Kelly Reilly may be the fan favorite of the popular Paramount Network drama “Yellowstone,” but even she can’t tell you what’s happening when the show returns this summer for the second half of its fifth season. Not because she doesn’t want to, but because like much of the cast she doesn’t know herself. “I haven’t read a word yet,” Reilly admitted to IndieWire via Zoom. But Reilly actually prefers not knowing where the shocking Western drama is going from season to season. “I don’t know and I don’t want to know. When the scripts arrive the work begins,” she said.
The work itself is yielding results, with “Yellowstone” one of the most popular series currently on television. Thank Reilly’s complex antihero. This season gave us a Beth that, while still problematic, was at least trying to find some semblance of humanity, and maybe even…friends?
“Fighting for the ranch is at a cost for her,” Reilly said. “For her own happiness, for her own peace, she can’t just go off and build her house with her husband and live quietly. That’s not her role in this family.” The actress also discussed her admiration for prolific television creator Taylor Sheridan and how she looks at the passionate fan response to Beth Dutton.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
IndieWire: You’ve been playing Beth for five seasons now. Did you have any expectations for the character going into Season 5?
Kelly Reilly: I’m not sure if we had all the scripts by the time we began. Usually Taylor has most of them written before we start so we have a full bird’s eye view of what we’re aiming at and what we’re doing. But this year, I think we only had a few at the beginning and they were dropping in as we were filming them. As far as my expectations, I’ve learned that any expectations that I might have forget them because when I read the scripts—Taylor writes every word as you know—I try to keep my palette and my mind clear for what he’s wanting to download and then you just give yourself to it. This is his vision. He’s like an auteur, you know? As far as I’m concerned.
His vision, and his knowledge, and understanding of these characters are his and they’re so full, and they’re so unforgiving, that’s what makes it exciting. Because you have no idea where he’s gonna take you. I don’t know what he has in store for Beth. It’s not necessarily a collaboration in the way that one might expect [of] you sitting down and throwing out ideas for what the story is. He is our leader and we jump on and we hold on ourselves.
Courtesy of Paramount
This season we got to see a kinder, gentler Beth, particularly in the finale where she’s sitting around with the other women of the series. Do you think she’s changed this season?
Beth is such a lone wolf. She’s not necessarily someone who I’ve seen allow herself to open up to other women in that way and it’s nice when she does. I like it. Also the interesting relationship with Summer [Piper Perabo], that’s sort of a blessing, after that fight. In a weird way now the territory is understood of where the power lies. When she’s outside the ranch Summer can do what she wants, but when she’s at the ranch, and when she’s in her home, Beth perceives it as territory and, oddly enough, entering into some conversation where there seems to be some sort of respect. Respect won almost from Beth with the fact that Summer fought her. The thing is that Beth sees everyone as an enemy until they’ve proven themselves.
She’s not always in control, especially this season. It’s coming out. It’s purged. So it feels like she’s definitely at her strongest, but she’s also at her most fragile, which is interesting. For the badass Beth that we know there seems to be an inner turmoil that is rising and that is the price of knowing that she knows this fight is futile. I think she sees the end.
Do you remember filming that fight sequence with Piper?
We shot that over two nights. We had two great stunt women who helped us. Piper and I did a lot of it. We trained for it. Filming that was awful, it’s so brutal. She’s brutal. She is like the Terminator in many ways, I say that as a joke. She’s raised with these brothers, but I think what’s so fun about that scene is you find out that Summer is pretty badass herself and gives Beth a real fight for her money, even though Beth will win because she is so savage. She will not stop and that’s what makes her a great fighter. She might not have the technique but she’ll fight dirty, as we know.
There are so many online groups devoted to Beth. Does the fan response surprise you?
I don’t do that at all. I don’t read a thing about myself or her. I don’t want to know. I say ignorance is bliss. I’m aware of it, you can’t not be aware of it, but I think it would be insanity to indulge in any of that. There’s a lot who despise her [even though so many love her]. She’s tapping into some psyche somewhere.
I know my family, after four seasons, was shocked to find out you were a Brit. Do fans often get surprised when they discover that?
That’s all credit to my dialect coach who I worked with all hours of the night when I’m filming because our schedule changes so often and we’re always picking up scenes where we have to shoot the next day especially the past few years shooting through COVID. That was insane. I live in America most of the year. I’m married to an American. I’ve lived there since 2011. I am certainly as English as they come in my mind, but it’s great that people don’t know too much about me. I always think that’s a bonus as an actor, so they think that I’m American, or they think I’m her.
©Paramount Network/courtesy Everett Collection
Is it an easy process now to put Beth aside or do you have to prepare to get back into her spirit when a new season starts?
It’s a process. It’s not like playing dress up. She’s complicated. She’s quite intense. There is a particular headspace [to get into] and she’s in so much pain. Most of the time it’s a lot of fun playing Beth. I get to say things that I would never get to say; she doesn’t have a filter. She’s fearless, she’s reckless, she’s funny, sometimes. She’s irreverent. She’s brave. She’s unapologetic. She’s also brutal. She’s also mean as fuck, and some of that stuff is not always pleasant.
Where would you like to see Beth go?
I think about her a lot. About who she is and why she is the way she is. I have to love her to play her and there are days where I don’t, and there are days where I really do. She’s really invigorating and talk about backbone.
She’s really lent a hand in giving me a backbone in my own life that I didn’t necessarily have before, or certainly didn’t own, or think that as a woman you could own that level of strength, real strength, not borrowed, not pretend. That stuff is really fun to put back on.
Can you say anything about Season 5B?
I haven’t read a word yet. They keep it wrapped up so nobody makes a mistake and speaks to a nice journalist and spills the beans. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. When the scripts arrive the work begins. I just filmed with Kenneth Branagh on a film in London and I’m just about to work with Bob Zemeckis on his next film and I’m doing that until I start “Yellowstone” again. So I’ve got another role in my head so Beth has to wait in the wings for a minute.
How do you look at “Yellowstone” becoming the phenomenon it has?
It’s a riot, right? It’s fun to watch. I try and do bird’s eye view. I’ve been around long enough to know things come and they peak. We’ll see what happens. It’s wonderful to be part of something that is very successful, that people are watching, and people are invested and passionate. It’s an honor, as an actor. You don’t become an actor to do it in your front room just for your mates. You’re doing it to tell stories, to connect, and we’re doing it on such a large scale about a swath of the country that doesn’t have its stories necessarily told.
I try to keep my blinkers on because I’ve never been part of something so massive and I’m quite introverted in my own life. I find sometimes the attention it has evoked slightly overwhelming. I try and keep my head down, and make it about the work. That’s the thing I care about the most.
Can you see yourself playing Beth in 10 years?
[Laughs] Maybe old lady Beth might be fun to see. That would be very interesting.
“Yellowstone” Season 5B premieres on Paramount this summer.