Kevin Costner sounds smitten with one of his biggest co-stars in “Yellowstone” — Utah, playing the role of Montana.
“I just love being out there. It could be my favorite,” Costner told The Salt Lake Tribune in a recent phone interview. “I love that area. I love the history. And it doesn’t take long to get out in the country.”
He’d like to bring future movies to Utah, he added, drawn to more than just the state’s good looks. “It’s easy to make a movie there because there’s so many experienced people” working on film crews, Costner added. “Really, there’s no drop-off” from the talent level in Hollywood.
For the 10-episode Season 2 of “Yellowstone,” which begins Wednesday on the Paramount Network (8 p.m. DirecTV and Dish; 10 p.m. Comcast), creator/executive producer Taylor Sheridan and the cast spent a couple of weeks filming in Montana and about four months in Utah — mostly in Summit County, with trips to more urban areas.
Salt Lake City Hall, in the historic City-County Building, and the downtown city library make appearances in the Season 2 premiere, for example, playing the part of Montana State University.
Costner’s character, John Dutton, is the widowed, sixth-generation owner of the Yellowstone Ranch, the largest in the United States, and he’ll do whatever he has to do to keep it. In Season 1, John did battle with developers, politicians, Native Americans and even his own children as he fought to maintain his legacy.
Not that he’s exactly a heroic figure. “No, no, no,” Costner said. “John has done some really questionable things. He’s committed murder, in his own way.”
Well, we haven’t actually seen him kill anybody, but he’s “sanctioned” murder, as Costner put it. “I think he’s crossed the line and his family members have crossed the line. So it’s a big melodrama.”
It has been since it premiered. In the first episode, a conflict with the local Native American tribe over cattle resulted in John Dutton’s oldest son, Lee (Dave Annable), getting shot to death. And his youngest son, Kayce (Luke Grimes), shot and killed his brother’s killer — despite the fact that he was also Kayce’s brother-in-law, Robert (Jeremiah Bitsui).
And that, not surprisingly, has done some major damage to Kayce’s marriage to Monica (Kelsey Asbille).
“I knew this was going to be a pretty dramatic and intense job,” Grimes said. “I’d seen Taylor’s other work, and I was a huge fan. ... There’s a tone. There’s just always pressure and there’s always an energy — a kinetic electricity to it.”
(Sheridan was nominated for a best-screenplay Oscar for the 2016 film “Hell or High Water”; he also wrote “Sicario” and “Wind River.”)
The fallout from that first-episode shootout is still roiling under the surface as Season 2 begins. And there’s all sorts of conflict between John and his middle son, Jamie (Wes Bentley), whose campaign for state attorney general he’s trying to derail; and between John and Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham), the chief of the local tribe; John and billionaire developer Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston); John and Montana Gov. Lynelle Perry (Wendy Moniz) ... and so on and so on.
“Yeah, it’s pretty biblical in some instances,” Costner said with a laugh. “I think he’s a mixed bag.”
Not to mention the conflicts between John’s daughter, Beth (Kelly Reilly), and pretty much everybody.
The characters in “Yellowstone” — including John Dutton — are not drawn in black and white. The ones that seem like the good guys have done some terrible things, and vice versa. The series is filled with strife on the ranch, in politics and in the family. Costner is right — it’s a big melodrama with some pretty spectacular backgrounds.
Montana is used mostly for some exteriors; most of the interior scenes are shot on the sound stages at the Utah Film Studios in Park City. “Those studios are incredible,” Grimes said. “It’s such a luxury to be able to go to work there.
“As a shooting location, Park City is pretty ideal,” he added. “It’s just got a natural beauty. It’s quaint and small, but also has everything you need to kind of get a routine going and actually live your life for four months. It’s not like someplace that has one McDonald’s and nothing else. It’s a great little town. I’ve really fallen in love with it.”
And it came as a pleasant surprise to Bentley.
“I thought from the [pilot] script that it would shoot in Alberta, because most scripts that are like that do,” he said. “And it was refreshing to hear that we’d be in Utah and Montana.
“I love Park City, and I thought it would be fun to spend a lot of time up there. And it has been.”
His only regret is that he hasn’t had more scenes on horseback here in Utah.
“I was excited when I knew I’d be doing a Western. I was not excited when I heard I’d be a lawyer in a suit,” Bentley said with a laugh. “Well, less excited. But I’m getting to do a little bit more of that this season.”
Shooting those scenes on the Utah and Montana landscapes are “the best part” of “Yellowstone” as far as Costner is concerned.
“I think it’s what charms people. I think that’s what reminds people of what the country looks like,” he said. “Those mountains still can capture us. Those rivers still amaze us. The valleys haven’t changed.”
Even after starring in two seasons of “Yellowstone,” the two-time Oscar winner doesn’t sound entirely convinced that signing on for his first television series was a good idea.
“I thought we were going to do one season, and at some point it was wanting to be a long-form series. I had to make a decision, and I certainly wouldn’t want the show to fall apart by me stepping aside,” Costner said.
He was impressed when he read Sheridan’s pilot script, and with the writer/producer’s determination to make a show that is not only about the modern-day West but is produced far from Hollywood. “All those things, I was in sync with,” Costner said. “The appeal of being out there was undeniable for me.”
But, at the same time, returning for Season 2 was “a contractual thing.”
“I tried something. I’ve put myself kind of in a vulnerable position where I was dependent on what was written” in subsequent episodes, he said. “So it’s been a unique experience.”