Kevin Costner plays John Dutton on Paramount Network's Yellowstone.
The show, which is now in its second season, is cable's most-watched show for the second summer in a row.
There's more to John Dutton than meets the eye. When watching Yellowstone, it's easy to see Kevin Costner's character as no more than a rough-and-tumble kind of guy. Throughout the show's second season, however, the ranch owner is slowly (but surely) doing away with his tough-as-nails persona and giving Yellowstone fans a glimpse at the pain he's still grappling with after his wife Evelyn's death. To add more depth to John Dutton, Kevin went back to his roots.
In fact, the ranching world portrayed in the hit Paramount Network series isn't all too different than his father's southern upbringing. William Costner, one of 11 children raised by Walter and Tig Costner, lived on a wheat farm in the panhandle of Oklahoma until the Great Depression and Dust Bowl took over. "It was the Great Depression, and our family would never recover: 50,000 bushels of wheat would spoil waiting for the price to go up and it never did. And the Dust Bowl that followed would roll over a generation," Kevin recounted while being inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers earlier this year.
Like many ranchers and farmers during this time, his dad's only hope for survival was to move away from the drought-stricken Southern Plains. This led Kevin's father to Compton, California. "They were hard-bark people. He came and worked on the dams, and was discriminated against in California because they had taken jobs in the late 20s and 30s. He only had one job and was afraid to lose the job he had because he had seen so many men out of work," he said during a panel at 92Y in 2015.
By the time Kevin was born, his parents had created "a Huckleberry family" of their own, relying on steady paying jobs in Compton, California to provide for their three kids. Still, Kevin's dad still made sure that his son understood where he came from and Kevin recalls being in constant awe of his father's grit.
At 6, Kevin's family moved to San Paulo where he rode his friend's horse for the first time. "[My friend's] fascination with it didn’t run as deep as mine, probably because he’d had it his whole life, and when he didn’t want to ride it anymore, I would keep going while he watched or went inside," he confessed. At 7, he watched his first western movie on the big screen.
When it came time for Kevin to make westerns of his own, his father's story helped him to get into character, especially for his most recent role as John Dutton. "He [My dad] was tough; he was a fighter; he could fight. And he taught me in a way that was designed to win," Kevin told The Hollywood Reporter. Now that Kevin's father is no longer alive, he carries on his father's (and grandfather's) legacy through his work in Yellowstone. During an interview on the Dan Patrick Show, he revealed that his character actually uses his dad's old .30-30 rifle. For the 64-year-old actor, this small gesture reminds him where it all started: on his grandparent's farm in the panhandle of Oklahoma.
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