Jamie Dutton is a character who sticks with Wes Bentley. Ever since he was cast in Taylor Sheridan’s megahit Yellowstone series as the tortured attorney-general son of Kevin Costner’s cattle ranch patriarch (and now Montana Governor) John Dutton, Jamie’s sadness has been hard for the actor to shake throughout the five seasons of the Paramount Network neo-Western.
But after the midseason finale, when Jamie threw down the gauntlet and decided to go up against his father and Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly), the sister who despises him, Bentley has been channeling Jamie’s empowerment. “He’s going to go out like a cannonball, maybe. Just blow it all up,” he says. The prediction is a guess, as Bentley has yet to see any scripts. Reported behind-the-scenes drama between star Costner and showrunner Sheridan delayed show’s summer return, with Paramount eventually announcing that the flagship series will end with season five’s final episodes, which were set for November ahead of the writers strike. While awaiting his final turn as Jamie, Bentley talks about his process, predictions and hopes for the end: “I will miss it, but I will also celebrate it being over.”
Yellowstone‘s midseason finale, which aired in January, ended with Jamie calling for John’s (Kevin Costner) impeachment and an epic confrontation between Jamie and sister Beth (Kelly Reilly) that led Jamie to put a hit out on his sister; while Beth and Johnplot a similar fate against Jamie. You have said Jamie’s sadness lingers with you, but that you had an adrenaline rush headinginto production on the back half of season five. Since then, the show has experienced delays in returning. How has that impacted your process?
Jamie stays with me. I don’t always want him there! When I see people talking about Method acting, my experience is that I’m trying as hard as I can to shake him. It’s been tricky though, because of the length of time. Because of the dynamics. I don’t know what they are. I’m sort of on my own here. I don’t really know what’s going on. Life happens and it drifts a bit. But I have a feeling it’s so ingrained that once we start really gearing up, it will all just come flooding back, and be overwhelming again (laughing).
Now that you’ve had more time to ruminate on that ending, has anything changed in your opinion about when we last saw Jamie Dutton?
I’m nervous and hesitant to think too far ahead, because I don’t know where it’s actually going. I’m nervous to create things in my head that might not actually come to fruition when the scripts come. But it has saturated a bit more in me what that feeling was at the end of last season, that breakthrough he sort of had; that moment where he decided that it doesn’t matter what I get or don’t get in this life. That he’s going to go out like a cannonball maybe. Just blow it all up. There was a switch in him. So with that forward momentum, it seems hard to avoid that he’s on the attack.
In a previous interview, you told me that “messing with John Dutton only comes to one end.” The fate of the show hadn’t yet been decided. Now that season five will be the official end of Yellowstone, how are the stakes raised even more when you return?
We’re at a point where I think everything is possible with the Duttons. It’s so hot and combustible right now that it could blow them all up together. I think the potential for that is real. But I also know that I am always surprised by Taylor and the turns and directions. I’m kind of waiting for whatever extra thing he is thinking about that I’m not thinking about. But with the tension and danger right now, it potentially could be either they are all gone, or one of them survives.
Your process is that you always go in with the expectation that any episode could be your last. Is there relief knowing you will finally find out?
There is both relief and trepidation because we put so much into this. You feel like it’s a part of you. Whatever the outcome is, it’s a part of you. So that trepidation is there, that sort of fear of the unknown. But I am excited to see the culmination of all of this. What is the resolve here? Especially with John. I’m intrigued like everyone else.
So you haven’t seen any scripts yet?
I haven’t, no. I truly don’t have a clue where it’s going. I haven’t seen or heard anything.
With production remaining up in the air also now with the writers strike, how prevalent is Jamie for you now?
Jamie is so prevalent in me. It’s more like: When do I open the gate? When do I let this beast out and take over my life! I’m manning the gate. And it becomes easier because I don’t have a date of when we’re returning. All of these things are out of my control, so I’m just going to hold this gate closed until it’s time to let him loose.
John Dutton looms so large over Jaime. Given everything you and Kevin Costner have played out over the years, how do you feel knowing his ending on the show is coming?
I have a lot of thoughts. Obviously, I’m not the writer. But as a viewer, there are so many potentials for Jamie. Does he go down with John? Does John go down because of Jamie? Does Jamie have a hand in it at all, or does it turn out Jamie tries to protect him? It’s hard to read Jamie. Is he playing everybody right now? He’s realizing now that he has this power and potential for more power? I can’t tell what’s real and what’s not with him. There are so many potential ways he deals with John’s ending.
Have you given more thought about the conversation viewers didn’t hear between John and Beth, where they began plotting their attack on Jamie?
Oh, I do all the time. I picture Beth going for him. She’s done with Jamie. I can’t imagine it’s anything other than: “We have to take him out, for real.” And discussing how to do it. So, that brings me fear.
Your confrontations with Kelly in this brother-sister dynamic have been must-see TV. You have spoken about the care you offer one another in your most difficult scenes. What are you looking forward to playing out with the end of that relationship?
I think a lot about working with Kelly because it’s one of the most special experiences I’ve had in my whole career. We’ve really hammered something in here, and it keeps getting deeper. There’s so much nuance in every scene; we keep pushing each other further apart and there’s something so fascinating about playing that. Even on days when we’re not fighting and other people are around and we’re just picking at each other, it’s still the prevalent thing in the scene for me.
But, it’s also so hard to yell at each other and hurt each other like that. The feeling of degradation I have to go through and her being heartless; it’s hard on us to get through the day. And so we do it and we laugh at each other, and poke a little fun at each other, and we also congratulate each other on giving it for a whole day, a whole scene. Something that is vital to the show. The more I think about it, the more I really am appreciative and thankful I’ve had that experience with her. And the writing from Taylor for all of us, these are dreams come true.
There is both physical and psychological violence between them. What sticks with you from season five that will shift their relationship?
There’s a real vital moment in our final scene in the midseason finale, where he realizes that Beth does not know something so important to John, and Jamie knows it. And I think that revelation of John not trusting her with everything means Jamie has something on her. He sees for the first time in a long time that feeling in her, and it’s an empowering moment that opens the floodgate for Jamie. He has more power in this dynamic than he has been realizing. And it’s not physical. He’s not going to beat her physically. He’s tried and given up, so he’s trying with information. I think that gave him power and him having power on her for the first time in years is invigorating in a toxic way. And I think that feeling will carry on in their relationship.
How many times did you film that scene, especially with the physical violence?
We try to minimize how much we do physically. Kelly is so good at it. She tends to get it on the first couple of takes, like a hit or a grab. So we don’t end up having to spend too much time on that, and can really focus on the dialogue. The hardest thing we do is the physical stuff. We really focus on getting that right so we can minimize the takes and give ourselves a lot of room to work out the emotional dynamics.
The decision that this will be the final season was abrupt. But when you talk about Jamie, you’ve always been preparing. Did you think there would be many more seasons, or does ending Yellowstone now make sense to you?
It’s both. I could see both happening, and it’s kind of been that way the whole time. You never really know who is going to be in or out or, the way shows go now, who is going to die and what season. You are half mentally prepared for that happening at any moment. It created a real interesting thing for me with Jamie. Because I think Jamie also feels that his family could dispose of him at any second. He doesn’t realize his worth for so long, not until recently. I would use that in my performances.
But as a whole, you just never know. I have enough experience in this business to know that, even when things are going well. Succession is a good example; it’s peaking and ending at the same time. I’ve always been prepared for some version of the show ending or I’m out of it, or Kevin decides to go do other things and he’s out. You just know the business and always expect the craziest thing to happen. And often, it does.
Have you had conversations with Kevin about bringing this to a close?
No, I haven’t. I haven’t really talked to any of them about that. We never did. I guess that’s sort of one of those “don’t jinx it” things.
What excites you and what perhaps feels scary about closing this chapter?
The unknown about how I’m going to feel about closing it. Will I hate this guy? Like, I hate playing him. (Laughing.) I try not to judge my characters, but it’s been enough years that it’s hard not to at this point. It’s very hard to play him. And at the same time, I love it. I’m going to miss the challenge. Every single scene is literally the hardest scene I’ve ever had to do. Or it’s bringing in a new challenge. If the next thing is not the same challenge, I’m definitely going to miss it. I’m going to wrap it up or laminate it or something. It will always be there as one of the hardest things I’ve ever accomplished, or tried to accomplish, bringing out all the facets and nuances of this complicated character. So I will miss it, but I will also celebrate it being over.
How has all of that informed what you want to do next?
That’s a good question. I guess when the dust settles, I’ll know I feel. Committing to a series is hard because often you are giving up a lot of power in your life. But it’s also amazing because you get to explore the depths of a character. I miss movies, I will say that. I miss 90 minutes where there’s no prequel, no sequel; everything has to happen in 90 minutes. I miss creating that. So I hope for some good films in my future.
The Yellowstone-verse continues to expand, with the latest spinoff (with Matthew McConaughey in talks to star) set to pick up wherever Yellowstone leaves off. If Jamie survives, would you want to pop up somewhere in that universe?
I’m open to that. Taylor has something in his mind about where this story goes and if Jamie fits in, I definitely would be interested in being a part of that. But if it’s the end of the road for Jamie, like I said, I’m ready to wrap him up and celebrate the attempts at accomplishing this character. We’ll have to see what’s coming down the road for Jamie.
What would it mean to you to see this show be honored at the Emmys for its final season?
By its nature, art is not competitive. It’s people separating and creating; two people are going to make the same thing differently and that’s what’s so unique about art. And, there’s no finish line. There’s no time trial. So I have a weird feeling about awards where I don’t know if they give me that same sense of accomplishment that others get from them. I get that from the people who watch the show. Are they moved by it? Is it a good thing in their lives? Do they feel like it holds a place in their heart forever?
People think I got nominated for American Beauty, and I did not get nominated for anything for it. So, I’m torn. For other people on my show and for the show itself and the hard work everyone has done, it would be great to have something like that to show for the work you did. But if we don’t get that in the end — and often that has to do with many things outside of the quality of the show — then I don’t see it as making our show any less than. We have so many fans who love this show who are so invested, nothing can beat that. And that’s the thing that’s more rarely experienced.
What has moved you most in your experience on this show?
Getting the chance for the character to develop and change. You can get on a show and have a character who doesn’t have a whole lot of change. But Taylor has taken me on such a long ride that to now get to this point in the ride where Jamie is actually changing, that’s more rare than people may know. You can imprison yourself quicker than anyone else can with the thoughts and the things you think you’re supposed to be, rather than being who you are. And that’s Jamie in a nutshell. He’s in his own prison. He’s still just a rat in a cage, you know, despite all his rage. And it’s a fascinating thing to play.