1 of 5 | Tim McGraw (L) and Faith Hill attend the world premiere of "1883" at Encore Beach Club at Wynn Las Vegas on December 11. Photo by James Atoa/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Tim McGraw, a married father of three daughters, says he could relate to his character, James Dutton, in the new Paramount+ western 1883 because he, too, is a man who depends on and deeply appreciates the women in his life.
Created by filmmaker Taylor Sheridan and debuting Sunday, the Yellowstone prequel is set shortly after the American Civil War and follows the fictional Dutton family as they begin the journey that will eventually lead them to establishing the largest contiguous cattle ranch in the country in Montana.
McGraw and his wife, Faith Hill, play James and Margaret Dutton, the grandparents of Kevin Costner's character, John Dutton, in Yellowstone, which is set in the present day.
Isabel May plays James' and Margaret's headstrong daughter, Elsa, and Sam Elliott and LaMonica Garrett play wagon train leaders Shea and Thomas, respectively.
"There's a ton of respect that James has for the women in his life. There's a ton of trust, and he leans on them very hard for the strength that he has," McGraw told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
"Margaret is the backbone of the family as Faith is in real life for our family," he added. "Without her, our universe falls apart."
1883 marks the first major acting collaboration for country music superstars McGraw and Hill.
"Working with Faith is incredible," McGraw said.
"I can't imagine spending five months, working six days a week, 12 hours a day, not being able to see my wife every day, not being able to go home with her every day. That's something I'm really grateful for and I learned a lot from her as an actor, as well."
James also has a strong relationship with Elsa, granting his elder child freedom and foisting on her responsibilities that were not typical of the era.
"The light of his life is his daughter," McGraw said. "He tries to push her toward the possibilities that she has that he wishes he could have had."
While the world seems wide open and exciting to Elsa, James struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder after fighting with the Confederate soldiers - and against his conscience - in the war.
"The whole reason he wanted to get out of Tennessee and the South was because he wanted to find an untainted place for his daughter to grow up," McGraw said.
Hill thinks Margaret exemplifies the many brave and hardworking women who raised families and made homes during this time period, which was rife with disease, unpredictable weather and violence.
"You learn to do things quickly," Hill said of the many tasks that filled the pioneer women's days.
"Yes, there is beauty. There is love, but there is great, great loss, as well. There is so much danger," she said. "The lessons that you have to learn in real time are about survival, and I think that kind of bleeds into a family, characters, a generation."
Hill said that grit is evident in all of the Dutton women, and loves the idea that her and May's characters might have blazed trails for Kelly Reilly's take-no-prisoners Yellowstone character Beth Dutton more than a century later.
"We love Beth," Hill laughed. "She is one of the most outrageous female characters ever. I just want to say everything she says."
Dutton women are constantly sacrificing, May said, adding, "But they handle it with a lot of grace."
"You mess with the family and we will kill you," Hill said of Margaret and Beth. "I will do that with my own children. You hurt my kids and you are in for a world of pain."
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Tombstone icon Sam Elliott admitted some people were skeptical about McGraw and Hill - known primarily as musicians - playing the leads in a high-profile TV drama.
"They pulled it off!" Elliott said. "They are definitely up to it. Tim is probably the best horseman among the group, in terms of the men. There are two or three women who are better horse people than any of us."
In addition to adding to the project creatively, the couple also are lovely people to be around, Elliott dished.
"They're fun to work with. They hang out a lot, off the set, as well as on the set," he said.
"It's one of the great gifts of being in this business and doing films. You have these relationships that sometimes transcend the film and they go on afterward, and sometimes, when it's over, that's it," Elliott added. "I love Tim and Faith, and I think the work they've done is just incredible."
His character Shea is a broken man, who lost his wife and daughter to smallpox, when Thomas enlists his help to guide a group of homesteaders from Texas to Oregon.
The need to help other people and get himself to Oregon for the completion of his own personal, mysterious quest are what inspire Shea to go on living after experiencing such adversity.
"He's heading for the ocean, which is a bizarre thing for some guy starting in Fort Worth, Texas, but he is driven and he wants to get there," Elliott said. "That's what really keeps him going. That and his relationship with Thomas, his compadre."
Of course, taking responsibility for people on such a perilous trip can have heartbreaking consequences, he pointed out.
"It's the thing that leads to more tragedy in his life. As they drop off along the way, he loses them," Elliott said. "By the end of this thing, he is pretty beat up."
Like Yellowstone, 1883 deals with issues of freedom, civilization and how people interact with their environment.
"Those elements are just ingrained in this story, in the journey west," Elliott said. "All of these people are free to go to Oregon. We talk about that along the way. We talk about how freedom isn't free."
The actor emphasized the show isn't political, but does take an honest look at immigration and how Indigenous people were treated in the 19th century, shedding light on the health of the country then and now.
"Taylor dealt with those issues," Elliott said. "They're dealt with in the dialogue. They're dealt with in the pictures."
Cast members Tim McGraw and Faith Hill attend the world premiere of "1883." Photo by James Atoa/UPI | License Photo