Arts & Culture

Yellowstone’s Josh Lucas Rules the Ranch

From the Carolina coast to Yellowstone’s Dutton ranch, the actor charms the camera


Josh Lucas, photographed in Los Angeles.

Josh Lucas describes his career as a tide—fitting, given the fifty-one-year-old spent his childhood on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, just outside Charleston. At age nine, he got bitten by the acting bug there, after hiding in the dunes to watch a small production company film a climactic scene between two teenage lovers. Since then, he’s stepped in front of the camera in such movies as Sweet Home Alabama, Glory Road, Poseidon, and The Lincoln Lawyer. He’s acted onstage, too, and his extensive voice-over work means you might also recognize his smooth intonations from Home Depot commercials and Ken Burns documentary narrations. 

In the first two seasons of the über-popular TV show Yellowstone, he appeared as a young John Dutton, the rancher-patriarch played in the present day by Kevin Costner. “We had no idea Yellowstone would catch fire the way it has,” Lucas recalls. Now his young Dutton will feature prominently in the show’s fifth season, which debuted in mid-November. He credits his roots with carrying him this far: “The tide,” he says, “is always stronger in the South.”

Let’s start with the Southern accent you have used in films. Real, or acting chops?

No, I definitely had one. My mom was from Upstate New York. I was born in Arkansas and raised in South Carolina. My mom would kind of make fun of me and my siblings about it: “Y’all, what are y’all doing?” I don’t know if it bothered her, if it was more to be funny, or both. When I moved to New York City and I started trying to be a theater actor, I definitely found it was…not a hindrance, but somewhat limiting. So I started trying to neutralize it.

A Charleston childhood sounds pretty idyllic.

Sullivan’s Island, mainly. When I was a kid, it was a rough-and-tumble area. Now it’s super rich. [Laughs.] The elementary school was literally on the beach. One day, a pelican crashed and had a broken wing. It was in the playground of the school, and our house was next door. I got my mom, she put a blanket over it, took it back to the house, and we had this pelican inside for a few days until the Audubon Society came to get it. It was a pretty amazing way to grow up.

Do you return often?

I loved and missed Charleston probably the most of anywhere I lived. We moved to Seattle before high school, and I really struggled with that change. Now the Charleston area is where all those guys—David Gordon Green, Danny McBride—have their whole world. I remember being a little jealous they all ended up there, like, “You guys aren’t even from there. How did you end up there?”

Do you consider yourself a Southerner?

I was born and raised there more than my siblings—my dad was true Arkansas; my grandpa was fully Arkansas. Whenever I go back, I feel a sort of remarkable comfort. And it’s rare that I meet a Southerner I don’t immediately feel a kinship with, particularly in my business.


Lucas surveys his domain from an L.A. hillside.

Once you started acting, did you love it right away?

It was immediate. Part of it was the school I went to in Washington State. I had one of those teachers who was the high school football coach and also the drama teacher. I don’t know that I would’ve been as brave had it not been that the football kids did drama as well. That teacher pushed me. He was like, “You’re not that good of an athlete, but you’re a pretty good actor.”

What drew you to Yellowstone?

I was a fan of Taylor Sheridan and his writing, and I thought his work as a writer-director was amazing. Then I got the script. I was frankly really upset I didn’t get cast as a kid of Kevin [Costner]. Taylor said, “No, man, I’ve got this idea for you to do the flashback sequences.” He said, “It won’t be that much for the first couple seasons, but the fifth season will have a lot of flashbacks to really flesh out the story and history of John Dutton.” They hadn’t even shot the pilot at that point. I remember being like, “This guy is crazy—he’s talking about a fifth season of a TV series.” And here we are.

John Dutton is an extraordinary character. When I started this season, I was able to go back and watch all forty episodes in about a week and a half. Within a few episodes, I was so hooked I had to force myself to go to bed at 4:00 a.m. I was asking myself, “Is this research, or are you just bingeing TV?” [Laughs.] I [wanted] to understand who John Dutton is, and to honor this fascinating, super complicated American character. And the elements of what I think is so profound and deep about what this show is trying to discuss, and why the zeitgeist of it is hitting people so hard, and why people care about it so much. I felt even more of an intense responsibility to get what Kevin and Taylor were doing correct, so that it would be somewhat seamless between the character, younger and older.

You’re also filming the much-anticipated comedy series Mrs. American Pie for Apple TV+.

It’s the story of America in the 1960s. Kristen Wiig is trying to break into Palm Beach society, and I’m her husband. It’s a really interesting broad comedy, but there’s a huge amount of depth to it as well. I have one of the most unique challenges in my career, to go between these two worlds and these two characters, who could not be more different.

You fell in love with acting at nine; your son is now ten. Think he’ll follow in your footsteps?

I brought my kid to set in Montana, where we’re shooting Yellowstone. It was a night shoot on the side of a ranch out in the middle of absolutely nowhere—this great scene deep in ranch country, hundreds of head of cattle and horses. My little boy and I were sitting and watching the filming, and I felt such a kinship to repeated history. It felt so similar to my experience back in Charleston, but the difference is, I was hiding in the sand dunes, and my little boy was very actively with the crew, sitting with the monitor and really very much inside the filming. I could tell he really loved it.