SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched the finale of “1883,” streaming now on Paramount Plus.
Following the penultimate episode, fans of “1883” feared that the end was near for Isabel May’s Elsa Dutton — and unfortunately, they were right. Following an arrow wound to her liver, Isabel died in her dad’s (Tim McGraw) arms after an emotional goodbye to both him and her mother, Margaret (Faith Hill).
The episode took the audience — and the stars — on a wrenching journey. McGraw and Hill, who are married with three daughters, opened up to Variety about how they’d take turns reading scripts aloud to each other all season. That was, until the scripts for Episodes 9 and 10 arrived and they found out about Elsa’s fate.
“When we got the final two, we literally couldn’t read them to each other because we were crying so much — I mean, ugly, boohoo crying,” says McGraw. “I was a blubbering idiot. It was just so well-written, so devastating and heartbreaking, but at the same time, so on point and poignant for what ‘Yellowstone’ turned out to be. It just gives you all the reasons in the world why they fight so hard for that land and and why their family fights so hard for to keep what they have. It just made perfect sense.”
Hill echoed McGraw, noting that after she read the ninth episode, she handed her husband the finale script for him to take over: “He couldn’t read it because he was bawling. It took me about an hour to read it to him because most of the time, I couldn’t catch my breath I was crying so hard.”
In a conversation with Variety, the pair share their thoughts on the expanding world of “Yellowstone,” how their roles as parents affected the way they played their characters and more.
After you recovered, how did you feel about the finale and how fans will likely react to it?
FAITH HILL: When I finally finished reading Episode 10 to him, we both just sat there and said, “My God, this is one of the most incredible stories we’ve ever read.” I knew the weight and responsibility of playing Margaret and telling the story and bringing her to life — I felt an enormous responsibility. I did not want to fail.
TIM MCGRAW: I know fans are gonna hate it and love it at the same time. That’s what good TV, good music, good movies, good art, good books, all those things, do. They bring out those emotions in you. It’s going to be a good thing that they hate that ending, because it has to be that way and they know it. It’s gonna be devastating. Why would you watch stuff if it doesn’t purge your emotions?
So it was challenging for you to read it, but how did you tap into that while filming those heavy final scenes with Isabel?
MCGRAW: The hardest part for us, I think, was to not be emotional too early. Both of our characters are really strong people and wanted to be strong for our family. So that was the hardest thing for us, because we do have daughters and because Isabella, when we first walked on set and saw her, we said, “My gosh, she looks she could be one of our daughters.” It was great casting. But you do become emotionally invested and you do bring your real-life situation into the way you act. You find that piece of your life or a piece of who you are and you can sort of put it under a magnifying glass. It does expose all those emotions, and it’s hard as a parent, playing that role — you don’t want to go to any dark places in your mind about your kid. So you have to keep trying to block that out and still be in the moment with the character that you’re playing and the characters you’re playing opposite of, but the lines do get blurry.
HILL: As a mom, I can’t even allow myself to go there. I cannot. It’s really hard, even now, to talk about, because once the tears start coming, I can’t stop them. I would tell the directors, if we start going, it’s going to be hard for me to stop. It’s painful. The first thing that started to split Margaret into a different person from myself was the loss of her sister, Claire. I became very close to Dawn Olivieri, the actor who played her. I can’t even talk about that without crying. That was so, so devastating to me. And even though I knew it was coming, it still played out in a way that was just tragic, but real at the same time.
How do you think this tragedy will affect James and Margaret’s marriage?
HILL: I honestly don’t know. I think I’m still reeling and that’s the truth! I mean, I’m angry. Imagine knowing that your child is going to die and you cannot be by their side? I can’t even imagine it ever. I have not recovered. I really don’t know.
MCGRAW: I have no idea. You know, Taylor Sheridan is such a brilliant writer that I can only imagine what he’s going to come up with, and whatever I imagine is probably not even going to be close. So I don’t have any idea. I’m as anxious as anyone to see what happens.
We know the “Yellowstone” world is expanding with the announcement of “1932.” Have you guys had any conversation about how long this could go and how and when it could lead into that?
MCGRAW: We just don’t know. We’re sort of in limbo like everyone else. We’re excited about what’s to come and excited about what he writes and can’t wait to see however it develops.
The chemistry in the Dutton family is very interesting. How did you you guys create that bond with Isabel?
MCGRAW: We all spent a lot of time together because we were in a closed environment because of COVID restrictions. When we were in Weatherford, Texas, close to Taylor’s place, his wife has a saloon. That’s where we all hung out all the time at night when we weren’t working. We couldn’t go out to dinners, we couldn’t go out anywhere else except stay at home. So we got to spend a lot of time together, talking and having a good time. We had karaoke nights. My daughters were there a lot, who are all around Isabel’s age, so they spent a lot of time with her as well. Then she was over at our house hanging out, spending time with them. So we just really all got to know each other very closely.
Since you did film this entirely during COVID, how did you go about finding your comfort level on set?
MCGRAW: We all felt really comfortable because we were tested every single day and everybody wore their masks when it was appropriate to. We didn’t have much time to think about it, to tell you the truth, because it was such a grueling shoot. I mean, we were shooting six days a week most of the time and very long hours. Everything was in the elements. I told Faith before we started shooting that we were never going to be comfortable. I remember shooting scenes in the first couple episodes, and it was probably 110 degrees out there. We’re out there for 10 hours and being very physical. There was a lot of sweating going on. I’ve probably still got dirt in places I haven’t found yet. And then it was freezing cold. We probably had, I would guess, maybe five days that were nice in the entire shoot and the rest of the time was extremely uncomfortable. It tended to give us a more real-life experience as characters, in a very minute way, of what these people went through traveling the Oregon Trail, facing these these dangerous things every single day.
There were a few times where, in Montana, it was just so cold and bitter and the wind was blowing and the horses didn’t react well. We were trying to get our teeth not to chatter and not to shiver while we’re doing our takes. There was a couple of times where it took hours to get your core temperature back up.
Were those conditions the toughest part?
MCGRAW: I think it was a constant physical challenge every single day that really started beating everybody up, but it also played well for the characters because we all got more and more haggard. I think that I aged five years in the six months that we shot this. By the end of the last episode, it looks like we all aged quite a bit — except for Elsa!
Faith, how has playing Margaret affected you?
HILL: She reminds me of my mom. I was adopted and she was one of the strongest women I ever have encountered in my life. She passed on a few years ago, but her strength was just — nothing compares to it. She was really, really smart and worked three jobs. My dad couldn’t read. He’s since passed too, but she was raising my two older brothers and me during a rough time. She came from Philadelphia, Mississippi, right in the middle of the whole civil rights war going on there, right in the midst of it. She also picked cotton and worked so hard and had such a strong faith and belief that everyone should be treated equally. She believed to never judge someone until you walk in their shoes.
I thought about my mom a lot when I was playing Margaret, along this journey that we were on with immigrants from around the world. I thought, when you love your family, you fight. You do whatever it takes to keep them safe. And obviously I would do that in real life — if anyone messes with my kids, I will hurt you. That’s me talking. But I did think about my mom a lot when I was playing Margaret. She didn’t have the resources back then that we have now. It was remarkable what people did, but that the common theme is the fact that we were all fighting for the same thing, protecting our family trying to find a better life for our family. When you come together, the things that you can do when you come together, you witness that on the trail.
You both said you have no idea what’s next. What would you want to see for the characters?
MCGRAW: She was tough to start with, but you see Margaret get tougher and tougher as the show goes on. I’d like to see where she ends up and how her character develops. And I’d like to see how James goes about putting together his his crew of people that help him build “Yellowstone.”
Margaret is a badass. I can’t wait to see what’s next for her.
MCGRAW: The good thing about that is there’s not far from Faith’s character in general. She’s a badass anyway!
This interview has been edited and condensed.