Despite the sheer number of legendary actors and performers who lent their talents to Taylor Sheridan’s gritty “Yellowstone” prequel series “1883,” it’s undeniable that the series’ breakout star was Isabel May, who plays the lead role of Elsa Dutton. Sheridan himself said as much during an interview with Deadline earlier this year, in which he praised May for bringing his vision to life, and explained that she perfectly captured the essence of what he wanted to express with the project.
As such, May’s performance serves as the driving force for the entire series. Throughout “1883,” fans watch Elsa Dutton travel across the unruly wilderness at the edges of an expanding America, and witness how that experience changes her into a wiser, stronger version of herself — one that is still clinging to the American Dream despite all of the hardship she has endured.
In any case, Sheridan’s comments make it clear that “1883” could never have been made without Isabel May’s commitment to the character of Elsa Dutton, which is certainly saying something, considering the grueling training regime that May had to participate in to prepare for the series.
Isabel May took 1883’s cowboy camp very seriously
The so-called “cowboy camp” (which “1883” star Faith Hill called terrifying) was a training program wherein the series’ stars were exposed to some of the situations they would be acting out in “1883.” Throughout this camp, the actors were taught how to ride horses, rope cattle, drive wagons, steer cows, and even how to swim a horse in water. During an interview with Reel School on YouTube, Isabel May explained that she was able to excel at this intense cowboy camp through considerable preparation and a few unique strategies.
“I watched, as best I could, the wranglers ride, and just tried to imitate everything they did,” May said. “And then I also feel like mentally if you tell yourself you look good on something … you actually kind of reflect it.” May also explained that she tried to get on horseback as much as possible, even outside of cowboy camp, hoping that this extra preparation would translate to success on the screen.
Whether it was due to May’s thorough preparation or her imitation of the wranglers themselves, it’s clear that her hard work paid off. Even her co-star Sam Elliot (a Western film legend in his own right) claimed that May looked as though she had been riding horses her entire life (via The Hollywood Reporter). In any case, it’s clear that Isabel May managed to absolutely nail her performance in “1883,” and there’s no doubt that she owes some of that success to the intensity of cowboy camp.