Taylor Sheridan: 11 Facts About The Yellowstone Creator's Transformation Into A TV Icon

There is a world somewhere out there, in some alternate dimension, where Taylor Sheridan never left Texas to become an actor. Or maybe, one where he left Texas to become an actor but never dreamed of writing his own scripts. Or maybe, one where he wrote the hard-hitting screenplays for "Sicario," "Hell or High Water," and "Wind River" but never branched out into television — meaning, he never co-created the hit Paramount Network series "Yellowstone" and never built a miniature television empire, got inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, or returned to his home state as owner of one of its most famous cattle ranches.

Luckily, we do not live in such an alternate dimension. The Taylor Sheridan of our world has done all of those things and more. After nearly two decades as a television actor, Sheridan bet on himself and made the jump into feature screenwriting, becoming one of the hottest writers in Hollywood for his tales of masculinity, family, and the politics of the modern West. His most recent project, the "Yellowstone" prequel "1923" starring Harrison Ford (in his first regular television role), premiered on the Paramount+ streaming service in December 2022. Let's take a look at Sheridan's journey from Texas to Hollywood and back.

Cranfills Gap

Like the West itself, there is a certain amount of print-the-legend mythmaking in Sheridan's backstory and rise to fame. A quick Google search will tell you that he was born and raised in Cranfills Gap, Texas, a small ranching community southwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, about an hour's drive from Waco — however, that is only partially true. Sheridan's formative years were split between there and Fort Worth, where he attended school, but he was actually born in North Carolina, according to an extensive profile in Fort Worth magazine from November 2022. 

But more so than North Carolina or Fort Worth, Cranfills Gap is the birthplace of the idea of Sheridan. Of course, the man who wrote every episode of "Yellowstone" would have grown up atop a horse, living the life — even if only on weekends and summer breaks from school, and even if the ranch was more of a hobby than a family vocation. Sheridan's family owned a small ranch, though it was his father's career as a cardiologist that put food on the table, rather than livestock. When his parents split up, his mother sold the ranch and moved to Wyoming; Sheridan was in college at the time. For many years, his life's ambition was simply to become sheriff of Cranfills Gap, and who knows, he might have been a bright and innovative lawman. Life, however, had different plans.

Sheridan Taylor Gibler

Both the cowboy life and the theatre life offer an opportunity to create one's own myth, and as a teenager Sheridan was immersed in both. On his summer getaways to Cranfills Gap he was working on a nearby ranch for $400 a month and a spot in the bunkhouse (via a 2020 profile for Texas Highways), but during the school year at Paschal High in Fort Worth, he was a full-blooded theatre kid, starring in a production of "Grease" and even landing a paying gig at Stage West Theatre at age 16.

Back in those days, however, Sheridan was still known by his birth name: Sheridan Taylor Gibler, Jr. It would be several more years before he would lose the Gibler and reshuffle his first and last names, after moving to Los Angeles to pursue a screen acting career in earnest. And like his name and birthplace, there's another key biographical detail that Sheridan plays coy with: His date of birth. Depending on where you look, he has any number of different birthdays listed, which is apparently the way he likes it. "I've got, like, six different birthdays," Sheridan told Fort Worth magazine. "I mean, what people don't realize is, when you start posting where people are born and when they're born, I only need one more thing to take your identity."

Bumming around Austin

When his mother Sarah Drew sold the family ranch in Cranfills Gap in 1991, Sheridan was away at college, studying at Southwest Texas State University (later renamed simply Texas State University) in the Austin suburb of San Marcos. After dropping out, he moved to Austin proper and spent some time bumming around the city, making money through odd jobs like "mowing lawns and painting houses," as he described it to the Austin American-Statesman in 2017, all the while "trying to figure out what to do." In one of those "Hollywood fairy tale"-style twists, one day he went to a nearby mall to look for work and caught the attention of the representative of a Chicago modeling agency.

Sheridan, however, was more interested in acting than modeling, so the rep gave him a short script to read. When it turned out that he could indeed act, the agency set him up with a commercial shoot in Chicago and gave him a plane ticket. Rather than fly, though, Sheridan cashed in the plane ticket and drove the nearly 1,200 miles from Austin to Chicago. "I did the math," he told Texas Highways, "and figured it would be cheaper to drive." That trip would be the first of many, as Sheridan's nascent acting career took him from Chicago to New York, and finally Los Angeles.

Television day player

But Sheridan's career wasn't an immediate Hollywood fairy tale. His first on-screen role was in a Season 3 episode of the Chuck Norris western series "Walker, Texas Ranger" in 1995, and he finished up the 1990s with a handful of day-player parts on shows like "Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman," "Party of Five," and the Pamela Anderson spy series "VIP." In between such roles, he used his skills as a horseman to pick up extra cash.

The early 2000s continued apace, with Sheridan getting cast a few times a year for one episode of some show or another, be it "Star Trek: Enterprise" or "CSI." But two roles in the mid-2000s would change the course of his career. The first was a five-episode stint on the much-loved UPN teen detective drama "Veronica Mars," then in its second season. In 2008, he was cast as straight-laced deputy police chief David Hale on the FX "Hamlet"-with-bikers drama "Sons of Anarchy." It was by far the biggest role of Sheridan's career up to that point; Hale was a supporting character in the show's first two seasons before meeting a bloody end in the Season 3 premiere — apparently, after salary negotiations between Sheridan and the producers broke down.

His PhD in screenwriting

After "Sons of Anarchy," Sheridan could have pursued other acting roles and continued filling the character actor niche he had for over a decade. But a niche from a different angle can look like a rut; creatively, he was unfulfilled and saw little chance of being more successful as an actor than he already was. He decided to write a screenplay, without any prior experience or training as a screenwriter; as he told Uproxx in a 2016 interview, "I consider my 20 years as an actor my PhD in Screenwriting." The result was "Sicario," a bleak portrait of the Mexican cartel wars, as seen through the eyes of a female FBI agent caught in a no-win situation.

But writing a script and selling one are two different things, and at the time Sheridan didn't even have an agent for his acting career, much less one that could handle him as a writer. So instead, he sent the script to an attorney friend, and after three years or so of being shopped around — during which time Sheridan wrote and sold the neo-western "Comancheria," which was released in 2016 as "Hell or High Water" — the script was picked up by Thunder Road Pictures and director Denis Villeneuve. "Sicario" premiered in 2015, starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio del Toro, and put Sheridan on the map as a writer to watch.

Nicole Muirbook

Changing careers after 20 years — which is essentially what Sheridan did — takes a lot of support, emotionally and otherwise. At his side during this uncertain transition was his wife, actor and model Nicole Sheridan (née Muirbrook). Born and raised in Utah, in the 2000s and early 2010s she could be seen in ad campaigns for Axe body spray and Old Navy, and made just a handful of appearances in film and television. These days, she oversees the Sheridan family-owned Bosque Ranch (named for the county where Cranfills Gap resides), including her own namesake bar, and devotes her time to charitable pursuits such as the National Cowgirl Museum and the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center. The couple have a son together, Gus, named for the character played by Robert Duvall in the seminal Western miniseries "Lonesome Dove."

Like her husband, though, an unusual bit of mythology has gathered around Sheridan. In 2008 she had a brief, unnamed role on an episode of "How I Met Your Mother." The advertising for that episode teased that the eponymous Mother would finally make an appearance. A blog post on Vulture speculated that Sheridan's (then Muirbrook's) character, who shares a quick word with series protagonist Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor), was in fact the long-awaited mother. There is no evidence to support this claim, and of course Cristin Milioti would play that character five years later in the show's final season. Yet, from this single blog post has grown an internet urban legend that can be found on Sheridan's Wikipedia page and on several biographical sites. 

A giant a-hole

"We were literally starving," Nicole Sheridan told Cowgirl Magazine in 2021, referring to the time after Taylor had mostly given up acting. "That's when Taylor started writing, and two years later we were at the Oscars." Sheridan's success as a screenwriter was immediate; "Sicario," the first script he had ever written, was nominated for three Oscars. A year later, "Hell or High Water," Sheridan's tale of bank robbing brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) in modern-day West Texas, was nominated for four, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay. In 2017 Sheridan made his directorial debut (not counting the 2011 no-budget horror movie "Vile") with "Wind River," a mystery thriller set against the backdrop of the Wind River reservation in Wyoming.

"Wind River," the final entry in Sheridan's unofficial trilogy about the modern West, premiered in the Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard, a side competition for unconventional films, where he won the best director award. According to Sheridan, the experience was overwhelming; the fanciness of the Oscars was one thing, but the luxury and opulence on display at Cannes was something else. "At one point I was doing interviews on this big yacht," he told the Austin American-Statesman that year, "and I felt like a giant a**hole. And if I never see a glass of rosé again..."

A big sexy American family drama

Once upon a time, in the 1990s, there was a country music-focused cable channel called The Nashville Network, or TNN. In 2000, its parent company Viacom rebranded it as The National Network, ditching most of the music but keeping the populist heartland vibe. Three years later, TNN rebranded again as the bro-focused Spike TV, and in 2017 it changed names and formats yet again to the more tony-sounding Paramount Network. For the network's inaugural foray into original dramatic programming, incoming network president Keith Cox knew exactly what he wanted — a sprawling, cinematic American family drama — and he knew exactly who he wanted it from.

Co-created by Sheridan and "Sons of Anarchy" producer John Linson, "Yellowstone" gave Cox exactly what the network needed: "I wanted to do something grounded, very authentic but very Americana," he told Deadline when the project was announced, "harkening back to these big, exciting fun dysfunctional families." Critics may quibble about how grounded it is exactly, but the story of the Dutton family (led by Kevin Costner's patriarch John) and their impossibly large Montana ranch proved to be the perfect introduction to the Paramount Network, pointing toward the future but with one cowboy boot planted in the past going all the way back to the TNN days.

The Four Sixes

Though his upbringing was as much suburban as rural, Sheridan had at least some experience with the trials and triumphs of owning a ranch. It wasn't until the massive success of  "Yellowstone," however, that he got the chance to be a John Dutton of his own. For a Season 3 plotline involving Jefferson White's young cowboy Jimmy Hurdstrom, production relocated south from Wyoming to Fort Worth, Texas and the legendary Four Sixes Ranch. Founded in the 19th century, the Four Sixes (or 6666, as it's sometimes stylized) was a pioneer in the breeding and care of quarter horses and Black Angus cattle, and wrote itself into the history of American pop culture as the range where the Marlboro Man rode.

While filming in February 2020, Sheridan received word that the ranch's owner Ann Marion had passed away. He was concerned about being able to film the rest of his season, of course, but was more concerned about the fate of the ranch itself. Marion's will stipulated that the ranch be sold after her death, so Sheridan inquired about buying it himself. Undeterred by the $350 million price tag ("I said, well, I'm about $330 million short," he told Fort Worth Magazine), Sheridan worked with additional investors and signed a massive new deal with Paramount in order to finance the deal of a lifetime. He has a number of plans to expand operations at the Four Sixes, including selling direct-to-consumer beef under the 6666 brand for the first time, partnering with a local brewery, and producing a documentary series about the ranch.

Wining and dining movie stars

Just as "Yellowstone" christened the Paramount Network in 2018, the prequel series "1883," which follows the Dutton family ancestors (Tim McGraw and Faith Hill) in the titular year, did the same for the Paramount+ streaming service in 2021 (give or take "Picard"). Rather than write a second season of "1883" — seeing as he had killed off most of his main characters at the end of the first — Sheridan moved forward with a brand new prequel set four decades later. "1923" continues the story of the Duttons in Montana but with a global scope, examining the aftereffects of the first World War and the burgeoning cattle trade in British colonial Africa. Anchoring this worldwide action are a pair of worldwide movie stars, Harrison Ford and Dame Helen Mirren.

So how did Sheridan land Ford, who had never been a series lead before, and Mirren, who hadn't done it since "Prime Suspect" in the 1990s? Well, as in most things, it helps to have a scenic Texas ranch, a lot of money and confidence, and a whole lot of nice wine. Sheridan invited them both to Bosque Ranch before the scripts had even been written and pressed them to commit. "I need to know who I'm writing for," he told Deadline shortly before the series premiered. "I poured about two bottles of wine down [Ford]. He said yes. I got him on a plane as fast as I could, closed the deal and said, send me the next one. Then came Helen, and same thing. Have a glass of wine."

The Sheridan-verse

Clearly, Paramount is planning to be in the Taylor Sheridan business for the foreseeable future. As the second part of the first season of "1923" is set to air later in 2023, Sheridan has at least three more "Yellowstone" projects in the works: Possible prequels set in the 1940s and 1960s, as well as an "1883" spin-off featuring actor David Oyelowo as real-life Oklahoma marshal Bass Reeves. Beyond the Dutton family saga, he has two other shows currently streaming on Paramount+: The Jeremy Renner-Kyle Chandler small-town corruption drama "Mayor of Kingstown," and "Tulsa King," starring Sylvester Stallone as a New York gangster exiled to Oklahoma.

On top of all that, and the business ventures associated with his multiple ranches, Sheridan is working on "Lioness," a terrorism drama starring Carla Mansour and Zoe Saldana that is slated for a Paramount Network premiere later in the year, as well as "Land Man," a Billy Bob Thornton-led drama set in the West Texas oil fields. In Hollywood and in cattle, boom times are inevitably followed by busts, but it looks like Taylor Sheridan will be at the top of his game for quite a while.