The Paramount+ show, a spinoff of Taylor Sheridan’s “Yellowstone,’ takes place after the Civil War and follows James Dutton (McCraw) and his wife Margaret (Faith Hill) and their two kids as they head west hoping for a better life.
“It’s sort of a 50/50 toss up in my mind,” McGraw tells me on this week’s episode of the “Just for Variety” podcast. “Do I want to do it again or was it too much work to do it again? I was doing some shows in the middle of it. I would work till 5 or 6 in the afternoon and then fly out and go do a concert and get home at 3 in the morning and be up at 4 and start all over again. So if I were to do that again, I wouldn’t be doing shows at the same time. That’s for sure.”
He does have a hard time imagining what James and Margaret would be up to in a Season 2. “Look, we’d done all the river crossings, all the snake bites, all the shootouts,” McGraw said. “Just about everything you could do in a western, we did in the first season. So I don’t know how you could continue to do that in another season and make it interesting.”
McGraw and Hill first appeared in flashback scenes on “Yellowstone.” Sheridan called and asked McGraw to play James. “I said, ‘I would be interested in it only if it was something really cool because I don’t want to be like some singing cowboy that comes through the bunk house and gets taken to the train station,’” McGraw recalls, adding, “He said ‘Give me a week.’ So a week later he called and he had this idea of doing flashbacks on ‘Yellowstone’ of me being the original Dutton, who founded the Yellowstone ranch.”
Sheridan then asked McGraw if he thought Hill would be interested in playing his wife. “So I asked her and I called him back and said, ‘Yeah, we talked about it.’ We were like, ‘We’ll go spend a couple weeks in Montana. We’ll shoot a couple flashbacks. We’ll have fun. We like the show. That’ll be the end of it.’”
It didn’t take long before everyone was on board for “1883.”
McGraw seemed to enjoy the rough and tumble shoot more than Hill. “There were a few times that my wife forced me to take a shower while we were shooting , because I wanted to stay in character as best I could,” he remembered. “She’s like, ‘I don’t care about Method. You stink!’”
He also proved to be a bit too grey for the role. “When I grow my beard out, it’s completely white,” McGraw explained. “So the hardest part was keeping that thing dyed. So showing up and doing a [concert] and having this big old beard on, and I’d put on like 10 pounds during the filming of the show, just to look more like the part. To show up and put on these tight jeans and have this big dark, dyed beard, and have the script in my head and trying to remember words, I just didn’t feel comfortable at all. It was tough to do.”
He also reminisced on the podcast about auditioning early in his acting career for “The Perfect Storm” for the role that eventually went to Mark Wahlberg. “I got offered another part in it, but I didn’t want to do that,” McGraw remembered. “I wanted to do one of the main parts.”
He then met with Peter Berg of “Friday Night Lights” about playing Charles Billingsley. “He seriously had no idea who I was and I had some success at that time,” McGraw said. “I don’t think he’d ever heard a country song. So he brushed me off and brushed me off and brushed me off. And then I kept calling him. And he says, ‘You know, I’ve already given the part away. And he actually had given the part away to another singer in another genre.”
But McGraw was determined. “Friday Night Lights” had set up shop in Austin and about to start shooting when McGraw called Berg and told him he was getting on a plane to fly to Texas to read for him. “I walked into his office and read the scene and then shook his hand and said, ‘Thank you,’ and I left,” McGraw said. “And the very next day, Faith and I were flying to Paris to shoot a duet video together. We got to Paris, we landed, we walked into the hotel, the phone rang, I picked it up and it was Billy Bob Thornton. He says, ‘I think you’re going to get a call from Pete Berg a little bit later.’ And sure enough, two hours later, I got a call from Pete and I got the part.”
You can hear the full interview with McGraw above. You can also listen to “Just for Variety” at Apple podcasts or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.