‘Yellowstone’s Josh Lucas on Studying Kevin Costner to Play Young John Dutton: ‘I Was Obsessed’

Josh Lucas in 'Yellowstone'
Q&A
Paramount Network

John Dutton may be dealing with problems in the flashbacks, but at least Josh Lucas’ version gets to spend time doing what he loves and isn’t busy dealing with the demands of being governor like Kevin Costner’s on Yellowstone in Season 5.

Lucas, who first debuted as young John in Season 1, is back, and we’re getting much more of him. (We hadn’t seen him since Season 2.) And there’s much more to come, as he tells us below.

What’s it been like for you, to have more time to explore young John this season?

Josh Lucas: It’s been a dream and it’s also been a responsibility. When I got called by Taylor [Sheridan] almost a year ago now, saying, “we’re gonna bring you back for the fifth season,” he had told me that five, six years ago when they were shooting the pilot of the show, and I honestly thought, this guy’s crazy. [Laughs] But I also know when they found the ranch that we shoot on and they were scouting the location, Taylor walked around and pointed at different parts — this is, five, six years ago — and said, “That’ll take place in Season 1. That’ll take place in Season 2. That’s where we’ll do this scene in Season 3.” And the people walking with him, probably like me five years ago, thought, this guy’s crazy. But he had all seven seasons in his brain.

What’s extraordinary is that I don’t think it’s just the success of Yellowstone that has allowed these other versions, like 1923 and 1883 to come to life. They’ve been in Taylor’s vision for years, and they’re just being unleashed in a way. It’s not like he’s coming up with them because of the success of the show. So I feel a great obviously sense of responsibility to get it right and to connect the dots between the character and these men over these seven generations. It’s a great passion of mine to honor it.

What would young John think of present-day John? How he’s handling the ranch, the fact that he’s governor?

I think he would be sad for him, and I mean this in a way that I think John Dutton is such a man of nature. He’s such a man of the ranch. He loves his life on the ranch and he loves his family. It’s so easy to think of this story as a drama on so many levels. But the reality is it’s a love story. It’s obviously a love story between Rip [Cole Hauser] and Beth [Kelly Reilly], but it’s a love story of this family and their passion for each other and their passion for the land and for not just protecting the land, but keeping the land to pass on to the future generations.

And so I think young John would be sad for older John, that he had to leave the ranch to go be a part of politics to protect it. He loves being on a horse and he doesn’t get to do that as much anymore. John Dutton is a cowboy and that he has to go be a politician I think would upset him.

Speaking of the love story between Beth and Rip, young John is seeing the very messy parts.

He’s a father who’s going to be ultimately protective of his teenage daughter. If you go back and look at that amazing scene between Gretchen Mol and the girl who plays Beth when she talks about getting her period for the first time, that gets into some of the writing to me that is just incredible writing, that a man is writing this woman’s perspective in what Taylor is doing and telling the story of why a mother would want to protect her daughter the way that she does.

GretchenMol_Yellowstone (2)

Paramount Network

I’m as fascinated as any fan to understand the dynamic between Beth and her mom and to see and be able to play the story of Beth and her dad and how the death of her mom makes her so angry and so heartbroken and so damaged that she becomes sexualized the way that she does and she tries to drive her father crazy and dress the way that she does and flirt with the cowboys and cause problems. All of it’s coming from this inner turmoil that she has.

The John and Jamie (Wes Bentley) dynamic in the present is wild. Would young John want Jamie to become part of the family again? Would he ever think that he could say he only has one son?

No, I think [young] John would believe that he could love Jamie as a son and that he would therefore be loyal as a son. If you think about the relationship between John and Rip, they have a father-son relationship, so I think that one of the heartbreaks of John Dutton’s life is that Jamie doesn’t react the way that Rip does and that his loyalty is as messy as it is. I am also as much of a fan in how I watched that relationship shift and emerge. But I do think young John Dutton would be very angry and very heartbroken if he knew that all the work that he poured into being a dad for Jamie doesn’t work out the way that he anticipated.

Speaking of John and Rip, when they met…

What’s cool is you’re gonna see a lot more of that in the rest of the season. I know particularly in the upcoming episodes, that is the big story that is told in flashbacks: the story of young John and young Rip and why their loyalty is what it is and how that emerged and the challenge that they had for each other with each other. My favorite scenes I’ve done of this whole thing are what’s coming. They’re beautiful. The writing is really deep and beautiful.

Is there anything from Kevin Costner’s performance that you specifically look to incorporate into yours?

All of it, frankly, and I’m not just saying that. I watched all 40 hours of it in a week and a half. I was truly obsessed by it. I was doing it as a fan, but I was also doing it as research. It sounds silly, but I would walk around my house and try and walk the way John walks and try and speak the way John speaks.

I read this great critical analysis of John Dutton and what Kevin’s doing with it, and it said that not only does John Dutton have gravel in his voice, but he has boulders in his voice, like huge rocks. I tried to figure that out and understand, what is it that causes that? What is it that would be the emotional weight that is in John Dutton? And then to know that there’s a lineage between Tim McGraw and now we get to see what Harrison Ford does with it, of these men who are a part of this ranch and the story of this experience that I think makes them have such gravitas and such weight. It presents itself in the way that they move and the way that they ride a horse and the way that they interact with all of the cowboys. It was very important to me to get that right.

And you’re playing John before he really has all of that weight.

Absolutely. He doesn’t have the pressure, I don’t think, of the ranch being stolen from him the way that it starts in the later years. If you go back and watch 1883, there’s an amazing scene, which might be where the show is going, where one of the Native Americans says to Tim McGraw, you can have this ranch for seven generations, but in seven generations we’re gonna come take it back from you.

I’m interested in seeing young John and young Lee. We did not get nearly enough of that in the present.

Absolutely. I yearn for all of it. I hope they bring Gretchen back, because I think when you see young John with his wife, that family was much happier. They were a nuclear family. They had this incredible ranch and this lifestyle. Her death is so seminal in the things that caused the pain and destruction within this family. I would love scenes where you see them together and the family in a happier time.

Is there anything else you can tease about what’s coming up?

Taylor’s gonna tell the story through young John of what the brand means and what is the whole story of the brand. That’s something I think he told me five years ago that he was gonna do. And now here it comes and it’s amazing.

Those are some of the most intense scenes.

Absolutely, the idea that in a sense, you’d burn your image into another human being and it would be there for the rest of life, you’d scar that person and what that means. I think it goes back to the idea of obsession and passion and loyalty and these big questions that the show is asking.

And it speaks to who John is, that there are people who would do things knowing that it would result in them being branded.

Absolutely. And then also what you’re gonna see is the idea of when and if you get to choose to be branded. That is a fascinating — it’s one thing to be forced to be branded, but it’s another thing to choose to be branded. And I do believe that the people who make this show and love this show, not from a fan standpoint, but from the people who are the creators of it, they feel in a way branded by it.

Yellowstone, Sundays, 8/7c, Paramount Network