‘1923’: Helen Mirren Explains the Power of Cara Dutton in ‘Yellowstone’ Prequel

Helen Mirren in '1923'
Emerson Miller/Paramount+

The Duttons always have a power couple. In Paramount+‘s 1923, it’s Cara and Jacob Dutton, embodied by the legendary Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford. Ahead of the Yellowstone origin story’s debut (December 18), Mirren spoke with TV Insider to give a glimpse into Cara Dutton’s strengths, plus the key differences between her stalwart matriarch and Ford’s cowboy patriarch that help their marriage survive in the cutthroat era of Prohibition Montana.

“There is balance in that partnership,” the Oscar winner explains, adding of her matriarch, an Irish immigrant, “Cara is the person that stops Jacob from his excesses. She can see when he’s going into dangerous territory, self-destructive territory, and she is capable and has the power to pull him back from the edge and save him in that way.”

Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren in '1923'

James Minchin III/Paramount+

In the 1923 series premiere, protecting the cattle will take priority, sending Jacob and his band of ranchers — including nephew John Dutton, Sr. (James Badge Dale), grandnephew Jack (Darren Mann), and foreman Zane Davis (Brian Geraghty) — away from the homestead for a weeks-long mission. As usual, Cara (aka “the boss”) protects and tends to the ranch in their absence with the help of Emma Dutton (Marley Shelton), John’s wife and Jack’s mother.

The first moments of the series premiere show the bloody lengths she’ll take to do so, and “as the story progresses, [Cara] has the strength to take control if she needs to, and where and when she needs to, of this huge enterprise, which is the ranch,” Mirren explains.

Cara was not “someone who had walked across the Plains to get to the West, to get to Montana,” the star adds, but that certainly doesn’t detract from her steely resolve. “The women of that era were incredibly strong, physically strong, mentally strong. They couldn’t afford to have breakdowns or nervous reactions to things unless they were very rich. So, she’s a very, very, very strong person.”

The strength of the Yellowstone women seems to have stemmed from Cara. Though she and Jacob have no biological children, John (Dale) and Spencer Dutton (Brandon Sklenar), sons of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill‘s James and Margaret in 1883, are as good as theirs.

By that extension, Emma is their daughter-in-law, Jack is their grandson, and Elizabeth (Michelle Randolph) will soon be part of the fold when she marries Jack. And stepping in as the de facto Rip Wheeler is Geraghty’s Zane. It’s easy to see how the family’s legacy of power and protection will one day flow into Kevin Costner‘s Yellowstone world. (Beth would love Cara.)

There’s a softness to Mirren’s character that shines through just as quickly as her bite — and it’s just as key to the family’s longevity as the protection of livestock and rifle battles. She and Jacob know exactly when to use each, but Jacob is more accepting of the violent reality of their lives, whereas Mirren agrees Cara is a bit at odds with it. She says that’s something she and Cara have in common.

“Nothing in my past, in my life has ever demanded fighting to the death, although I was born right at the end of the second World War and my parents experienced the Blitz in London,” she shares. “That level of violence, which is about as violent as you can get — hundreds of people dying every night, people just in their homes — certainly is a part of human endeavor, as we are seeing right now in the Ukraine.”

As viewers will learn, Cara’s disdain for violence certainly won’t stop her from doling it out the Dutton way when necessary.

Helen Mirren in '1923'

Emerson Miller/Paramount+

Mirren hasn’t done much TV in her decades-long career (for Ford, this is his first-ever series regular role). What firsts does this mark for the only actor in history to win the acting Triple Crown in the U.S. and the U.K.?

“I hadn’t ever driven a buggy before!” she says with glee. “I love my buggy. I would love to just take it out for a ride one day and spend the day riding around the back roads of Montana, just me and my buggy.”
1923, Series Premiere, Sunday, December 18, Paramount+