Kayce Dutton is the favorite son of the powerful, Montana-ranching Dutton clan on Paramount Network's "Yellowstone." He's a loving husband, dedicated father, expert horseman and extremely effective killer. The former Navy SEAL is shown in the first few episodes of the Kevin Costner-starring series taking lives, but it's not something he embraces.
"Sometimes these guys come back from these experiences that are horrendous and no one should have to go through, and now are trying to fit into a normal, civilized world, and still feel like maybe this killer, this monster that they were taught to be in another place," said Luke Grimes, who plays the role. "I think Kayce ... that's where he's at. He just feels like no matter where he goes in that first season, death is sort of following him around. The nightmare of who you have to become to fight a war."
Grimes dropped by the Los Angeles Times video studio for an Emmy Contenders chat about the modern-day western series, already filming its third season as its second season prepares to drop.
"One of my favorite things about what's happening in Season 2 is him kind of confronting all that," he said. "Kind of taking a look at that stuff and trying to become a human in a civilized world again."
It's tough enough that Kayce is suffering from PTSD from his wartime experiences, but he's also caught between two worlds at home. The Dutton clan, and especially ruthless patriarch John (Costner), expect his fealty, but he defied his father to start his own family with a Native American woman he loves (Kelsey Chow). Because her tribe is in direct conflict with the Duttons, Kayce suffers from "the guilt and the shame of being on both sides."
"It's a family drama at its core, and I think we all love that because we all relate. Also, it's an American story that's as old as how this country was founded and the way that it is now, which is a lot of people fighting over a really beautiful place," says the actor.
"There really, at the end of the day, was no good guy or bad guy in this story. And especially with Kayce, who doesn't really even know what he's fighting for at this point, or what team he should be on."
Instead of being the soapy rich-people-squabbling-over-their-empires "Dallas" or "Dynasty" in Montana one might expect, "Yellowstone" is gritty and ugly. The Duttons are hardly heroic; they're not above taking what they want by force — including committing murder. In fact, Grimes acknowledges, the Duttons bear a similarity to the Corleone crime family of Mario Puzo's "The Godfather."
"It's actually been spoken about," he said with a smile. If Costner is the Don Corleone figure, Kayce is the Michael doppelgänger, struggling to make his own life outside of the family's dirty dealings but repeatedly being dragged back in.
"I went back and rewatched all the 'Godfathers' before the second season because … through the process of making the first season, we all started to realize that. Those are some good movies, man."
Rather than the streets of New York, though, the Duttons rule over beautiful Montana vistas. The Dayton, Ohio, native has played cowboys before and is getting better at faking it, largely thanks to the advisors on the show and the actual ranch hands involved in the production.
"The thing that makes me happiest [about working on the show] is also the thing that's most frustrating, and that's the horses. I've loved learning, they've taught me some different disciplines. I didn't realize how much there was to this horse-riding world until now and I'm really getting into it. But at the same time, some days, the horse that you loved the day before can be an [expletive]," he says, laughing. "And that's frustrating."