'1883' kills off its first big character (and it's a sad one)

·4 min read

SPOILER ALERT! Do not read unless you have already seen the fifth episode of 1883.

Well, that was a short engagement.

Not long after Elsa (Isabel May) received assurances from her beloved Ennis (Eric Nelsen) that he would marry her, tragedy struck their wagon train: a gunfight with some marauding bandits took away the man who took Elsa's virginity.

That's right: Ennis the cow herder is dead!

Eric Nelsen as Ennis of the Paramount+ original series 1883.
Eric Nelsen as Ennis of the Paramount+ original series 1883.

Emerson Miller/Paramount+ Eric Nelsen as Ennis of the Paramount+ original series '1883.'

We asked Nelsen, a Daytime Emmy winner who previously starred in the digital soap opera The Bay, to discuss his final scene and what it was like to work on the Taylor Sheridan joint out in the middle of nowhere.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your death was so sad. Set up the day for me when you shot your death scene. Was it a scorching day in Texas?

ERIC NELSEN: You know, it could have been negative 10 degrees and I still would've been feeling the same way because of the emotion behind the scene. The adrenaline's flowing and pumping. That scene was painful and rewarding at the same time because it really does close a beautiful chapter and lends itself to opening up another door. The hardest thing for me was to try not to cry the entire time I was supposed to be laying there. It's so raw and gripping, and Isabel did such a beautiful job that it took everything I had to play dead.

Was that you who fell off the horse, by the way, or was it a stunt double?

That is me. But I also had a great stunt double who got to do some flops so it's kind of a mixture of both.

The episode seemed to project that you would die as soon as you agreed to marry her and as soon as we heard the bandits were coming.

Some people said that and some people said, "Oh, good. This is going to be the Dutton dynasty. Kids are coming!" In this story, tragedy is unavoidable, and this is just one example of that. It's actually an amazing turning point for the series as a whole, which I'm excited for the fans to see unfold.

When Taylor first cast you, did he warn you that your character was not long for this world?

No. I didn't know, so the emotions and the feelings that the viewers are gonna feel, I felt the exact same thing reading it for the first time. Taylor was like, "Listen, this has to happen. You'll see the trajectory this leads Elsa on. You're the pivotal moment of everything that comes after it." So, he made me feel very good about it. But of course, you fall in love with these characters and you just wanna see it through to the end. But it's not all the peaches and cream on the Oregon Trail.

How did Taylor find you in the first place to play Ennis?

I was cast out of L.A. I sent in a tape and I was actually up for the role of Wade, which is played by James Landry [Hébert]. They wrote back right away to say "we think he's more right for Ennis." And you know, before I know it, Taylor calls me on the phone. That is a moment I will never forget and cherish for the rest of my life.

What was your relationship with horses before doing this show?

It's funny because both my parents are really into horses. My mom owned horses and my dad actually was a thoroughbred polo horse trainer most of his life. So of course, I had ridden be because of my family and stuff, but my heart wasn't in it. After the first day of cowboy camp, I called my mom and said "I'm so sorry. I wasn't into them. They're amazing." I came into cowboy camp at about a five and I think I left at an 11 as far as skillset goes.

So I guess you can't say if Ennis got Elsa pregnant. But, does this relationship impact how she views men in the future?

What happens in episode 5 impacts Elsa's journey completely. She was heading in one direction and now she's going to head in another. I mean, when she gets up and kills that guy for Ennis, that's a different Elsa. Elsa has taken a turn. It's a big shift in the dynamic of her character. Elsa, 2.0 is coming up!

1883 is currently streaming on Paramount+.

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