Rural Roots

For APHA member and Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan, homegrown inspiration proved powerful in his latest directorial masterpiece.

By Jessica Hein

“It’s a lifestyle. You don’t get rich doing it, but that’s not why you do it. You do it because it’s a great way to live.”

Growing up on a cattle ranch in Cranfills Gap, Texas, just about an hour west of Waco in the Texas heartland, Taylor Sheridan knows firsthand the joy and heartache, the rewards and struggles, that come with living a life tied to the land and mother nature’s fickle moods. And though he’s since traded the golden grasses of Central Texas for a West Coast foray onto the silver screen, Taylor hasn’t forgotten his roots. It’s that connection to the Western lifestyle, that primal desire to protect and preserve an ever-shrinking rural existence, that Taylor brings to life in his latest project, Yellowstone, which debuted on cable’s Paramount Network in June.

“I’m really excited about the show. They let me do something in a way that isn’t done on television—it’s a real throwback to the way movies were made in the ’50s and ’60s, so it doesn’t feel like television. That was my goal,” he explained.

Soul Searching

Cinema has always felt nostalgic to Taylor. Only two television stations floated through the airwaves to reach rural Cranfills Gap, so the chance to trade stifling summer air and dusty dirt roads for the big city’s smooth pavement—blacktop stretching like a red carpet of sorts toward the picture show—was a welcome respite. There, the chance to sit in cool, enveloping darkness while a larger-than-life cast of characters played out on the theater screen created an almost surreal experience and an everlasting imprint on Taylor’s soul.

Hollywood, however, seemed a million miles away, an unattainable dream for a kid from Texas. Taylor put the aspiration out of his mind, planning instead on going to college before returning to the homeland to live on the ranch where he grew up. But those grand plans were unexpectedly ripped away from Taylor as a young adult, leaving him scrambling to pick up the pieces of his shattered self-identity.

“My parents split up, and the ranch I thought I’d spend my whole life on was the casualty of a divorce,” Taylor said. “I was in Austin, and I’d just flunked out of college and had no real direction. A talent scout spotted me in a mall where I was looking for a job and said, ‘Hey, do you want to go to Chicago and be an actor?’ I said sure, and he handed me a plane ticket.”

That chance meeting culminated in a series of small acting breaks—commercials and print model work, mostly—but it moved Taylor closer to his boyhood aspirations of working in the industry that had captured his imagination as a boy. Always a Texan at heart, Taylor soon found his way back to the Lone Star State, this time cast in a minor role on the popular TV show Walker, Texas Ranger.

“It was the greatest job ever,” he said. “We shot for six weeks, and they paid for me to come back to Texas.”

Eventually, Taylor found himself in Hollywood, where he landed a recurring role on the FX drama Sons of Anarchy. Though he loved assuming the persona of Deputy Chief David Hale for the show’s first two seasons, a vacancy remained—living in the beating heart of the movie world left Taylor searching for something more, something that would take him away from the big city and back to his rural roots.

“We were renegotiating after year two. It wasn’t that I was unhappy with the show; I just wasn’t happy with life and living in L.A. I was getting ready to have a baby, and I didn’t want to raise him in the city,” Taylor explained. “They didn’t offer me enough money to justify staying, so I decided to quit. I figured that if I wrote—I didn’t know I was going to direct at that time—I could control my own destiny and live anywhere, so that’s what I did.”


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Fall 2018 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.


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