'1923': Brandon Sklenar Says Spencer Finds His 'Life Purpose' After Brother's Death (Exclusive)
1923 star Brandon Sklenar, who plays Spencer Dutton on Paramount+'s Yellowstone prequel, is coming back to the homestead. The series returns from its mini break this Sunday, and after recent tragic events for the Dutton family at Yellowstone ranch, there's a lot for Spencer to contend with when he arrives back in Montana amid his brother's death and Jacob's (Harrison Ford) uncertain fate.
In the last episode, Spencer learned of the devastating events through the letter his aunt, Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren), wrote to him three months prior, desperately imploring him to make his way back to the family to help fight the brewing war at home.
"He's somebody who carries a lot of guilt and a lot of shame for not having reached out in so many years, and it's something that he carries with him everywhere. These tragic events also give him purpose," Sklenar told ET's Cassie DiLaura. "He's coming back with a force for sure, because he's writing what he's been guilty and shameful about for years."
"And he's also like, 'OK, I need to step into this role of protecting my family and saving my family,'" the actor said, "and it becomes his life purpose."
Up until this point, Spencer -- a World War I veteran who's struggled to fight the horrors of what he's experienced -- has journeyed across Africa tracking big game. (Sklenar confirmed they actually filmed his scenes in Africa.) While on his nomadic quest thousands of miles away from the ranch, he meets and falls in love with Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer), a British woman he soon becomes engaged to.
When asked how Alexandra will fit into the picture when Spencer makes the long journey back to the ranch, Sklenar didn't seem to have any worries. "I think she'd be a good fit," he teased. "She's spunky. She's sharp. She's got some fire in her. I think Cara would love her."
While Spencer will have the tall task of leading the Duttons' fight to defend their land amid Jacob being out of commission following the violent and fatal gunfight that took John Dutton Sr.'s life, he'll also be navigating a relatively fresh romance with Alexandra. Sklenar acknowledged that Spencer and Alexandra, at first glance, aren't the most obvious pairing and that holds some intrigue as the season progresses.
"In terms of the story, it has to be profound, right? They have a connection that they can't even explain," Sklenar said. "And I think that's what makes it so special because on paper, they shouldn't be together. It's a terrible decision. They're so opposite of one another. They know each other beyond measure at times, but there is something and that's kind of the magic in it. They're always trying to make sense of what they have and they can't explain it. I think that's what everybody wants."
"As the story goes on, they're only faced with challenges, but hopefully... they just become stronger for each other," he added.
Though Sklenar has yet to share the screen with Ford or Mirren on 1923, the actor offered a hint to the future when asked what surprised him most about working with them on set.
"Everything," the Vice actor said. "It's wild because you can't meet them and not immediately see, especially as an actor, the body of their work when you first meet them. And it's such a lovely experience when you meet somebody who has so much weight creatively and in their careers and in what they've done for the industry."
"And they're just people. They have the same insecurities. They have the same worries. Everything's the same. It's comforting to know, even at that level, you're still wondering, 'Are my shoes all right?'" Sklenar recalled. "They're just so sweet, both of them, and in their own way. Harrison's hilarious and dry, and Helen's the sweetest, sweetest woman."
As Sklenar tells it, he's been a big fan of Taylor Sheridan, the mastermind behind 1923 and the Yellowstone universe, since Sicario and Hell or High Water. So when the script for this role came to him -- during a backpacking trip in the Pacific Northwest, no less -- he knew he had to put himself on tape.
"I was like, 'I gotta get in this thing.' So I found a spot and taped it and sent it in. Certain things Just resonate with you, and I was like, 'I feel like this is my guy,'" he said of the part of Spencer, for which he did two months of cowboy boot camp, which included gun and weapons training, horse-riding lessons and more. "Lo and behold, flew out to Jackson Hole and met with Taylor and [director] Ben Richardson, and it clicked."
And it's paid off for Sklenar, who shared his family are "huge Yellowstone fans."
"That's probably the coolest thing is that they're genuine fans. They're on message boards. They're trying to figure out what's going on and they're trying to ask [me what happens]. I’m like, 'I can't tell you.' But it feels so good," he said. "I've been working for a while and to just have something you're proud of that your family can enjoy and that you know people you care about can really enjoy and they're invested in, it's such a great feeling."
1923 returns with a new episode Sunday, Feb. 5 on Paramount+.
'1923' Star James Badge Dale on John Dutton Sr.'s Fate
'1923' Recap: R.I.P. [SPOILER]
'1923' Premiere: 'Yellowstone' Prequel Hints at Major Dutton Death