[SPOILER ALERT: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for 1923 Season 1 Episode 3, “The War Comes Home.”]
Mayhem is the one word to describe the latter half of 1923 Episode 3. Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn) returned with a vengeance for Jacob Dutton (Harrison Ford), staging a firestorm shootout that killed and maimed many. In true Taylor Sheridan and Yellowstone fashion, a key player was killed off earlier than expected in this fight. Now, John Dutton, Sr.’s (James Badge Dale) death throws the future of the Dutton family tree into question.
Viewers know that John, Sr. is the eldest son of James Dutton (Tim McGraw) and Margaret Dutton (Faith Hill), as seen in 1883. He was a child in the prequel with elder sister Elsa Dutton (Isabel May), whose death determined where the Duttons settled (she now narrates 1923). James and Jacob’s sister, Claire Dutton (Dawn Olivieri), also died in 1883. And John’s little brother Spencer was a child in the 1883 backdoor pilot in Yellowstone Season 4, which showed the death of James.
When John and Spencer grew up, they were taken in by Jacob and Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren), their uncle and aunt. John is a grown man in 1923, husband to Emma (Marley Shelton) and father to one son, Jack (Darren Mann). Up until now, it was presumed that John, Sr. was the grandfather of Kevin Costner‘s John Dutton III and that we’d meet John Dutton, Jr. at some point in this (possibly two-season) series. But his death makes the lineage unclear.
Here, Dale answers our questions about the Dutton family tree (to the best of his abilities — Sheridan keeps this confusing!) and explains why he accepted the role knowing it would be a short run. Plus, he shares treasured behind-the-scenes memories of Ford and Brandon Sklenar (Spencer).
Episode 3 was obviously huge for you. When did you know your character would die?
James Badge Dale: Taylor was very upfront with me from the beginning. He said, “This is what the character is, what I would like to do.” Taylor gave me the first three episodes, and that’s all I read. So I knew what I was going into and what the job would entail. It’s just a beautiful piece of writing, and I was glad to be a part of it.
John Dutton, Sr. is presumed to be the grandfather of Kevin Costner’s John Dutton III in Yellowstone. But in 1923, John and Emma only have one son that we know of, Jack. Do you know whether your character is Costner’s grandfather or great-grandfather?
I have no idea. If someone figures it out, they can let me know [laughs]. We would talk about this all the time on set, and we couldn’t figure it out. I know Luke Grimes [Kacey Dutton in Yellowstone], and he would call me and be like, “I don’t know how we’re related either.” We were trying to figure it out. I think Taylor probably has a few more curve balls planned.
My theory is that we’ll learn Emma got pregnant that night in town in Episode 3, and that baby will be John, Jr. in honor of your character. Or maybe Jack is a nickname for John, Jr. I know you can’t confirm anything, of course. But was anything post-Episode 3 shared with you?
I was only allowed to read the first three episodes, so from this point on, I’m a fan only. I’m so excited to watch it, because I have no idea what’s happening. But I know it’s good, because I know the actors and I know how excited they are and how much work they’re putting into it. So I’m really excited to see what they’ve been doing.
Take me behind the scenes of filming that gun fight. There were bullets flying every second in the episode. I imagine it was an intense production process?
Yes. The thing is, you can’t work crazy. When you’re dealing with gunfire and you’re dealing with animals, you have to keep things very calm, very efficient. The animals are the main concern [for the actors]. You’re kind of regulating your energy and following them, figuring out what you can do and when you can do it.
I was so struck by this film crew and [director] Ben Richardson and how he ran this sequence, which took three days to shoot. We did it safely, and we did it with a great attitude. No animals were hurt, and no people were hurt. The episode speaks for itself. I think he put together an amazing gun fight.
Did filming this scene come with a lot of meticulous choreography and “stage” direction?
Yes. When you’re working with blanks, you’re always very careful about your weapons. You’re careful about when you’re loaded, when you’re not loading, your muscle control, where you’re pointing it. Everything is choreographed. We do things in pieces, and then everything is put together [in post-production].
Did the whole cast know this scene was your last?
We all knew what we were doing and what we were there for. Everyone was prepared for this moment. We knew what this moment was and what it was going to require from us.
The funny thing was Jerome Flynn, that was his first day in Montana. He landed the night before and came up on the mountain the next day. He was thrown right into it. I’m so impressed by that man. He’s a wonderful person and brings a lot of ethos to that character. That was his first time shooting the Tommy gun, too.
You shared most of your scenes with Harrison Ford, which meant you got a lot of time horseback riding with him in Montana. Could you share a fond memory from that time?
This is why I was there. That’s the gift that Taylor gave me. I don’t like dying [on TV]. I’ve done it a lot [laughs]. I feel like I leave a piece of me every time, and you’re giving a piece that you don’t get back again. But Harrison gave me something else that I could replace it with. He’s a very kind, generous actor. I’m just really appreciative for that time I spent with him.
A lot of the memories, you need to keep personal. But what I will say is, he said to me one morning, “I’m still struck by how lucky I am.” And I said, “I feel the same way.” We’re lucky to be there. You could not get that guy to go back to the trailer.
I mean, on a set location like that, why would you want to?
Where are you gonna go? Why would you leave? One day, [the crew] asked him, “Hey, do you wanna get off the horses?” “Nope.” We just walked around with them. Any day on horseback is a good day.
Did you and Brandon do any character building together even though John and Spencer wouldn’t share scenes?
No. We would talk more about what our lives were like in the last 10, 20 years. We communed more in that actor way of telling the actor stories. We could come up with some sort of idea of what John and Spencer were doing [pre-1923], but then what if Taylor writes 1913 and we find out we’re completely wrong?
We bonded over our fears and our anxieties and our triumphs and our failures in life, and those are the things that as actors, we take into the work. I’m deeply excited for him.
1923, Sundays, Paramount+