Eric Nelsen, Star of '1883,' on the New 'Yellowstone' Prequel and Texas Hidden Gems

The much-anticipated prequel to the hit show premieres Dec. 19 on Paramount+

Eric Nelsen

Courtesy of Paramount+

The Paramount network series "Yellowstone" is undoubtedly one of the biggest shows on television. Following the trials and tribulations of the Dutton family—the owners of the largest ranch in Montana—"Yellowstone" recently drew in almost 15 million viewers to its season 4 premiere as it aired, with millions more streaming it later that evening.

So it's no surprise that the show's very dedicated fanbase was thrilled when the show announced it would be spawning two spin-offs, "1883" and "6666." The former, which debuts on Paramount+ Dec. 19, chronicles the origins of the Duttons as they build the foundations of what will become their iconic family ranch.

Filmed in Fort Worth, Texas, "1883" boasts a star-studded cast, including actors Sam Elliott, Billy Bob Thornton, and country music superstars (plus real-life married couple) Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Eric Nelsen, who plays a young cowboy named Ennis, also stars. The actor—who, in a stroke of kismet, moved to Fort Worth months before he was offered the role—recently sat down with TripSavvy to talk about cowboys, the American West, and his favorite spot to order a margarita.

What was it like when you first heard you were going to be a part of this prequel?

Being a huge fan of "Yellowstone," I was ecstatic. My whole family are huge, huge "Yellowstone" fans. I think, out of any job I've ever been up for, this was the one where my family was like, "If you don't book this show, we will not talk to you for a while." [Laughs] This is the first show I've worked on where every single one of my family members is obsessed, so it's been great.

"Yellowstone" was one of the highest-rated shows on television in 2021. Do you think new fans gained from pandemic viewership contributed to its huge numbers?

One hundred percent. For so much of my family, "Yellowstone" was their pandemic binge show. It was the chosen binge-watch for so many people.

Why do you think that was?

I think a large part of it was people being inside all day, watching the show, and falling in love with the beauty of Montana, which is [the show's] central character. People saw this beautiful, insanely... almost heavenly place that people live in, and this lifestyle that seems so wild to people, although it's true for some, and it's just the combination of it all. As a kid, I always wanted to grow up and be a cowboy. You see them in the movies and stuff, but if you're not born and raised into that culture, it's a world that you don't get to experience. And [showrunner] Taylor Sheridan's writing, which is unlike anything else we see on film and TV, brought it to life.

Where does "1883" pick up in relation to "Yellowstone"? What should fans be expecting when they tune in?

Fans are going to see where the Dutton family started and where they came from, and the journey they had to go through to get to Yellowstone. The way Taylor [Sheridan] writes what these pioneers went through at the time is so raw and so real. He doesn't glamorize it in any way whatsoever. So it's really a rollercoaster of a show.

While "Yellowstone" was set in Montana, "1883" takes places in Texas—and you guys actually filmed it there, too. In a recent interview, Taylor Sheridan said part of the reason he chose to film "1883" in Fort Worth was due to its deep connection with the history of the American cattle business. Did you feel that sense of Western history while you were filming?

One hundred percent. It's really got that old history feel still. The buildings, a lot of them, we didn't even have to change, because they're still old 1800s saloons. Our story actually begins in the Fort Worth Stockyards, and to be starting our story in the stockyards and filming them in the stockyards where this [history] actually happened was just incredible.

Fort Worth has been booming as a city for a little bit, it's been growing and the hustle and bustle is picking up, but it has not lost its charm or its old-school Texas feeling. There are cowboys walking all over the place, and there are still Western stores, and you feel like you're in another world. I've loved every second of it. I'm a huge fan of Fort Worth.

I heard you were already living in Fort Worth when this show came along. Is that true?

It's so crazy because I was in New York City for about 12 years. I met my wife there, who is from Fort Worth, her whole family is here. When the pandemic hit, we were like, "Let's get out of L.A. Let's be by family." So we moved to Fort Worth with our daughter—we spent the whole pandemic here—and then this show comes across my desk and the breakdown says that it films in Texas. Later, when I got the part, Taylor [Sheridan] calls me up and tells me, "You're going to be 10 minutes from where we're filming this thing." [Laughs] The odds of something like that happening are so few and far between.

Since you're now a Fort Worth local, what are some spots you and your family frequent?

Oh, we are a big Joe T's family. Mexican and margaritas at Joe T's is our go-to. There's a new hotel that just opened up by the stockyards, Hotel Drover, and it's incredible. If you're ever in Fort Worth and want a really cool cowboy, Western experience, Hotel Drover is it. Big fan.

Have you done any day trips from Fort Worth? Are there nearby destinations you love?

We got to film around Mineral Wells, and the history there is just incredible. We stayed at [The Baker Hotel], one of the most haunted hotels in the country, where all the ghost hunter shows have gone to. We were one of the first to stay in it after they renovated and it was absolutely incredible. The history in that town alone was so cool to learn about. We also filmed a lot in Weatherford, the cutting horse capital of the world, and to be surrounded by all the cowboys out there was a whole experience in itself. And we've been out in Amarillo, out at the Four Sixes, the second largest ranch in the entire state of Texas, which was magical.

What has been your favorite part about your time in Texas so far?

The one thing that blows my mind is almost every single night I look up and I'm seeing shooting stars. The big sky, open-air feeling you get on these ranches is unlike anywhere else I've been in the country. It's beautiful, it really makes you fall in love. If I didn't ever have to leave Texas, I'd be okay with it.