INTERVIEW: Brandon Sklenar Breaks Down Masculinity and Lions in ‘1923’
1923 is the latest in Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone universe. And with it comes the character of Spencer Dutton, played by Brandon Sklenar. Spencer is the nephew of Jacob Dutton (Harrison Ford) and Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren) and for the most part of the series, he’s been in South Africa falling in love with Alex (Julia Schlaepfer). He is a fascinating character to unpack and getting to talk with Sklenar, he was open about the text, his character, and working with Taylor Sheridan on the Ford led series.
It helped that our interview started with Sklenar saying that Harrison Ford is a “beautiful man”. But because we’ve yet to see Spencer Dutton and Jacob together, it is hard to talk about their dynamic. Even as the show has been hinting at Spencer’s return to Yellowstone, Sklenar didn’t give much away. Saying “I can say that when he does it’s definitely gonna be a profound event when that happens. Time will tell,” about Spencer heading back to Montana.
But the series is seemingly not only about Jacob and Cara keeping the ranch alive but also about Spencer and his acceptance of himself. Which comes across in the more “cowboyish” qualities that Spencer has even when he’s in South Africa and then Zanzibar. “I think that’s what his roots, that’s what he’s rooted from,” he said. “That’s at the base of everything and that’s ultimately what he’s trying to return to. With any life, you’re starting with the base, the base roots and you’re just sort of layering on top of that. And he’s had a lot of European influence in terms of his appearance and his vibe because he spent so much time overseas and as he makes his journey home, it’s sort of a stripping away of those layers to get back to who he was before he left.”
Bringing Taylor Sheridan’s words to life
When it comes to Sheridan’s work, every single actor he’s worked with that I’ve spoken to has praised his scripts and his ability to put a character on the page. And according to Sklenar, the characterization and work is so great that you don’t want to try and improv around it. “It’s all on the page,” he said. “There’s everything that is said is on the page. He’s pretty phenomenal when it comes to his writing, obviously. And he’s the only writer as well. There’s no other writers. It’s just him. And you get a script and that’s the Bible. There’s no rewrites, there’s no, ‘let’s try this.’ It’s like, nope, that’s it. Which is a gift as an actor because I mean, I’m all for improvisation when it’s appropriate. But, you know, having studied on stage, I love working with material that this is it. Let me dissect this. Let me build based off of this. It’s not like you’re showing up and they’re like, ‘we rewrote this scene, we added this scene, we took this out.’ It’s so thoughtfully constructed and intentional. Everything’s intentional. So it’s just a gift to have material like that.”
But don’t worry, even if Sheridan’s work allowed for improv, I don’t think that Sklenar would be ready to do it. He’s a theatre guy, which I appreciate, and hearing him talk about understanding what is on the page and exploring that is fascinating.
1923 and masculinity
One of the things about the Yellowstone universe is that it challenges our ideas of manliness with characters like Beth Dutton, being in charge of her family despite what the men may think. But with 1923, there is such a breakdown of what being masculine means in terms of the toxicity that comes along with it and that manifests in Spencer’s character. On one hand, he’s fighting a lion (which Sklenar said there was a real lion on set as well as CGI and stuffed ones) and then on the other, he’s willing to do whatever the women in his life need from him without question. It makes Spencer the kind of “masculine” character that is rare to see because most of the “macho” men tend to lean towards toxic masculinity instead.
“In terms of the masculinity stuff, I’m was acutely aware of that,” he said. “He’s a character we don’t see very often anymore, he’s a hyper masculine character. But I do think what makes what people respond to is that he is vulnerable, he’s noble. He’s not using it for anything other than what he has to, for his job to stay alive. And he’s ultimately an incredibly kind and noble character which is what you would hope if there’s any takeaway, that you can be that masculine and you can also be kind and loving and sensitive and vulnerable and not shoving it down people’s throats. It’s a time and a place. It can be a really beautiful thing if it’s harnessed correctly.”
Brandon Sklenar didn’t give us too many spoilers for the future of 1923. Just that we would see him eventually at the ranch. But talking with him was an absolute joy and makes me want to see so much more of Spencer in the rest of the season.
(featured image: Paramount+)
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