The actress talks to ET about safe gun use in media, kissing Kevin Costner and advice for franchise addition Matthew McConaughey.
The actress plays Summer, an environmental activist who gets romantically involved with Kevin Costner's John Dutton, on Paramount Network's blockbuster drama. Perabo sat down with ET's Rachel Smith on Tuesday in New York City to weigh in on the final episodes of the series, which are due to start airing in November (if the ongoing writers' strike doesn't delay its return), and also advocate for safe gun use in media and on Hollywood sets.
"I hope [the writers' strike] doesn't have an impact. I stand with the writers in solidarity and I'm really glad that they are fighting for fair wages and transparency and I hope that we can end this strike soon. I know [creator] Taylor Sheridan was writing before the strike was happening and one of the fun things about working on a Sheridan show is that you really don't know what’s gonna happen," Perabo tells ET while promoting "Trigger Warning: Gun Guidelines for the Media," a collaboration between Hollywood, Health & Society at USC's Norman Lear Center and Brady United, an organization for gun control and gun safety. "I have no idea what’s happening next and the whole thing left off on this cliffhanger, so I'm waiting myself."
Paramount Network announced May 5 that Yellowstone would be ending in its current form after wrapping up season 5, with a sequel spinoff series launching in December. Though no cast members were attached to the new spinoff at the time of the announcement, Matthew McConaughey is lined up to star in a Yellowstone extension.
"If it were up to me, I would want it to keep going, but I know that Taylor is writing the prequels and he has all these things that he’s doing and he wants to expand the whole thing," Perabo said of Yellowstone's farewell, "so even though Yellowstone might be ending, there may be so many more things to come."
She said McConaughey "could be good in the Yellowstone world." Paramount boss Chris McCarthy intimated back in April that a new Yellowstone series led by the Oscar winner was moving forward regardless of Costner's status on the flagship. "He lives in Texas, he understands the cowboy lifestyle," Perabo said. "This is what I gotta say, he better be a good rider because Taylor Sheridan is a great cowboy. But if you don't know how to ride, I don't know if cowboy schools [are] gonna get you up to Yellowstone level. You better come in with some experience."
While Yellowstone fans wait for the eventual return of the Duttons to the small screen, Perabo reflected on playing Costner's onscreen love interest and recalled her initial thoughts when she had her first kissing scene with the actor in a December 2022 episode.
"I went bananas over it when I saw it on the page. I had to go up to Kevin and be like, 'Um...,' and I just had to say, 'Let's just be respectful, I have to do this scene,'" Perabo remembered, admitting that there was weight behind that kiss between Summer and John at the county fair. "It's a little weird 'cause Kevin Costner is a big movie star! I was happy with the fan reaction. I mean, I love our show so much and I like how wild it is. I like how people get so excited and can't believe what’s happening next. That’s the kind of show I like to watch. The next day you go to work and you say, 'Oh my gosh, can you believe it?'"
And like the fans, Perabo isn't sure what the future holds for Summer after the midseason finale, which saw her character on house arrest at the Dutton house while the majority of the crew head off to Texas. "I don't know if we start the next [episode] and they're coming back from Texas. I don't know if we're all gonna go to Texas," she hypothesized, acknowledging that she can't comprehend life for Summer without John in it. "I also don't want to imagine a life for Summer in the winter in Montana. She's on house arrest so I hope John comes home or gets her sentence commuted to Texas."
Perabo has teamed up with USC's Norman Lear Center and Brady United to advocate for the depiction of safe gun use in media on the heels of a newly released study, "Trigger Warning," which aims to serve as a resource guide and highlights the ubiquity of guns in the media over the last few decades.
"It's talking about how we see guns predominantly on television and there’s a lot of ways that we need to work on this gun violence epidemic in America," Perabo said. "But we can all do something to work on this problem together. One thing we realized is how guns are portrayed on television and... we can tackle some of these problems by just normalizing safety. One of the things that I’m really proud of that we're talking about in the guide is safe storage. A lot of people who own firearms who are responsible gun owners, when they are finished using their firearm, do not unload it and store it in a secure place."
In a statement to ET, Lear said, "I couldn’t be prouder that the Center which bears my name is releasing this report about gun safety and the entertainment industry. How guns are portrayed on screen should reflect the public health crisis we are in and help portray responsible gun ownership."
Perabo said that 4.6 million children live in households with an unsecured, loaded firearm, according to the study, and noted that gun violence is "the No. 1 cause of death for children and teens." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wonder database, guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S., per CNN. "We could make this country a lot safer if responsible gun owners, when they got home, unloaded their weapon and stored it in a secure place and that’s something we can show on television," Perabo elaborated.
Speaking of the Trigger Warning guide, Perabo continued, "The Brady campaign working with the Norman Lear center, put out a guide called Trigger Warning about how we see guns on television. There are a lot of things we need to do to solve this problem… we can tackle them by normalizing safety. If you just normalize safe storage, it’s a way we can tackle a part of the gun violence problem."
"I’ve done so many shows that have guns. I worked on Covert Affairs for five years," Perabo said of the USA Network action drama that ran from 2010 to 2014, where she played a CIA field operative. "My character carried guns all the time and I never thought about it when I was doing Covert Affairs. I never thought about, 'My character lives in a house that has two kids, where was I keeping my firearm?' And because I wasn’t thinking about it, I realized other actors that I know aren’t. Yellowstone is one of those shows where we have a great armorer on our set. It's a really responsible, really smart group of people that’s really safe and so I sort of started putting the pieces together."
She shared that on Yellowstone, precautions and protocols are put in place on set so that firearms are safe for the actors, the prop department and the armorer. "That's a real practical safety concern and that is something that Yellowstone takes very seriously and really understands," Perabo explained. Another part of it is how they're depicted within the narrative of the story. "How do we portray safety in the stories? So when the writers are conceiving of a storyline, that idea of where the gun gets put away, gets folded into the narrative."
In light of the Rust tragedy in October 2021, where a live round was discharged from a gun used by Alec Baldwin, resulting in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Perabo said she is more cognizant of safety protocols on set. "I'm always very concerned with who is the armorer and I'm very aware of the protocols of safety for using a weapon on set. But now I think I'm also going to be aware of how we portray those weapons in the story, and that's something that as an actor, I have some say in," she said. "But I can encourage our writers and creators and our prop masters and certainly the armorers and how can we put those safety [guidelines] onscreen."
From her perspective, the actress shared that "the protocols have not changed" since she was on Covert Affairs more than a decade ago. "The sets that I'm on, there's really specific protocol about how a weapon is announced on set and that it's clear and safe and that multiple people have to check it," Perabo explained. "I always check my weapon and then I never put it down until I give it back to the armorer. That procedure hasn't changed... The safety procedures were the same on Covert Affairs as I see them on Yellowstone and other projects I've done."
For more information on Hollywood, Health & Society and its goals to improve representations of safe gun use in media, please visit www.hollywoodhealthandsociety.org or follow on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook.
The final episodes of Yellowstone return in November on Paramount Network.