the most confident person I think the world has ever seen.” Sheridan sought Jeremy Renner for the male lead, Cory Lambert, a tracker who lost his own daughter to the frozen Wyoming wild. But Renner, worn out from too many superhero flicks, was taking a break from acting. So Sheridan sent him the script and said if Renner read the first ten pages, he’d send him the finest bottle of his choice; the actor could pass with no hard feelings. But there was a catch: Sheridan would quiz him on what he had read. “I wasn’t giving him a freebie,” he said.
Jeremy Renner in Wind River
Like Sheridan’s other films, Wind River breaks almost every narrative rule. You assume the victim’s white boyfriend played a role in her death until it’s revealed, three-quarters in, that he gave his life in a futile attempt to protect her. Renner eventually corrals the perpetrator but lets him go free; barefoot at ten thousand feet, the killer runs until his lungs explode.
Gil Birmingham plays a grief-stricken father whose culture has been so obliterated that he has to imagine what a death mask should look like, painting his face blue and white. “That’s all his,” Birmingham said of the scene. “That’s where you go, ‘Where did he learn that? Where did he get that?’ ” At the end of the film, there’s a postscript stating that the American government doesn’t even keep stats on how many Native American women are abducted and killed every year. Wind River was screened at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. “They don’t believe in feeding you there,” Sheridan told me. “It’s just rosé.” Later, Steven Spielberg saw the film and called Sheridan to tell him that he loved it. Spielberg had one question: Did Renner’s character really blow away a coyote with his sniper rifle? “I don’t think you did, but I can’t see your homework.” Sheridan, who won the Un Certain Regard award for Best Director, laughed and assured Spielberg that no coyotes had been harmed.
The accolades have not tamed Sheridan’s fury over how the new world treats the old world. “Native Americans don’t count because our nation doesn’t look at them as minorities,” he said. “They look at them as prisoners of war. But we’d rather not look at you at all, so here’s some college money and casinos.”
Sheridan borrowed five grand from a friend’s father in the months before he sold Hell or High Water. Now he lives on a twenty-five-acre gentleman’s ranch that he found while scouting locations for Wind River, and his tax bill has grown to that of a small town. Yet the affluence of Park City’s Main Street, about eight miles away, holds no appeal. A few minutes down the road from his home is a gourmet food-services company. Sheridan went in one day to order lunch. The manager said they only offered catering.
“All I wanted was a sandwich,” Sheridan told me with a shake of his head. “What a fucking world.” Thank Jesus that Sheridan’s scripts are so good, because his patience with Hollywood execs is near zero. Don’t get him started on the marketers changing the name of the second Sicario film from Soldado to Sicario: Day of the Soldado. “It’s this fucking business,” Sheridan said on our way to the horses. “They were all meant to stand on their own, not as sequels.”
It had been a happily chaotic day. Sheridan was working the phones while his wife and Gus visited some residents in a local retirement home. Nicole provides a sunnier balance to her husband, who once told me, “My brother and I used to joke, ‘There’s glasses half full, glasses half empty, and our glass, where someone took it and fucking poured it on us.’ ”
Sheridan and Gus went to feed the goats, who are all named after characters in Larry McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove. “Lonesome Dove was the first thing I read that captured how people in Texas really talk,” Sheridan said. (He told me later that a critic had taken issue with Hell or High Water’s dialogue, including the memorable line “I gotta shit like an old goat.” “What the hell does he know? People say that.”) After feeding the animals, he gently chastised his son for not closing the barn door and remarked that he wasn’t heating the great outdoors. “God, I sound like such a dad.”
Inside, Sheridan sprinkled ground coffee and spices onto some New York strips. The winter wind meant he had to cook them indoors, much to his disappointment, but it was still the best steak I’d ever tasted. He wouldn’t give me his recipe. “It’s me spending countless, countless, countless hours experimenting,” he said, “spending my son’s inheritance on steaks.”
We adjourned to the family room to watch a rough cut of the first two hours of Yellowstone on a massive flat-screen.
The pilot ends with a shoot-out, a funeral, and vows of revenge. Someone turned on the lights, yet the room remained quiet. Gus had gone to bed, dreaming of seeing Black Panther again that weekend. Nicole left the room.
Sheridan was proud of what we watched. “I told the producers they didn’t want me to direct it because it was all going to be long shots—not that handheld stuff,” he said. “It was going to take time and money.” The shoot was not an easy one. It involved hundreds of horses and a disproportionate number of exterior scenes requiring good weather. Sheridan put his actors through a weeklong cowboy boot camp. When their pack horses fled down a mountain, they were forced to spend the night on the ground. But he wanted me to know that “I can quit whenever I want. Tomorrow can be my last day. If creatively they decide that ‘Hey, man, this is a little dark,’ I’m like, ‘Do it. But you’re not doing it with me. Best of luck.’ ”
Sheridan was clad in a white T-shirt and jeans, his eyes bleary and his face flushed from the Utah wind and the red wine. He poured us both another glass and told me another story.
When he heard his mother had put the ranch up for sale, Sheridan took a bus to Cranfills Gap and then walked the last three miles. He sat himself at FEA’s front gate with a shotgun. For four months, he scared off Realtors and prospective buyers.
“It’s not for sale!” he would shout. But of course it was.
“I had no money,” he said in a raspy whisper. “I fished every fucking fish out of the pond. I shot every deer I could fucking shoot until I was literally… I had nothing.”
A young man wandered into the room: Carson, the son of Sheridan’s boyhood best friend, and a production assistant on Yellowstone.
Shirt by Levi’s Vintage Clothing; boots by Anderson Bean Boots.
“Carson, get out of here—go do something on your phone.” Carson left.
It was Carson’s father, Phil, whom Sheridan called when he was starving and at his wit’s end. Phil was the one who gave Sheridan a ride to Austin, where he was discovered at that mall and whisked off to Chicago. Meanwhile, Phil fell in love with the first girl he slept with, and she was soon pregnant. They named the boy Taylor.
Sheridan met his namesake when he was three weeks old. “I want that kid riding before he’s crawling,” Phil told him. Sheridan understood. “We saddled the horses up. We took a ride. I cradled his boy,” he said.
Two decades passed. Sheridan tried to be a good godfather to the boy. “He called me once, suicidal, and I talked him off the ledge.” A few weeks later, he got another call, this time from Phil. His godson had killed himself.
“Now I’m going to explain to you the cowboy mentality,” Sheridan said as he poured himself some more fortification. He got to Texas as soon as he could. His friend had a request: “I’m going to think about it for the rest of my life. But I need two hours to not think about it. And the only way I don’t think about it is on a horse.”
Sheridan’s eyes grew wet.
“Every now and then, he calls me,” he said. “He goes, ‘Hey, man, you wanna come out and ride?’ And I’m like, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow.’ Because I know what that means. He’s thinking about his kid. I’m the only person that he can forget with.”
We talked some more, but Sheridan was exhausted from the memories, both good and bad. He started to repeat himself.
“The only time he could forget was while he was on a horse.”
Nicole came back into the room, and Sheridan said it was time to go to bed. But he had one more idea.
“Come back tomorrow at 9:45. We’ll go for another ride.”