Kevin Costner is not returning to “Yellowstone” for a new season. He’s tying his shoes.
Season 5 of “Yellowstone” began with Costner’s John Dutton being sworn in as Montana’s governor in his finest duds. So Dutton will have to leave his beloved Yellowstone Ranch in order to govern.
“I know how difficult it will be on him,” Costner says. “His heart is at the ranch, not in negotiating with people. That’s going to be difficult. He operates in a lane that is not as wide as some would like it to be. And he’s not going to change.”
The “Yellowstone” faithful will breathe a sigh of relief at this sentiment. Costner’s portrayal of the sixth-generation patriarch of Yellowstone Dutton ranch remains the unyielding cornerstone for TV’s biggest show, which averaged 10.7 million viewers in three-day viewing, up 73% from Season 3.
The two-episode Season 5 premiere on Sunday drew 12.1 million viewers, up nearly a million from last season’s premiere audience of 11.2 million. That success has prompted Taylor Sheridan, the creator and executive producer, to launch an entire Dutton family Western franchise, including “1883” and “1923,” both of which will be released in December.
Instead of changing, Dutton will dig his heels even deeper. It’s an attitude that has kept his sprawling ranch intact despite powerful competing interests, and it’s an attitude that has kept him alive after gritting out an assassination attempt in the Season 3 finale that still reverberates.
Season 4 ended with the family banding together – daughter Beth (Kelly Reilly) even blackmailed her brother, Jamie (Wes Bentley), to ensure his cooperation – to combat the growing threat of fierce developer Caroline Warner (Jacki Weaver), who wants the Dutton ranch for a Montana airport proposal.
Season 5 finds Dutton dealing with more personal tragedy while also winning his governor’s race. The new office will help him fight personal battles, but it comes at a cost that the actor recognises.
“It’s like the difference between being in school and being at recess. What would you rather be doing?” Costner inquires. “On his horse, he thinks most clearly.”
Unlike his on-screen counterpart, Costner will not be drawn into politics.
“No, I don’t think there’s any reason for me to run,” he says quickly, “though I wish the people that did run had a bigger vision and more of a morality about how they see the country evolving. I’m dissatisfied.”
The actor, 67, has publicly backed candidates from both parties, including failed 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump who lost her primary election in August.
Costner has no regrets about his assistance.
“Just because you lose doesn’t mean you’re finished; it doesn’t even mean you’re wrong,” he explains. “I was clear that (Cheney) was unlikely to win the presidency. But, as a citizen, I wanted to express how much I admired her brave, level-headed stance.”
Even some of Costner’s “Yellowstone” fans were critical of his stance.
“I didn’t care how the cookie crumbled, that people who used to like me now don’t,” he says. “That’s fine.”
The Hollywood outlaw, whose career has been propelled by ambitious achievements such as 1990’s best picture Oscar winner “Dances With Wolves” and overcame disasters such as the $175 million 1995 epic “Waterworld,” maintains a big-picture outlook on the success of “Yellowstone.”
“I’m not naive; I know it’s a No. 1 show,” he says. “When something is well received, you are always pleased. Things that I thought were pretty good but weren’t exactly hits have happened to me. However, you cannot be driven by the ratings; you simply appreciate the fact that there is an audience.”
Since Costner blazed the trail, the “Yellowstone” audience has received a wagonload of Duttons. The limited prequel series “1883” starred original patriarch James (Tim McGraw) and his wife Margaret (Faith Hill). While “1923,” which premieres in December, stars Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren as Costner’s screen great-great-uncle and aunt, Jacob and Cara Dutton. These are just two projects in Sheridan’s rapidly expanding universe (which also includes Sylvester Stallone as a non-Dutton modern-day mobster in “Tulsa King,” which premieres Nov. 13 on Paramount+).
Costner dismisses concerns about the universe expanding too quickly.
“It’s all about the writing,” he says. “What you do must be credible. And that is what I am constantly watching.”
He’s willing to go along for the “Yellowstone” ride as long as it feels right, but he’s refusing to commit to a sixth season.
“I was only going to do one season,” he explains. “I put everything I have into what I’m doing. But if something doesn’t feel right, I’ll just walk away.”
With his success in Hollywood, Costner’s hands are full with other projects. He’s producing, directing, starring in, and co-writing another Western, a passion project he’s co-financed with his wife of 18 years, Christine Baumgartner.
“Horizon” is a sprawling (with 170 speaking parts) look at the settlement of the American West that he’s been thinking about for the last 15 years. “And the time had come for me to do it.”
He intends to make it a four-part film series, with the first instalment hitting theatres next year.
During the marathon shoot, Costner scouted the perfect location in Moab, Utah, on Sunday morning.
“We’ve got a long way to go before we sleep,” he says. “I’m relentless, and people are giving me their Sunday to look at another place.”
It sure beats a desk job, as Dutton’s new office reminds him.
“I would have done poorly in the office,” Costner admits. “I’m grateful to have found something I enjoy doing. It’s enjoyable to be outside. This is a break.”