Helen Mirren Joined ‘1923’ Without Reading a Script: ‘I Signed On Without Knowing What I Was Getting Into’

The Oscar winner joins Harrison Ford in the “Yellowstone” prequel series

1923 Helen Mirren

The Paramount+ series “1923” is the latest expansion of Taylor Sheridan’s “Yellowstone” universe, and it’s a particularly starry expansion at that.

Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren star in “1923,” with Ford portraying the brother of the character played by Tim McGraw in “1883” (yes, the Dutton family tree is getting a little complicated) and Mirren as his loving wife. The first scene of the first episode, which you can stream now, has Mirren killing a guy with a shotgun, if that tells you what kind of tough-as-nails frontierswoman she plays.

TheWrap spoke to Mirren about what it was about “1923” that made her sign on, if she learned anything from cowboy camp and what it was like reuniting with Ford for the first time since “The Mosquito Coast.”

What was it about “1923” that spoke to you?

Well, many things. Possibly very, very early in my decision to do it was the fact that Harrison was involved. That immediately raised the stakes enormously high. I already knew that Taylor Sheridan was obviously the creator. That was a hugely important element in the process because of his track record. And actually I’m not talking about “Yellowstone.” I’m really talking about things like “Wind River” and “Hell or High Water.” And I’ve loved all of his films. So that was in an incredible, important element.

And then I think the idea that you’re looking at American history in a very adult way, and in a way in which you have the time to really connect the dots of history, of understanding how America developed, how technology developed. It was a combination of those things.

I agreed to do it without reading any scripts. No scripts were available to read. I had no idea really. I mean, obviously I had an outline of the story. It’s this couple, living on a ranch, and their struggles. That was as much as I knew. But I didn’t read any scripts. And I signed on without really knowing what I was getting into but with great excitement. And I think now I’m in the middle of it, I’m so grateful for the fact that I’m involved and that this will become a very important part of my filmography.

Once you got the role did you go back and do a “Yellowstone” deep dive?

No, I watched “1883” because I thought that was more relevant, really, to what we’re doing, and loved it. I thought it was a fantastic piece of work, fantastic piece of work. And not just in the writing, but in the way it was realized, the reality with which it was realized, the type of filmmaking that was used. And I knew that we would have a similar experience.

You and Harrison co-starred in “Mosquito Coast.” This is your first time working together since?

Yes, it is, since “Mosquito Coast,” but I think it’s interesting that the last thing we did together was “Mosquito Coast” because that required a sense of adventure. We shot that in the jungles of Belize when Belize was not the comparatively sophisticated place it is now, when it was very, very raw and rough and undeveloped. It was literally going into sort of the wilds of the jungle. And it meant that we both had that sense of adventure and it was a precursor really, to the fact that we both signed on for this. I think it shows that we have a similar sort of adventurous spirit.

You have a lot of television experience. Was “1923” in keeping with that?

But no, because I mean, actually the way we film, we film very fast with a lot of cameras and I’ve never worked like that before. The TV work that I’ve done has been much more akin to traditional filmmaking and this is unlike that. I think it’s a first for both of us, actually. And I love working like this. You have to work very, very, very fast to say with multiple cameras. And I find it a very exciting way to work. I like it.

Did you have any experience riding horses and doing the kind of cowboy stuff that “1923” requires?

I have actually ridden a horse many times, but I can’t ride. I’ve fallen off a horse many times. And I’m older now. I said to Taylor right at the beginning, “I don’t ride, I can’t ride.” And thinking he’d probably say, “Well, that’s all right. We’ll teach you.” But happily, he didn’t say that. He said, “No, it’s all right. I’m going to put you in a buggy.” I did learn how to ride a buggy, drive a buggy, a horse and carriage, as we say in England. But I didn’t have to learn to ride. I was quite relieved about that.

I’m assuming you didn’t have to go to cowboy camp.

Well, I learned my buggy driving in cowboy camp.

Did you pick up anything else from that experience?

No, just how wonderful horses are. I mean, I happen to love cows. I love cows. I think they’re great. And I’m unafraid of cows and I’m unafraid of horses. That was the extent of it. I certainly didn’t learn how to wrestle a calf to the ground or lasso cow or anything.

They announced, after you’d started filming, that there was going to be a season 2. Are you excited to extend your time in “Yellowstone” country?

Yes. It’s been a journey into the unknown, the whole experience, and very, very exciting, therefore, actually. It’s sort of more real life. None of us know what’s going to happen to us tomorrow. I’ve loved that element that you’re not quite sure what’s coming down the line. So yes, I’m very happy to think of coming back and revisiting this journey.

“1923” is out now on Paramount+.