The actor breaks down the Paramount+ drama's season 1 finale and says 'payoff has to come and when it does, it's going to hit hard.'
The clock is ticking on the Duttons.
Paramount+'s 1923 wrapped up its first season Sunday with a finale that saw Jacob (Harrison Ford) unexpectedly and unknowingly getting into business with the devil, aka wealthy tycoon Donald Whitfield (Timothy Dalton), and put literal oceans between Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) and his wife Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer) following a fatal brawl aboard their ship. The stakes have never been higher for the Dutton family as they try to keep the ranch -- and the vultures circling it -- in their reign.
The final minutes of the freshman finale revealed that Whitfield, who had been funneling money to Creighton (Jerome Flynn) and his men, took it upon himself to pay off the massive debt Jacob owed on the ranch. The move, which Jacob learns about when Whitfield pays a visit to Yellowstone, puts the Duttons squarely under the businessman's control. And Whitfield makes it clear to Jacob that he has until the end of the year to fully pay him off, otherwise the ranch goes to him.
With the ranch's future in deep uncertainty, the urgency to bring Spencer home ramps up tenfold. But Spencer, who is unaware of the implications of this "deal," has far more pressing matters to contend with at the moment. While aboard the ship to London as his long journey home continues, Alexandra's scorned former fiance, Arthur (Rafe Soule), angrily confronts the couple over their marriage. Spencer and Arthur somehow find their way onto the deck of the ship to duke it out like men in a swordfight, and as one can imagine, it doesn't end well for one of them. Ahem, Arthur.
During the climactic moment of their fight, Arthur charges at Spencer and suddenly pulls out a pistol, aiming it at him with the intention to kill. And Spencer, unarmed and acting out in self-defense, throws Arthur overboard, killing Alexandra's ex-lover as dozens of horrified witnesses watch. As a result of his actions and witnesses unwilling to defend his actions, save for Alexandra's friend, Spencer is thrown into the brigs and Alexandra reprimanded to her quarters. As punishment, Spencer has to be removed from the ship immediately.
The news soon gets to Alexandra, thanks to her friend, and she races to try to reach Spencer in time but by the time she does, he's already on the dinghy being brought to who knows where. Forcibly separated, they promise to somehow make their way back to each other at Yellowstone ranch in Montana. As the Cara's closing voiceover details with added urgency in her latest letter, amid the turmoil and chaos swirling around the Duttons and the ranch, "You are its only hope. You are our only hope. You must hurry Spencer... Or there will be nothing left to fight for."
ET spoke with Sklenar about the dramatic season 1 finale, the new challenges Spencer faces as he tries to get home to save his family and Alexandra, the "painful" slow-burn it's been for his character and why he promises (and hopes) season 2, which he says begins filming "hopefully this summer," will have the payoff viewers are looking for.
ET: Before we get into the finale, this has been quite a long journey home for Spencer and by the end of the season, he still has a long way to go. Does it feel like we're building up to Spencer's long-awaited arrival in Montana?
Brandon Sklenar: Yeah, I hope so. I feel the same way. It's painful. Very painful, because I'm waiting to find out myself. It's building up to something, I feel like. It's got to, right? The volcano, it's got to go off eventually here.
This episode is a major turning point for your character. By the end of it, Spencer and Alexandra are literally oceans apart, split up because of the unfortunate circumstances they found themselves in with her ex-fiance. What are the challenges they face now?
Yeah, it's incredibly tragic because Spencer is now in this position where he feels as though he's responsible for losing her. Now he's responsible for being even further away from getting home to the family, and to saving them and protecting them and fulfilling his purpose and his duty to be there for them. To show up for them and to show up for what is left of them, because in his mind he's thinking, "Well, now I've lost her. I don't know if I'm ever going to see her again. I don't know when or how I'm going to get back."
At that last moment when we see him before Helen [Mirren]'s voiceover, he's a man who has lost literally everything and he blames himself. That's a such a massive shift in him as a human being, and now at this point he has to decide: Is he going to put his efforts into finding her or is he going to put his efforts into getting home and saving his family and hoping that somehow she will find him? Because she does have his letters and I think in the moments to follow, he realizes that. Knowing [creator] Taylor [Sheridan], it's probably going to be a wild, challenging, difficult, painful, tragic road to get there, and I hope he gets there soon. I really do.
You touched on Spencer being faced with this decision of choosing home or Alexandra. Is there an right answer, do you think? Where does his focus go at this time?
I feel as though he would have to go home and hope that she could find him. Their bond is so strong and their love is so deep. He's in a position where he's just holding onto whatever faith he has left and hope he has left that she's going to find him. She's also going to understand that he has to go home because his family is everything. It's everything and like I said, he's in this place where he's accepting that maybe he's not going to have anything left to save when he gets there. That does so much to a person. There's so much anger and just guilt. I think there's going to be a big tonal shift going into the second season, just in the whole season itself and especially in Spencer. I think we're going to see a different guy when we see him again.
Do you have an idea as to what that reunion might look like if and when Spencer does step back onto the ranch?
I wish I did. I honestly have no idea. I would hope that it's powerful and he comes in with a fire and fight and vengeance and as an actor, I hope I get to tap into that feeling. We've sort of echoed it and touched on it throughout the season, and if they've built Spencer up to be someone that should be feared and is highly capable of that level of vengeance and protection. I'm just hoping that we get to see him do that because it's the longest rollercoaster incline.
You're waiting for the payoff.
I feel like it has to come and when it does, it's going to hit hard. I hope, I hope.
It has been a very slow burn with Spencer. Even with that last voiceover with Cara reiterating the importance of his presence, "Spencer is the hope of the family. The only hope." There's so much pressure on him, on this aura of the character that it must be interesting portraying someone like that?
Oh, definitely. It's funny because he knows who he is, but he is also not necessarily aware of how much. He's gotten the letters, so he knows that they're counting on him, but just how much they're putting in him from afar he's not 100 percent aware of that to the extent and where it's at. He can only speculate, but he is aware of who he is and he is aware of his responsibility and he is aware of how effective he can be. I think that's part of his appeal. He's not naive to the fact that he can kill. He has no problem.
You hinted at possibly seeing a new version of Spencer in season 2. Do you have any personal hopes that you would like to see for your character in the new season?
I hope that we see him realize himself fully in his purpose and his mission and he gets the bad guy, plainly put. There's a lot of people building up at the ranch that you just don't like. You'd love to see them go down somehow and I'd love to be the guy to do it or at least help do it. It's funny because you get a lot of the questions about where it's going and do I know where it's going? I'm in the same boat most of the fans are. I can only hope and speculate, but yeah, we don't know. We really don't know and I just hope he shows up in a big way and we get that payoff.
Going back to the finale, the swordfight on the ship deck was quite memorable and over the course of the season, you've had your fair share of action/stunt work. Has that been a satisfying part of the job, digging into that side of the role?
Yeah, I love visceral, physical experiences in general, in life and especially in my work and in acting. The swimming scenes, the shipwreck stuff. Any time you can really get in it and move around and be in the space. And shooting that was a lot of fun. Our stunt team is amazing and the choreography came together really fast and the actor who plays Arthur, Rafe [Soule], I thought he really killed it and our dynamic was fantastic. It went off without a hitch. We got to throw a stunt guy off the boat, which was pretty wild. That was the trip for sure. First time he jumped off, I remember it's an 80-foot drop off the side of the Queen Mary, but that guy deserved every bit of recognition for doing that because there's no way I could do that. Jump off 80 feet. I mean, not many people can do that -- free drive 80 feet off the side of a boat.
It's definitely not normal.
No, its not. I couldn't believe it. When we were doing it I figured like, oh, there's going to be a pad. No, he's going in the water. He's going down. I don't think that sequence could've come together any better. I remember on the day we just felt good. There's some days you could just feel like, this is going well. So I'm really pleased with how the finale came together.
So it sounds like you don't know where Spencer's story is going, so we're all along for the ride.
Oh yeah, yeah. We're all waiting to see what Taylor cooks up. Going to be good though, we know that. If anything, it's going to be epic and it's going to be tragic and it's going to be violent and it's going to be a lot of love and heart in it and just all the good stuff. But I do think it's going to be a shift. I think it's going to have its own feeling, the second part, which I'm excited for.
There were many times when I asked myself, "When is Spencer going to make it home?"
It's Homer's Odyssey. It really is. It's wild to me. I've already shot the thing and I'm still looking back at it going, "Man, this is such an epic journey this guy's on." It really is. I just can't wait to see where it's going and the cast calls each other and speculates and everyone has ideas and theories.
Hopefully it won't take too long before they make it to the ranch.
Yeah, no it'll be a breeze. He'll get there in a day. They'll get a car. They'll meet in Nebraska... We'll get up there somehow.
1923 is streaming now on Paramount+.