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Yellowstone’ Star Cole Hauser Teases Rip’s “Light at the End of the Road”

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Cole Hauser is quickly becoming one of the small screen’s quintessential cowboys, thanks to his role as Rip Wheeler on Yellowstone. Indebted to John Dutton (Kevin Costner) after the rancher saved him from prison as a teen (long story, trust us), Rip is the most loyal, fierce, and capable man on the Dutton Ranch. Rip has been in love with the wild Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly) since they were young, and their relationship has been passionate and fraught, never stable. That is, until Season 3. After Rip saved Beth from the Beck brothers’ ruffians, the two become devoted to each other, with Beth ultimately proposing to him. Despite the rough terrain, the grueling ranching lifestyle, gritty characters, and ruthless business politics, Yellowstone is actually a very romantic show!

Decider hopped on the phone with Cole Hauser to ask about the development of Beth and Rip’s relationship, working with Kevin Costner and the most important question of all: does Rip feel like he deserves happiness after his traumatic past and, at times, violent present?

Decider: Modern Westerns like Yellowstone are rare in the television landscape. As much as Yellowstone romanticizes the West, it also shows the hardships and the brutal politics that are part of the region as well. Do you think it is important to convey the complicated nature of this life—not much separates the bad guys from the good guys—to audiences?

Cole Hauser: Absolutely. I think that’s hopefully one of the big reasons why this show is so successful. Taylor Sheridan does a really good job of making sure that the story of the American Indian is being told the right way, the proper way and the respectful way. I think it’s very important that the show explore issues like water rights, the casino business, and all the different land grabs that are in play. These are all real things that are happening today.

I love how Season 3 is exploring the rodeo world and is giving rodeo craftsmen a platform on which to shine. Is this celebration of rodeo culture something that interests you too?

It would have if I were a little bit younger. When you’re 45, the idea being on a bull is not appealing. I performed rodeo stunts for The Hi-Lo Country years ago, and that’s hard on your body. As you can imagine, these young kids, they’re pretty broken at the end of it. Rodeo is something that I love going to. I have a ton of respect for these cowboys. It’s a hard life.

What’s the craziest skill you’ve seen displayed on set?

The buckaroo guys and the bucking bronco guys are just remarkable. Riding bucking wild horses is just something that people should not be doing for a living, but it is and they do. The bull riding is also pretty wild. There are lots of disciplines, but I’ve learned to rope and cut and rein. Those skills still take a lot of effort to learn and a lot of saddle time, but those are more in line with my world right now. Those are much more my speed at this point in my life.

I read that you were initially hesitant to accept the role of Rip, which surprised me. Can you talk about collaborating with Taylor Sheridan on the character?

Yeah. I don’t know where that rumor comes from. That’s not true. Back when they were casting, I had just come off a TV show I did for four years. I’d been all over the world doing it, and I was looking for that next thing. I didn’t know Taylor, but I knew John Linson very well. I just wanted to talk with Taylor and say, “Hey, where’s this character going? Who is this guy to you and to John Dutton?” And after the conversation I had with him, I was in. He told me the thing that I was looking for, which is that I want to see colors in a character. I don’t want to just play the cowboy that rides the fence line. I want to have at least that kind of wave of colors, and Taylor was like, “If you trust me, you give me this opportunity and we’ll find that.”

How do you feel about Rip’s continuing evolution in Season 3?

It’s exactly where Taylor and I wanted it to go. Once again he’s giving me the opportunity to really show range with the character and not be a one trick pony. That’s what I wanted, especially with Beth. There are some really beautiful moments between her and me. Kelly Reilly and I worked really hard on them as actors and they came out —from what I’ve seen — exactly as we wanted.

How do you and Kelly Reilly navigate Rip and Beth’s volatile and ever-changing relationship?

We talked very early on about what we thought the relationship is. It’s not like it’s changing; it’s more that you’re getting to see deeper into their hearts. You know what I mean? That’s how I look at it. I don’t look at it like they’re changing each season. It’s more that I’m getting to know them better, understanding how they both tick and how they both need each other. It’s almost like they have two different lives. Kelly and I have been very good about just communication and making sure that we’re comfortable with where the relationship is going.

Do you still manage to surprise each other as scene partners?

She’s somebody that takes risks. I’d like to think that I am as well. I don’t like to do anything twice the same way. We both push each other in places, but we’ll also do things like make sure that the other feels protected as well. That’s kind of a beautiful thing that a lot of actors don’t really do a lot of with their co-stars. We want each of us to have our moments and yet also shine together. At this point, we’re very close. She’s married; I’m married. We’re great friends, and she’s like a sister to me.

You’ve worked with Kevin Costner closely for 3 seasons now, going onto a fourth. Has he influenced the way that you work as an actor?

There’s definitely stuff that I’ve watched him do and thought, “Oh, that’s a nice way of approaching it.” I’ve been doing this for a very long time but I try not to be stuck in my ways. I study and I work. I want to come to the set with ideas of my own. Kevin, though, is someone I definitely look up to. I’ve been watching him from afar since I was probably five years old. He’s one of those great actors that has done so much, especially in this genre. He’s really laid down some of the best work in Westerns in the last 50 years.

Last question. After Rip asked Lloyd to be his best man at the bar, he cries a little. Those tears worry me. Do you think Rip believes that he deserves happiness?

I think he’s starting to. I don’t think he ever felt like a real relationship with Beth was something that was possible three years ago. With the love that she’s shown him throughout these last episodes and her proposing and giving him a ring… yeah, I think he’s starting to realize, wait a minute, there might be some light at the end of the road for us.

The season finale of Yellowstone airs tonight at 9/8c on Paramount Network.

Stream Yellowstone on Paramount Network