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Helen Mirren Recalls The Fascinating Train Ride That Swayed Her Decision To Join 1923

There isn't much denying that the "Yellowstone" franchise has given us many strong female characters. These stories take place in the American West, after all, and as Elsa (Isabel May) reminds us several times throughout "1883," nobody of any gender is going to survive if they aren't a certain amount of tough. And as we've all learned by now, Dutton women continue to be tough well into the 21st century.

So it isn't any surprise that the matriarch of the Dutton clan in the "Yellowstone" miniseries "1923" –- Cara Dutton, played by Helen Mirren -– is as fiery as any of her ancestors or kin. In an interview with Wide Open Country, Mirren praised creator and writer Taylor Sheridan's strong female characters as a real gift for actresses, particularly given how many westerns have historically relegated women to the sidelines of events.

This sidelining isn't only problematic by today's standards, but it also simply doesn't fit the reality of history, in which women played an essential role in the American West (via Time). That history –- the actual history -– is part of what convinced Mirren to take the role of Cara Dutton.

A visceral journey

As is well-known, Helen Mirren was neither born nor raised in the American West or even in the United States. Born in London and trained at the prestigious National Youth Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company (via TalkTalk.co.uk), Mirren's first real experience of the west came when she was traveling for a play in the United States from San Francisco to Detroit in the '60s.

"It took three days, we traveled really slowly," she told Wide Open Country. Mirren remembered a day as the train traveled through Utah in which one couldn't see any vegetation or water. "It was just a flat plain," she said, "and I thought, 'Oh my God, people walked across this carrying their food, carrying their water. Women and men and children walked across this.'" The veteran actress then admitted this memory helped inspire her to take part in "1923," saying, "That was partly why I really wanted to do this work, because I love the way it's really a study of American history as much as anything."

Mirren mentioned that while she had seen a few episodes of "Yellowstone," she had watched "1883" most intently, partly because of the way it dramatized this part of American history for her. "It always fascinated me, that part of American history," said Mirren, "and so I watched '1883' with great, great interest and fascination and thought that journey was revealed so viscerally."