Aug. 9 (UPI) -- True Detective and Britannia alum Kelly Reilly says she is proud that her latest TV drama, Yellowstone, addresses real-life issues and asks big questions.
"That's the role of storytellers," Reilly told UPI in a recent phone interview. "We are, basically, the mirror of the days we live in, if we are getting it right."
Now in its third season, the contemporary western/family drama from writer-producer Taylor Sheridan follows wealthy John Dutton (Kevin Costner) and his family as they fight real-estate developers, government officials and criminals to hold on to their enormous cattle ranch, which borders Yellowstone National Park and a Native American reservation.
Reilly plays John's fiercely loyal and brilliant daughter Beth, who will do anything -- really anything -- to protect the land that has been in her family for generations.
After her character was brutally attacked at the end of Season 2, Reilly received messages from women who shared their experiences with real-life abuse, confiding how they related to Beth's rage and felt empowered by how she tried to defend herself and then pushed forward after the terrible incident.
"I don't mean 'empowering' in that kind of 'woke' term, but more like claiming back your own integrity, power and self-respect in a moment when someone is trying to take it from you," the actress said.
She considers it an honor to play a character who could have been "a badass with great one liners," instead of a complex woman with layers to unwrap, revealing her humanity.
Reilly never had seen a female character quite like Beth before -- a woman who could be manipulative and violent, but whom someone also would want on their side in a conflict.
"I couldn't believe what I was reading -- some of the things that she would say and some of the things that she would do and it excited me," Reilly said, remembering her first introduction to Beth.
"It excited my mind. It excited me as an actor to climb into that character's skin and really figure out what that's about and how far I could take that."
Now that the actress has played Beth for three seasons, she needs very little preparation to get into character.
"She just takes me," Reilly laughed, noting how she initially begged Sheridan for the role, even before she knew how to play Beth. Ultimately, she trusted "the parachute of great language" to guide her in bringing Beth to life.
Reilly hopes Beth can allow herself to be happy with Rip (Cole Hauser,) the ranch foreman who has loved her since they were kids and finally seems to have won her heart.
"If she were my friend I'd be like, 'Get your ass into therapy and figure this out, so you don't mess this up for yourself,' but we're in a drama," Reilly said, likening Yellowstone to Shakespearean tragedies in which characters are "never happy" for long.
Viewers need only look to Beth's accomplished, but oft-tortured brother Jamie to see this is true.
Played by American Beauty and American Horror Story actor Wes Bentley, attorney and aspiring politician Jamie has also endured a lot the past three seasons.
In addition to painfully navigating his dysfunctional relationships with Beth and John, Jamie has had several career changes -- all at the behest of his powerful father.
"Season 2 was so emotionally tough," Bentley told UPI in a separate phone interview.
"I felt raw. I felt totally lost, shattered and needing some ground underneath my feet. That's what is so brilliant about them putting him back on the ranch where, literally, physically, he has to do work to cleanse [past bad experiences] and move on."
Season 3 follows Jamie as he briefly takes over his father's role of state livestock commissioner and then moves up again to interim attorney general.
Jamie is a character with tremendous depth -- one who is crippingly vulnerable one moment, sharp and skillful the next.
The roller-coaster ride of contradictions can be both exhilarating and exhausting.
"He's devastatingly insecure and, at the same time, so capable and able and he is so aware of that that he's got an arrogance that shoots through the roof," the actor said.
"He's got so many complicated feelings about who he's supposed to be, who his family is. It's great as an actor," Bentley added.
Bentley loves that Yellowstone also looks at timely topics such as development, conservation and corruption.
It examines how land that once was inhabited by Indigineous people later was claimed by settlers of European descent and is now in danger of being stolen from ranchers by real-estate barons who want to transform it into luxury resorts.
"I'm very interested in all those things, in particular, what in America is land ownership? What is that and why are we so tied to that being part of our ego and our personality and our pride?" Bentley asked. "The show does a good job of portraying that and also what the family runs up against all the time."
Bentley remembered thinking Sheridan's screenplay was special, even if he couldn't have predicted what an enormous hit Yellowstone would become.
He had a similar feeling the first time he read the screenplay for American Beauty and saw the cast that was attached to the project.
"The same thing happened with this one and it hasn't happened in between, at least not something that I was attached to in this way," Bentley said. "I saw the script and I saw who was attached and I just knew this had the potential to be great."
The show has exceeded Bentley's expectations, thanks in large part to Sheridan's vision.
"He dreams big and he tells you about it and then he does it, at least on this show he has, and it's pretty great to see," Bentley said.
Season 3 of Yellowstone airs Sunday nights on the Paramount Network. The first two seasons are streaming on NBCUniversal's Peacock service.