Taylor Sheridan could probably work pretty much anywhere he wants. He wanted to work in Utah.
And he brought Kevin Costner along with him.
Sheridan was nominated for a best-screenplay Oscar for “Hell or High Water” last year, and he won a best-director award at the Cannes Film Festival for “Wind River.”
Paramount Network handed him his own television series and told him he could pretty much do whatever he wanted.
He’s also an actor, with a long list of credits that includes recurring roles in “Veronica Mars” and “Sons of Anarchy.” But the one thing he didn’t want to do was work in Hollywood itself. Which is why “Yellowstone” was filmed entirely on location in Utah and Montana.
“[Co-creator] John [Linson] and I came up with this idea because we didn’t want to work in Southern California,” Sheridan said. “We wanted to do something big and cinematic and take advantage of these great locations. … There’s nothing else like this on television.
“What we wanted to do was essentially make a 10-hour movie that happened to air on television. And Paramount gave us the freedom to treat it that way, which is unique.”
Unique enough that two-time Oscar winner Kevin Costner signed on to star in his first weekly television series — which premieres Wednesday on the Paramount Network — because he was “drawn to the writing.”
“When I like a script, it’s not because I just think I have the best part,” Costner said, “because that’s a trap in life. Sometimes like being a head flea on a dead dog — ‘Oh, I got a really good part, but the thing is not very good.’”
Not only was he “satisfied” with his role, “but the reason I was able to say yes was because I saw all the other roles integrated absolutely with the story. And so the combination of the guy who writes it, is going to direct it, and all the roles are really doing a nice dance — that’s appealing to me.”
The 10-hour first season of “Yellowstone” is big, with a lot of characters involved in a lot of intertwined plot lines playing out on a huge canvas. At the same time, it’s a hugely personal project — Sheridan wrote and directed all 10 hours himself, an enormous undertaking.
“I don’t recommend it,” he said.
The truth is that Sheridan didn’t plan on writing and directing the entire first season of “Yellowstone” all by himself, it just sort of happened that way.
“By the time we got picked up, it was too late for me to pull in the people I wanted to get,” he said. “They were all working on other projects.”
Paramount ordered “Yellowstone” in June 2017; it went into production in August. About two-thirds was shot in Utah with the other third in Montana, where the series is set.
“We probably would have shot the whole thing here if we’d had time to build all the sets,” Sheridan said. “But that was because of timing as well.”
Costner described his character as a “complicated” man who is “half in the Western world and he’s half modern-day CEO.” John Dutton looms large over everything that happens in “Yellowstone.” A widower, he’s the patriarch of a family filled with conflict.
And he controls the largest contiguous ranch in the United States — which is under siege from land developers and the adjacent Indian reservation and its tough, smart new leader, Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham).
Dutton’s son Jamie (Wes Bentley) is a lawyer who seeks his father’s approval while hiding a personal secret. Daughter Beth (Kelly Reilly) is a shark in the business world. Son Kayce (Luke Grimes) lives with his American Indian wife, Monica (Kelsey Asbille), on the reservation. And son Lee (Dave Annable) is the closest to his father — and the heir apparent to lead the family empire.
Part “Bonanza” and part “Dallas” — and yet a very different take on each — “Yellowstone” is both a sweeping saga and a prime-time soap of sorts that deals with big issues and engaging family drama. Just when you think you know where the two-hour premiere is going, there are surprises that change the course of John Dutton’s life and the series.
No spoilers here, but there are a lot of characters and a lot of plot to unravel as the series gets going. But by the end of the premiere, “Yellowstone” is off to the races.
The personal connection — Costner described Sheridan as “a kindred spirit” — is what drew him in and persuaded him to sign a multiyear TV contract for the series.
“The level of commitment is something I’m not used to — three years,” he said. “But I like long movies, so I like the whole idea of this. I like the world that Taylor created. It was an easy decision for me.”
From the sets to the locations to the presence of Costner — who couldn’t have come cheap — this is clearly an expensive production.
“It was, in every way, the opposite” of Sheridan’s experience directing “Wind River.”
“We had no money. We had no time. And I was really trying to find my voice as a filmmaker,” Sheridan said. But with “Yellowstone,” he said, “I had time and I had money and I was able to really see a vision through without those restrictions.”
And Paramount readily agreed when he pitched the idea of shooting primarily in Utah — on locations and at the Utah Film Studio in Park City, where “Yellowstone” employed all three sound stages (a total of 45,000 square feet) and edited the series.
“I love working here,” Sheridan said. “And we couldn’t have made this if we’d been working in Southern California. This is about the land and the people, and we had to make it here and in Montana.”
On TV<br>The two-hour premiere of ”Yellowstone” airs Wednesday at 7, 9 and 11 p.m. on the Paramount Network — Channel 51 on Comcast; Channel 241 on DirecTV and Dish.