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Yellowstone star Denim Richards on Colby, Teeter, and the ‘three E’s’ of storytelling

Denim Richards
Richards’ character Colby has a deeper story this season on Yellowstone. Pic credit: Paramount

Much like Netflix potboiler Ozark, Paramount’s Yellowstone is one of those series that builds on consistent word of mouth.

The Season 3 premiere of Yellowstone took a year to come, and now life for the Duttons grows more complex with new challenges to their expansive lands.

Producers have added Josh Holloway to the mix, cast as Roarke Morris.

Meanwhile, the bunkhouse boys have a new addition too: Teeter, played by Jennifer Landon. Now this hard-charging, barely intelligible tornado of a female character and cast regular Colby (Denim Richards) have a bit of a thing going on in this scenic big sky drama.

While Morris is charming Beth (Kelly Reilly), who you may think is now firmly with Rip (Cole Hauser), there could be some ripples in that romance there.

The Bunkhouse is where the other interesting Yellowstone arcs happen. The chemistry and camaraderie are as strong as ever, with Colby leading the way.

Yellowstone centers on the life and business of John Dutton (Kevin Costner) but the action happens all around him, and Monsters & Critics spoke to Denim Richards about a character he has blown up from Season 1 to become a cast regular, now firmly in the middle of an odd relationship with newcomer Teeter (Landon).

Monsters & Critics: Yellowstone to me is like Ozark. It’s like a show that people are discovering after the first and second. Can you talk about that, now it’s a huge thing?

Denim Richards: Well, I think what’s really interesting is I think that, like you said with Ozark… this is a show where it is kind of unconventional because it’s something where we haven’t seen a lot of westerns that have kind of emerged in the way that this type of show has been.

In the beginning, it was a grassroots kind of tailor-fit for Cowboys in rural America. And I think that as people were sitting there, they were going like, ‘yeah, there is that cowboy thing,’ then there’s like all of these other different narratives in the show that everyone related to all over the states and it identified with family.

The family and the business drama… I think that just doing it under the kind of code that we’re doing, and for many people, it kind of took them a second to say, can I identify with that type of storyline, when they’re having this type of drama?

But then they’re doing it on horses and in the middle of Montana in open grass fields, and a lot of people that live in the city, they think, well how would we buy this? Then as more and more people [get into the series] and are like, ‘Hey, you gotta watch the show Yellowstone.’

It is funny because I live in L.A. I would get so many people that would say, ‘Hey, I was at my office building and the person next to me was sitting down and his mom had said, you gotta watch this show Yellowstone.’ And that he didn’t really want to watch it, but he was like, ‘whatever, mom I’ll watch it.’ Now he can’t stop talking about it! And then that fact got this person to watch it.

I think that it did really become this grassroots thing. But I think it’s better that way because what it does is it builds this amazing fan base and following where people really connect to it. And like you said, like with Ozark once you just turn it on to kind of like, ‘Oh, I just want to know what always is going to happen.’ I think that is what has been happening with Yellowstone, where now it’s just like word of mouth.

Because of the word of mouth, people are like, ‘okay, well, such and such is saying it’s great,’ and I respect what their opinion is when it comes to cinema, etc. Then they watch it and it becomes this ripple effect. Now people are going back to watching [season] one and two and it’s great because they can’t get enough of it.

M&C: There’s intense chemistry and comradery with the bunkhouse boys, with you and Ian and Jefferson. Whoever did this inside the bunkhouse series of YouTube videos where you guys are sitting talking about your character, behind the scenes, that was really smart. Talk about that.

Denim: I think all the show creators at Paramount, they put it together. What’s really awesome is that Taylor Sheridan, when he was creating this and writing these bunkhouse moments out, he always had this vision of it being this very relaxed setting where you just hang out and kick your boots off and put your feet on the table and hang out.

You want it to be very conversational. We are just always kind of ragging on each other, just like how it would normally be, you know?  The great thing about him was he would write these scenes and he’d be like, okay guys, I say this stuff, that’s on the scene, but then like do the other stuff as well.

Like whatever you guys are thinking, just saying that stuff as well. We’re like, are you sure? Because we all do improv in our own way, and it’s like, it can get kind of weird… And it was just like, just go for it.

Oftentimes there are things that we would be saying that we thought there’s no way that’s going to make it in the cut. And then when we finally watched the show, we were like, ‘oh my gosh, it made it into the cut.’

I think that was really fun. Everybody at Paramount thought it was kind of cool to do this after-show where we could talk about everything that’s going on. And when they put that together. I don’t necessarily know if we all knew what the response would be of just getting us all together.

For the three of us, our schedules were relatively similar, spending so much time together outside of set, eating, going to the gym, hanging out. Because of that, we learned how to just bounce off of each other. And now, when we are doing the stories of the bunkhouse, it’s cool for us because we also get to relive certain things. We can just talk the way we usually talk when we’re not on set.

So we’re pretty much just doing the same thing. It’s fun to see how the audience has responded so beautifully to these YouTube shorts because it really is us just being us.

I’m just happy that Paramount wants to put up with us for seven, eight hours of filming because we started going off on these rants that were just like, they probably all think that we’re crazy, but it’s really fun to just kind of have the freedom to just express it the way that we’ve been allowed to do so.

M&C: Can you give us a tease about your relationship with Teeter, the new bunkhouse woman who needs subtitles?

Denim: (Laughs) Teeter is great! Jennifer Landon is such a phenomenal artist and the great thing is she is so grounded in her art. She couldn’t be further from Teeter, even though she would suggest that she’s not.

But I think that’s a great thing about it is that she’s this wild card and you just never know what she’s going to do and how she’s going to do it. She doesn’t have great social awareness or spatial awareness when she’s in that character, which is kind of fun for [my character] Colby because it’s also bringing a different side out of Colby as well.

The only thing I can tell you is that like just buckle up because it gets our stranger than it already is. So that’s the only thing I could really say. Cause everything else is like part of the fun part is like, what is she going to do next? What is she going to say next?

And so I got to keep everybody at that distance. I promise you, it gets crazier than it is now, if everything else is just kind of like setting the table and now we’re going to start seeing what she’s all about and it’s going to be very, very strange, but very exciting to watch.

M&C: Would it be fair to say that Colby is closest to Teeter?

Denim: I think it’s fair to say that Colby is closest to Ryan, but I think now Teeter’s kind of like wedging herself in. And I would say if you ask Teeter who she’s closest with, she would undoubtedly probably say Colby.

And then because of that, she would just say it so loudly and so often that then Colby would believe that was to be true.

M&C: You are part of the bunkhouse boys. You’re the only black character in this series. I know that you’re a student of history because of your short film effort, The Zoo, is a fascinating look at World War II history from the African-American POV.

There were many Black cowboys and outlaws who lived in the west. Is that something that you’d ever be tempted to research and flush out those lesser-known American stories?

Denim: Yes. I am all about seedtime and harvest time, and there’s a lot of phenomenal artists that are older than I am that I’ve kind of like looked up to. People who really have done such tremendous work, keeping the history alive about black Cowboys in America.

Obviously like Bill Pickett, which we have the Bill Pickett rodeos, and we have all these fascinating stories. I think one of the biggest things that you run up against when you’re telling these stories is it’s so much of it is that there’s that commercial viability sense that you have to throw in there as well.

I think what’s what happens is some of these stories are so enriching and deep, but then also you also have to try to find this very entertaining aspect of it as well.

We are looking into these other stories, not only about the [Black] Outlaws but cowboys in general. I had the privilege of doing a film called The Chickasaw Rancher a couple of years ago where I was playing this real-life man, Jack Brown, who became Oklahoma’s first sharecropper back during the 1860s.

I’m definitely into being able to tell those stories. And as I progress in my career, these will be things that I will definitely focus on, especially because there’s so many stories, there is a phenomenal black cowboy kind of team that is actually in Hollywood. And a lot of people don’t really know that they all get together, ride horses and rope and do all these other things.

One of the things for me as an artist would be to collaborate with them and write a film about that and be able to have all of them in it because it’s something that is really is an amazing part of our American history cornerstone. And I think we should speak more about.

M&C: The Zoo, this is a short film that you have going into the festival circuit?

Denim: Yes, we’re putting the film into the festival circuit, but we have a feature film version of it already written, and then we have it developed for an eight-episode, limited series version as well.

And we have it in the film festival circuit and something comes of it then. Great. But we’re also having conversations with people outside of that.

So much of what the stories are in The Zoo are all tie back to American history as well. Because in America, there were physical zoos for people of color [to be exhibited] where peope would go as if they were watching animals in the zoo.

They also had that. There was one in Missouri, they had one of the biggest ones in the Bronx or Brooklyn in New York, where you could go and buy tickets and watch people of color just act like human beings, but just in a cage.

So the title The Zoo really is a double entendre. This was something that not only happened in Europe, it was also happening here in the United States.

I wanted to tell this story because it was something to where things that were happening in 1945 are a lot of the same kind of mental and emotional things that are happening still today in America.

This was also an opportunity to break past some cognitive dissonance, and then do it in a form of entertainment, which I think allows for a better opportunity to educate.

Because I think when people are entertained, they allow themselves to depart sometimes from their personal beliefs or their own education, or the way that they’ve always seen it. Once you watch it, you think, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know this.’

You go and research all of it. And you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness. Like all this absolutely happened.’ Well, why don’t we know about this?

My hope is that when you ask these questions of yourself, you ignite your curiosity. What else might you not know? As somebody of color, that is the thing that I’ve wanted to do for our community.

Just to get us more in touch with our history… because so much of our history has been cut off. It is my way of being able to introduce it in a new medium.

M&C: Have you gleaned a lot from working with people like Taylor Sheridan and Kevin Costner who, Costner in his career has, to your point, hidden the message medicine inside the tasty cinematic bacon. Have you learned a bit from them while you’ve been working with them on Yellowstone?

Denim: Yes. One of the great things with Taylor was everything that is written in the show has meaning. We have such a plethora of things to watch on television and film, and oftentimes you’ll watch things laced with throw away lines…you get writer’s fatigue. But with Taylor, everything means something.

Like you said, the medicine is hidden within the bacon and it’s within the sweet and savory stuff. Then all of a sudden there’s this line and you’re like, ‘dang, that was really powerful.’

And you sit on that for a moment and then you move onto something else, but it sticks with you.

Even when I was rewriting The Zoo and tinkering some things for the feature, as well as for the limited series, it becomes how intentional you’re able to write things and doing it in a medium where it doesn’t feel like you just opened up a history book.

You want to entertain, and you don’t want people to like reject it because they think it’s just too much. I don’t want that.

On Yellowstone, I learned so much just over the course of the season, really understanding more of the writing and then getting to see the way that the landscape helps cater to the writing. That was really helpful from Taylor. And like you said, with Kevin, he’s been a big proponent of wanting to be a part of stories that have deeper meanings.

I think that for me as a person that also is transitioning in their career and getting into more of the producing and creating aspects, there’s a way to create things that are entertaining, but then also educational.

And as a young filmmaker and storyteller, that’s something that I want to continue, going down on that path.

I think that there is a lot of turn your brain off television and film, which you can get that everywhere. The genius in storytelling is being able to have something that’s educational, edifying, and entertaining, and I think you can hit those three E’s, you just hit a home run every single time.

Yellowstone airs Sundays at 9/8c on Paramount Network.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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