Kevin Costner on What Makes Yellowstone a ‘Good Western’

Kevin Costner is sharing his insights on what makes a great Western — and why Yellowstone has captured the attention of fans of the genre.

The actor stars in the popular Paramount+ series as John Dutton, the patriarch and owner of Montana’s largest ranch as he navigates conflict within his own family and with the bordering Broken Rock Indian Reservation, national park and developers.

Costner, 67, thinks what “makes the show so successful” is how it’s intentional with it world-building and character development.

“I’ve always believed a good Western isn’t always just rushing towards its gunfight,” he tells PEOPLE during a chat to celebrate the U.K. launch of Paramount+. “If you can create language and situations, and then you end up at a gunfight, I think it can be an amazing movie or TV show. But I think if you’re trying to get there so fast that you don’t understand the people, or it’s not complicated, then it’s a problem.”

Kevin Costner
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Of course, Costner is no newbie to Westerns himself, having starred in Wyatt Earp, Silverado, Open Range and the Academy Award-winning Dances with Wolves (for which he also won a Best Director Oscar).

He tells PEOPLE he returns often to the genre because he’s intrigued by capturing “the authenticity of what it took to come across the ocean to move west where there was no law, there was no protection.”

He continues, “To drag your wife and your children and put them in imminent danger — people thirsted to have something of their own.”

Costner also points to how the show seeks to infuse its storytelling with humanity and nuance.

“Most Westerns aren’t very good because they reduce themselves to the black hat and the white hat,” he says. “But when they’re done well, you are kind of haunted by how you can measure yourself to wonder, Were you tough enough to make it? You were forced into decisions every day in the West which were kind of, ‘Wow.'”

For example, he notes, “The word ‘stranger’ — we think a stranger is somebody down the hallway we’ve never met. But in the West, that was like the boogeyman. A stranger would scare people. Because they didn’t know where he was from. They didn’t know if he just come out of jail. And you had to measure things. If you saw someone on the open plain, you didn’t know if they wanted what you had — including your wife, including your kids. So, you had to make these weird decisions all the time. So, when I think you create the architecture in a Western that shows you some circumstances where you go, ‘Ooh my goodness, would I have acted that quickly?’ It works.”

Since its debut in 2018, Tyler Sheridan’s series has inspired multiple spin-offs, including the prequel 1883 starring Tim McGraw and Faith Hill and told the story of how the Duttons came to own the land in Montana now known as the Yellowstone Ranch.

Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford will star in another upcoming prequel, 1923, about the Dutton family during prohibition, drought and cattle theft during Montana’s Great Depression.

An additional spin-off series titled 6666 was announced in February 2021 and will detail the raw and authentic perspective of a real cattle ranch in West Texas.

Yellowstone and 1883 are now streaming on Paramount+.

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