LaMonica Garrett attends the world premiere of "1883" on December 11 in Las Vegas. Photo by James Atoa/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Sons of Anarchy and Designated Survivor alum LaMonica Garrett says he feels honored to play a western wagon train leader in the Yellowstone prequel, 1883, because he grew up watching westerns like Bonanza and Gunsmoke, but didn't see himself reflected in their characters.
"These roles weren't written for Black actors," Garrett told reporters on a recent Zoom interview.
"There's a rich history of Black cowboys all throughout how the west was won," the actor said. "They were there."
Garrett pointed out that many times when Black characters have shown up in screen adaptations of 19th century frontier stories, they were often underdeveloped, leaving viewers to wonder who they were, where they came from and what motivated them.
"They would have a purpose. They would come, say a few things and they would walk out," he said, emphasizing his 1883 character, Thomas, is different.
The Civil War veteran still wears his Union military uniform as he protects the people he was hired to safely guide from Texas to Oregon.
He is also a dedicated friend who looks out for his mentor, Shea (Sam Elliott,) who has fallen on hard times after losing his wife and daughter to smallpox.
"Representation is important and me being the one to bring this to light in such a strong role, in a strong place like 1883, I get emotional every time I think about it," Garrett said.
"My son is growing up and one day he is going to look back like: 'My dad was Thomas in 1883. He was the second Black cowboy to have his name and picture as a co-star when the episode came on.' The last time that happened was 1968, I think, with Otis Young in a show called The Outcasts."
Garrett recalled feeling overwhelmed when he saw the credits roll at a screening of the show in Amarillo.
"I lost it and I cried for two straight hours," he said. "It means a lot to me and I hope I am doing it justice."
Thomas wears his uniform after the war because he took tremendous pride in being a soldier, Garrett noted.
"For a lot of former slaves back in the 1800s, they went over to the military and became Buffalo soldiers and a lot of those Buffalo soldiers became cowboys because it was a different sort of freedom," he added.
To prepare for the role, Garrett and his castmates, including Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, spent three weeks training in 100-degree weather in Texas in August. They learned to ride, shoot, rope and herd, but most importantly they bonded with each other.
"i have a tremendous amount of respect for cowboys now because i had no idea how hard it was," said Garrett, who had never ridden a horse before. "Cowboy camp was tough on us."
Garrett had nothing but high praise for Tombstone and The Ranch star Elliott, with whom he shared many of his scenes in 1883.
"He embraced me from the first time that we met," Garrett recalled. "He calms the nerves of everyone that he comes in contact with, with just his steadiness and his work ethic and he's the first one there and the last one to leave. He is inspiring to watch work."
Cast members Tim McGraw and Faith Hill attend the world premiere of "1883." Photo by James Atoa/UPI | License Photo