The cast of “Yellowstone” is preparing to get back to work next month. But, for the first time since the show went into production in 2017, it won’t be filming in Utah.
And cast members are more than a bit melancholy about that.
“Park City has been our home for so many years,” Kelsey Asbille, who stars as Monica Dutton, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We just love that community. We are really sad to leave.”
Luke Grimes, who stars as Kayce Dutton — Monica’s onscreen husband — said Utah “sort of became a second home for a lot of us. I was up there five, six months a year. Since we’re not going back there, that’s kind of a sad thing.”
For the first three seasons, “Yellowstone” — which has turned into a bonafide hit — was filmed primarily in Utah. Series co-creator, writer and frequent director Taylor Sheridan has said the series “probably” would have been filmed entirely in the Beehive State if there’d been more time to build sets for Season 1.
But because producers had just two months between the time the Paramount Network ordered the show and production began, the show began filming on the Chief Joseph Ranch in Montana. Sets mimicking that ranch were built at Utah Film Studios in Park City, and 70% to 75% of the first three seasons of the show were filmed in and around Park City — with occasional trips to other parts of the state.
(In one episode, Salt Lake City Hall played the part of Montana State University.)
But then producers ran into two problems. First, the state’s limited film incentives budget meant that Utah could not offer “Yellowstone” the same rebate it did for the first three seasons — but Montana could.
(Utah’s incentives return a portion of money spent on goods and services bought in the state — as well as salaries for Utahns in the cast or crew — to producers. The incentives generate revenue for the state, by bringing in productions that spend and are taxed more than the cost of incentives and providing jobs for Utahns.)
And second, “Yellowstone” producers believe they stand a better chance of isolating the cast and crew from the COVID-19 outbreak in sparsely populated Montana.
“Well, it’s easier to quarantine in Montana,” Grimes said. “We have that going for us.”
The plan calls for cast and crew members to spend two weeks in quarantine in Montana before filming begins. After that, everyone will be restricted to the area. If a crew member leaves for any reason, he or she won’t be allowed to return to the job.
“Moving forward, we’re looking at how to operate in a post-COVID world, making sure that we’re as safe as possible,” Asbille said. “It’s tricky. We’re all looking forward to going to get back to work, but in the safest way. … But we really would like to be going back to Utah, too.”
“This is the way this business works sometimes,” Grimes said. “It’s like joining the circus. I never know where I’m going to be. You’ve just got to roll with the punches and, hopefully, everything goes smoothly and we can figure out a way to get this started again safely up in Montana.”
By necessity, Season 4 of “Yellowstone” will be a bit less sprawling than Seasons 1-3, with plotlines largely (if not entirely) restricted to the ranch. Of course, the (fictional) ranch is sprawling — John Dutton (Kevin Costner) is the patriarch of a family that owns the largest contiguous ranch in the United States. And the family has been forced to do battle with developers, elected officials and a Native American tribe to maintain its hold on the land.
Let’s just say that a lot of people have died in the 34 episodes that have aired to date. And that the Dutton family has had more than its share of drama.
That includes John’s youngest son. Kayce is a former Navy SEAL haunted by things that happened while he was on active duty. He returned to Montana and married Monica — a member of the Native American tribe that has been a thorn in John Dutton’s side.
There are definite relationship challenges when a dispute between the husband’s family and the wife’s tribe results in the husband killing his wife’s brother in the series’ first episode. But that was only after the wife’s brother killed the husband’s brother first.
“It certainly makes things complicated,” Asbille said with a laugh.
Navigating both an interracial marriage and the kind of dysfunction only a rich, powerful, politically connected family like the Duttons can generate has made it rough going for Kayce and Monica. They’ve been separated; Monica had brain surgery and a rough recovery; and their young son, Tate (Brecken Merrill), was kidnapped.
“I love Kayce and Monica’s relationship and their family. That’s one of my favorite aspects of doing this job,” Grimes said. “The challenges faced by these characters are also what makes it really exciting. As actors, we want those challenges. The harder the part, the more we want it.”
Grimes and Asbille hadn’t met before they were cast in the show, “but the thing that made it really great is that we became real friends in real life pretty quickly,” he said. “And it’s made navigating this relationship much easier.”
“We definitely really root for these characters,” Asbille added.
They’ve come to expect not knowing what to expect.
“You never know where it’s going to go or what kind of situation you’re going to end up in next,” Asbille said. “It’s a fun challenge for us as actors. And, also, as kind of audience members in our own way.”
Like the show’s fans who can’t wait to see the next episode, Grimes and Asbille can’t wait to get the next script.
“We can sort of experience this show the same way everybody else does when we get these scripts,” Grimes said. “They’re so well written and so well executed that they come alive on the page. It’s a treat to read through them. It’s exciting, like — what crazy thing on a horse am I going to have to do? Who am I going to have to kill? What crazy, huge thing is going to happen this week?”
Four episodes into Season 3 (new episodes air Sundays at 9 p.m. on the Paramount Network), Kayce and Monica have been going through a period of marital bliss. Yes, there’s a multibillion-dollar conglomerate trying to force the Duttons off their ranch and put the tribe’s casino out of business, but Kayce, Monica and Tate have gotten along great so far.
“It’s the three of them together and they’re happy,” Asbille said. “it’s nice to show what we’ve been fighting for for two seasons — but I don’t think it’ll last long.”
And, without giving away any spoilers, Grimes agreed.
“You know, you’ve got a few episodes where they are having a nice time. But don’t expect that to happen for much longer,” he said. “It’s ‘Yellowstone,’ so just expect it to be incredibly messed up.”