Taylor Sheridan’s “Yellowstone” is the most watched show on television, and a big reason for that success is Kelly Reilly’s performance as Beth Dutton, the razor-sharp, vindictive, deeply wounded daughter of Kevin Costner’s John Dutton.
As we enter season 5, which just started airing on Paramount Network, Beth is in a new position: her father has just become governor and he has just awarded her the chief-of-staff position. A lawyer with ruthless cunning, she has committed to helping him stop the development that threatens his family ranch (also known as Yellowstone), even if it means going to war – in court and on the plains of Montana.
The Wrap spoke to Reilly about the overwhelming success of “Yellowstone,” what we can expect from her character this season and how her relationship with gruff cowboy Rip (played memorably by Cole Hauser) became the unlikely emotional backbone of the entire show.
When I told a coworker that I was going to talk to you, they said that their mom, when she has to get pumped up for something and marshal their confidence, says that she will be channeling Beth Dutton.
Yeah, she definitely gives people and gives me a little bit of a backbone. There is certainly that essence to her, that is if you need to be fierce and own something and own yourself, I think she definitely… That’s probably one of the gifts of Beth in her best self of her is that she has that quality.
You’ve been with “Yellowstone” since the beginning. Did you ever anticipate it becoming this cultural phenomenon?
No. Who could know? Who could know it could be this? I mean, it certainly had wonderful ingredients with Taylor writing it, directing, he writes every word. And he created this very visceral, powerful world with great characters. Character is everything to him.
And then you have Kevin and you have Montana and really a lot of talented people making a really beautiful Wild West show. And it’s accumulated and grown and changed and evolved and now really, I feel like it knows completely what it is. It’s wonderful and wild to see the appetite that people have for it.
What’s interesting too is that Beth and Rip have become the emotional center of the show. Was that the plan all along?
Well, it revealed itself in the writing. [Taylor Sheridan] loves writing these two characters and these are not gentle people, these are fighters and they are broken. And the fact that Beth and Rip have such a devotion towards one another and there’s romance within that, people have just… I don’t know, you have to ask him, he wrote it so whether or not he planned for this [I don’t know].
But the idea that you’ve got the rancher’s daughter with the head cowboy of the ranch. He is such an unexpected love for her. But he’s only ever been the only love for Beth and we know how loyal she is to her dad and to him. It just feels there’s an old fashioned quality to this relationship that feels weirdly whole even though they’re both killers.
What is your favorite aspect to play Beth, especially so many seasons in?
God, it changes depending on my mood. There is a force of nature quality about her so when I step into that, it’s very different to my own from her and it’s very energizing and exhilarating and it feels… It’s a lot of fun to play that side of her. I’ve played her now for five years. And I remember the first time when I got the role, I immediately was filled with terror because I didn’t really know how I was going to do it. And Taylor was very specific about what he wanted and who she was and really owning that aspect of her.
And first of all, it’s not necessarily likable, it’s not an easy palate. She’s an anti-hero in a way that fierceness and that terror and that beauty, that edge, unpredictable, dangerous quality is something that I’ve really enjoyed and embraced. And yeah, she’s complicated and so there are times where I’ve really frustrated with her and there are times where I’m very protective of her and just want people to understand her.
What can you tell us about the show and about Beth in season 5?
This season we start off with the world of dad becoming governor and Beth reluctantly being his chief of staff. And seeing how Beth handles that is fun. And Beth gets herself into a little bit of a situation that is not her best self. And we get to see Beth squirm out of a few things, which I don’t think we’ve really seen that before. We always see Beth winning. There’s an unraveling this season, which was really nice to play because it’s not sustainable. And to see the cracks is what I’m interested in. And then you see her double down into that fierceness again. And she really does feel like a wild animal sometimes and so in touch with that primal instinct. She’s the one that says, “Kill or be killed.” She really has that mentality of some warrior in battle. It’s that high stakes for her and it’s very black or white whose side you’re on. There’s all of that.
And then later on in the season I get to shift gears a little bit or she gets to experience maybe what life could be like if things were simpler and what happiness could be like for her. And that involves Rip and it involves her going out on a horse and rounding up cattle with her family from her. And you get to see Beth, you get to see her enjoying it. And it comes out of the fact that she doesn’t want to be left alone in that fucking house because they’re all going. She’s like, “Well I’m not going, I’m not staying behind here.” I think she calls it a tomb or something. The house is so haunted for her, it holds so many bad memories.
But she gets to go out with the family and all the cowboys and they go on this annual cattle run and to bring back the… And then there’s a huge big fair and it’s really… I don’t want to give too much away, but it really is my favorite stuff that I’ve shot on the show so far because I get to be out of the suit and out of the heels and really get my chaps on and get out and get real dirty underneath my nails. And I love riding, I’m a big horse woman and I get to experience Montana on the back of a horse as Beth. And that’s really nice and it becomes something that she really, really enjoys. There you go. There’s a few things. I mean, there’s a bunch of stuff that when you see it… I can’t talk about so I don’t want to go there no, but maybe afterwards we do a post-show chat.
“Yellowstone” airs Sunday nights on Paramount Network.