‘Yellowstone’: Josh Lucas On Playing Younger John Dutton And the Role He Originally Wanted

Josh Lucas was cast as a young John Dutton before Yellowstone even premiered on Paramount, but it would take five seasons before the character’s backstory would actually start to unspool. Here, the actor best known for A Beautiful Mind and Sweet Home Alabama talks about the interminable wait to hang out on the Montana ranch with everyone else.

DEADLINE When were you first approached by Taylor Sheridan about playing a younger John Dutton?

JOSH LUCAS I was approached all the way back before they started shooting the pilot. Taylor and I discussed it at length, you know, The Godfather and what Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro did. These men don’t necessarily need to look alike. They need to have the essence of each other. I wanted to be in the pilot. In fact, I’ve not said this to people, I really wanted to play Rip. But he clearly wanted Cole Hauser and it was kinda cool for me because I’ve known Cole since we were like 17, 18 years old. I think I came in episode three or episode four, I forget exactly. Yellowstone was not Yellowstone at that point. These people were creating something and they were pouring their hearts and souls into it, but there was no success to it yet.

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How did you know Cole back when you were 17? 

Acting is a weird small world, really. I really wanted to be part of the Dazed and Confused world with all those actors like McConaughey. I didn’t even audition for that movie, but I knew about it. I was a New York based actor. They were Los Angeles. So when they came to New York, they hung out and visited me. Cole slept on my floor for a couple nights. The world of being a young actor at that point was a little different. It was a bit more wild and free and risky and frankly, dangerous and drunken. I always remember Cole being a striking force. It’s interesting now that he is Rip because he has that same power and energy and danger inside of him, but there’s also a soulfulness. It’s cool now to be on a horse outside of the ranch with him, 30-plus years later.

DEADLINE I can’t even remember your first scenes as John Dutton.

They were so tiny. Taylor told me back before we started shooting the first little pieces that it’s not gonna be much for me in the first couple years. It’s going to be in the fifth season. The fifth season is where you’re gonna come in. I don’t know if we’re gonna do full flashback season or full flashback episodes, but that’s what I can tell you. And I remember genuinely thinking, this guy’s crazy. Like, I just remember having that moment where the idea that a television show goes more than one or two years is fairly unique or rare, much less five seasons. That’s not normal. And the idea that he had all of the seasons in his head? He said he didn’t know where he was going. He just knew that the flashbacks would be quite substantial. 

DEADLINE It’s pretty impressive that way back then, he knew that you would be in season five. 

I truly remember lying in my son’s bunk bed in the basement of our house in Harlem, New York City, like at midnight talking on the phone to Taylor Sheridan for the very first time, and him telling me that season five is where young John will become prominent. And I genuinely remember thinking that was crazy. But I also recently spoke to somebody who told me that when they found the location of the Dutton Ranch, Taylor walked around and pointed at certain points, and said ‘this will happen here in season one,’ and ‘this will happen here in season two. And here’s where the graveyard goes.’

DEADLINE As Yellowstone became a massive hit, did you call Taylor and ask, ‘do you need me now?”

No, but I will tell you, I felt sad that I wasn’t a bigger part of it – not because of the success. It was more because that I wanted to be part of Yellowstone from the beginning. I thought [the Sheridan-penned films] Wind River and Sicario and Hell or High Water were incredible. I thought Taylor was doing something from a writing standpoint that was remarkable. I did have a sense that Taylor was a unique talent. He was an actor who left a TV show because he very clearly felt his worth was greater than the way that they were valuing it.

DEADLINE So when you were finally called, were you sent off to Cowboy camp?

I ride but I don’t ride at any sort of extreme level. I’ve ridden since I was younger. I rode on a TV series when I was a teenager. I’ve always been around horses, but the level of riding that’s happening on Yellowstone is very different. I mean, most of the actors on that show are true cowboys or they’ve become cowboys. Taylor is demanding and asks for a level of authenticity that I think is rather rare and extraordinary. Just last weekend, I just did something rather incredible from a human experience where I got to go be a part of what’s called the World Cutting Championship, where you basically take a horse and drive it into a head of cattle and bring out a single cow. Cutting is something that really fascinates Taylor. The team of people surrounding him, the wranglers and different people who are involved in Yellowstone, are really serious cowboys and cattlemen. And one of them called me to say, ‘Hey, would you be a part of this, this competition?’ They trained me for it.

DEADLINE Whoa. How did you do?

I got second place. I’m super proud of it. The reality is, I look at a movie like Dances With Wolves and what Kevin Costner did in that movie. You can’t fake it. I mean, sure – they have doubles but he did a lot of the stuff with those buffalos. It’s an unusual level of horsemanship. So my responsibility with playing the younger John Dutton is that I have to have that level of ability. You can’t totally fake it. Cole is an extraordinary rider. Most of the actors now can ride at a crazy level. 

What did Taylor say in terms of how he wanted you to portray a younger John Dutton?

I don’t think he has a lot of preconceived notions about demanding what you’re gonna do. He’s got incredibly clear visions of what the characters are. At the same time, I think he already was decently happy with the tiny little pieces of material that I had done before we started. But at the same time, the conversations that I had with him got a lot deeper, quite quickly, that weren’t based on Taylor’s questions. They were based on mine. I wanted to understand, was he darker? Was he angrier? Who was he at that point? His wife’s death was a shattering element in the family that is so destructive to the children. Beth becomes Beth in that singular moment. I think all the different characters, they become broken in a way. And so I said, is John lonely? And Taylor kind of barked at me and said, ‘he’s too busy to be lonely.’

DEADLINE So how much more are we going to see you?

I don’t know how much more after episode eight. I hope a lot more. I love doing the show, but I don’t think anybody knows. I think it’s entirely in Taylor’s head. My understanding is that Taylor drives down the road, pulls over and just writes. I know what Taylor has told me, that he wants to fill in the gaps of who John Dutton is and why he does the things he does. I think it’s flowing out of him, but I also think it’s been in him for a long time. I think this is a singular vision. 

DEADLINE You have such an incredible, impressive body of work, but dude, you’re Home Depot to so many people. As the spokesman, how has that gig changed your life?

Home Depot is the ultimate great job. We as actors have these rare moments when we get a good job. A job is a job, you know what I mean? It pays money, right? It’s not necessarily the most creative or interesting thing or whatever. At one point in my career, I did the voice of Hugo Boss and what I would say was ‘Hugo, yeah, the world’s getting smaller, smell better.” Because of that, I made $60,000 in one year. I didn’t make a single dime as an actor except doing that voiceover and because of that voiceover, I was, able to train, be in small plays. Home Depot has not only paid the bills, but it’s also allowed me to be a little bit more creatively selective. And I have nothing but crazy respect for that job, partly because I’ve also been a part of this company and I have seen how it has developed and changed over the years. They have been very kind to me and they’re wildly professional. I don’t mean to connect the dots but one of the things I really love and respect about Yellowstone is that you see the work that goes into it, these people who get up at four o’clock in the morning and work hard. Weirdly enough, the truth of that experience is what I’ve experienced with Home Depot. So it’s an interesting connection.

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