How Isabel May really scored her role in 1883

A prequel to Yellowstone, the highly anticipated western drama 1883 stars some of the biggest names in the industry including Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Sam Elliott, Eric Nelsen and Billy Bob Thornton. It also brought actress Isabel May into mainstream consciousness, as the role of Elsa Dutton was the newcomer’s first major role.

May plays the rebellious teenage daughter of James (McGraw) and Margaret (Hill) and serves as the series’ narrator. Your character is the focus of the plot, a difficult question for someone relatively new to the industry. “I’m happy to be a part of it,” May told Country Living of her role. “I don’t really know how I got this opportunity. It’s difficult to find such depth and development in a character, especially at her age, even considering the genre, as a Western is typically a male perspective.”

Critics and fans alike raved about May’s performance as Elsa, with many believing she was perfect for the role. But even May herself never expected that she would get such a central role. So how did it happen?

Isabel May originally auditioned for a different role

‘1883’ series creator Taylor Sheridan initially had a different plan for Isabel May’s talents. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the young actress revealed that she first auditioned for another of Sheridan’s projects, Mayor of Kingstown.

“I was the only person who auditioned for Elsa. Taylor did another project called Mayor of Kingstown…He flew three girls to Texas including me said. May assumed this would be the end of their interaction, but she later received a call from Sheridan asking her to play a part on a whole different show. “I don’t know what happened or what sparked something in him about me or our interaction, but Elsa came alive after we met,” she added. “He called two weeks later and said, ‘You’re Elsa Dutton. I want you to be Elsa Dutton. Please be Elsa Dutton.’ And I said, ‘Well, of course I’m going to be Elsa Dutton, because you’re Taylor Sheridan and it’s my dream to work with you.'”

Speaking to Deadline, Sheridan said May has completed his vision for the drama. “I’ve seen that she can represent innocence and hope,” he said. “At that point I hadn’t figured out how to tell this story and I had Sam Elliott over here and I had Tim McGraw over there and Faith Hill and I hadn’t found the bridge between them all. When I met Isabel, The Whole Story, all 10 episodes, went straight through my mind.”

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Isabel May on her role as Elsa Dutton

Taylor Sheridan apparently pulled the strings to get the studio to agree that Isabel May had such an important role in 1883. By deadline, he robbed her of pilot opportunities, got May’s reps to put their trust in him, and asked Paramount to sign a relatively unknown name. May will be eternally grateful for that.

“I played possibly the greatest role I could ever play and I still don’t know how to take it,” she told the outlet. “I don’t understand what I did or what it is about myself that could have influenced Taylor in that moment as this character came to life in his mind.”

May also admitted that playing Elsa Dutton is no walk in the park. “It wasn’t an easy experience at all,” she told Newsweek. “I don’t like to say that because I shouldn’t have any complaints. It was a dream come true, but it was extremely physically and emotionally draining for everyone together.” And while it can be uncomfortable at times, May is trying to make the most of the experience. “It was great,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to do something like that again, so I’m just enjoying it as much as I can.”