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Actors Who Refused Roles In The Yellowstone Franchise

The Paramount Network's Western drama "Yellowstone" rides tall in the TV ratings saddle: the fifth season debut of Taylor Sheridan's series was the most-watched program on television in 2021 outside of football (via Variety). Its spin-off series look to continue the trend among viewers: "1883," the prequel series to "Yellowstone," broke records as the biggest new series premiere on cable since 2015 (via Variety), while a third franchise title, "1923," with Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, currently holds a 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The presence of major stars like Ford and Mirren, as well as Kevin Costner in "Yellowstone" and country super-talents Tim McGraw and Faith Hill in "1883," confirm that a role in Sheridan's franchise is a chance to appear before a massive audience of devoted fans.

And yet, not every actor has chomped at the bit to ride the range at the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch. A handful of performers have approached the offer of a stint on "Yellowstone" with caution, and even refused the chance to appear on the series. Like everyone, actors have their reasons for turning down an opportunity; here's a chance to find out — with spoilers, of course — why these actors refused roles in the "Yellowstone" franchise.

1883's Sam Elliott shot down a chance to star in Yellowstone

Though he stars in the "Yellowstone" prequel series "1883" as Shea Brennan, veteran character actor Sam Elliott has not minced words when it comes to his feelings about "Yellowstone." In a February 22, 2022 interview on Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast, Elliott said, "I'm not a 'Yellowstone' fan," and described the series as "too much like f***ing 'Dallas' or something for me." But shortly before that episode's release, Elliott admitted on the Official Yellowstone podcast that he had been offered a role on the flagship series — and turned it down.

In the "Yellowstone" podcast interview, which was released on February 10, 2022, Elliott said that while he had never meet "Yellowstone" and "1883" creator Taylor Sheridan, he was familiar with his work as an actor on "Sons of Anarchy" and as a writer on features like "Sicario." "I thought, 'Wow, how can one guy have so many different talents going for him?'" he remarked. As Elliott noted, the pair eventually met and Sheridan offered him a role on "Yellowstone."

"I passed on it, but during that time that he made that offer to me, we started talking," said Elliott. Those conversations led to Elliott joining the cast of "1883," and though he's still not thrilled with its connection to "Yellowstone" — he told Taste of Country, "'Yellowstone' is all over '1883,' we're tainted by 'Yellowstone,' which on some level I can't stand" — he's also effusive in his praise for Sheridan. "This guy we're talking about is a brilliant writer, he's a genius of some sorts," he said.

Cole Hauser's reps wanted him to play a different role

As Rip Wheeler, John Dutton's right hand man on "Yellowstone," actor Cole Hauser appears in both tough and tender character arcs: he is a no-nonsense presence among the ranch workers and those unfortunate enough to be caught trespassing on the property, but he's also front and center in one of the show's most heartfelt romances, with Dutton's daughter Beth (Kelly Reilly). Hauser handles both aspects with skill, but he might have been tackling different storylines had he listened to his management team.

In an interview for the Ryen Russillo Podcast, Hauser said that he received the script for "Yellowstone" from his friend, John Linson, who serves as the show's co-creator and one of its executive producers. Linson believed that he would be perfect for a role on the series, and according to Hauser, his representation encouraged him to pursue one of John Dutton's sons. Hauser, however, had different ideas.

"I just didn't see it," he explained. "The one [character] that jumped off the page was Rip, and [his management team] were like, 'What are you doing? It's two scenes in a pilot.'" But Hauser had a feeling about Rip, and stuck to his guns: "I said, 'No, this character's gonna have something really good. I can just feel it.'" As it turned out, Hauser was right: Rip is one of the show's most popular characters, and his relationship with Beth, which culminated in marriage in Season 4, is among its best-loved storylines.

Cowboy-actor Ethan Lee didn't want to leave his kids

Ethan Lee's real-life experience as a cowboy and rodeo trick rider led him to a career in films and television as a stunt performer and technical adviser, lending his expertise to shows like "NCIS: New Orleans" and movies like "Free State of Jones." That in turn led to an offer to oversee a "cowboy boot camp" for the "Yellowstone" actors, as well as other advisory tasks over the course of six months at the show's Montana locations. However, in an interview with New Orleans TV station WWL-TV, he said he was reluctant to sign on with the Paramount series. "My kids were small, and dad just didn't want to be gone that much, you know?" he told the station. So he turned down the opportunity.

But as Lee told WWL, he almost immediately had second thoughts. "Sounded like such a good deal and something that may be fun, something that may go seasons," he recalled. Lee and his wife, equine veterinarian Brenna Fitzgerald-Lee, discussed it and agreed that if he heard from the show again, he would take the job. That was four years ago, and since then, Lee has graduated from adviser and instructor to a recurring character on "Yellowstone." He's played ranch hand Ethan on the series since Season 2.

Cody Johnson couldn't cut short his concert tour

Had Taylor Sheridan gotten his way, there might have been another country music star joining Tim McGraw and Faith Hill on "1883." In an interview with CMT's Hot 20 Countdown (via CMT) in October 2022, singer Cody Johnson revealed that Sheridan had approached him to play a role on the "Yellowstone" spin-off, but his busy music career prevented him from joining the cast. "I couldn't make it work because of my schedule," he admitted. However, Johnson added that he'd be game to tackle an onscreen role if the opportunity presented itself. "I feel like it would be fun to dive into ... playing the bad guy or being something the complete opposite of what I am in real life."

Johnson made similar statements about Sheridan on the syndicated "Rob and Holly" radio program several months prior to the CMT interview. However, he claimed in that interview that Sheridan had asked him about appearing on "Yellowstone," which he also turned down due to scheduling issues. "I was like, 'Dude, if you just give me a year. Let me know a year ahead, and I could carve it out," he said. Johnson also said that Sheridan was interested in his next music project: "I've got a cowboy project that I'm putting out, and Taylor was like, 'Man, I'd like to be involved. I want some of that music to use.'"

Kevin Costner considered passing on Yellowstone

Kevin Costner lends such a degree of authority and screen presence to "Yellowstone" that it's hard to imagine the series without him. But in an interview with "Entertainment Tonight" (via ET Online), the Oscar-winning actor and filmmaker suggested that he wasn't initially sure about joining the Paramount series after hearing the initial pitch. "I thought we were going to do one long movie — 10 hours," he told ET. "So I'm down with long. I understand long really well," said Costner, whose efforts as a director — the Best Picture winner "Dances With Wolves," as well as "The Postman" and "Open Range" — all clock in at more than two hours.

But upon discovering that Taylor Sheridan intended to make "Yellowstone" as a series, Costner said that he found himself thinking his initial decision over. "You kinda have to look at things again," he explained. He eventually signed on to play John Dutton on "Yellowstone," though remained tight-lipped about his change of mind. "I have my own internal reasons why I ended up doing it, but ultimately, there's that window of opportunity ... [where] you gotta jump creatively, and so I did that," he continued. The decision proved positive for Costner on both a professional and personal level. "I'm happy for the show and everyone in it," he said.