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‘1923’ Star Michelle Randolph on Her Beautiful Romance and Cliffhangers Ahead in Season 1 Finale

[This story contains spoilers for 1923’s sixth episode, “One Ocean Closer to Destiny.”]

As her first foray into television, Michelle Randolph couldn’t have dreamt up a better experience than the one she’s having on 1923. Whether it’s the mentorship of Helen Mirren or the dear friendship of castmates like Julia Schlaepfer and Aminah Nieves, Randolph has gained much more than just horseback-riding skills from cowboy camp, a Taylor Sheridan-verse staple.

Randolph’s character, Elizabeth “Liz” Strafford, grew up on the Strafford Ranch, which is adjacent to the Yellowstone Ranch, and according to Randolph’s own backstory, Elizabeth fell in love with her newly minted husband, Jack Dutton (Darren Mann), during one of her summers back from school on the East Coast. Oddly enough, Randolph and Mann had already played a couple in an indie horror movie called House of the Witch (2017), so it’s somewhat poetic that he would be a part of her first movie and now her first TV show.

Despite narrowly surviving a massacre that claimed both their fathers’ lives in “The War Has Come Home,” Randolph views Elizabeth and Jack as the quintessential American romance.

“Their relationship, I imagine, is like every Taylor Swift music video or cheesy love song,” Randolph tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s the perfect little love story, and it was fun being able to play into that because it’s not something I’ve experienced in my real life. It’s very, very beautiful.”

Randolph is also quite relieved by the recent news that 1923 is getting a second season, seemingly indicating that the first season will end with either a cliffhanger or some unanswered questions. 

“Thank goodness we have a season two,” Randolph says with a laugh. “I’m happy about it, and I think everyone else will be as well. There’s a lot of loose ends to tie up.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Randolph also discusses Elizabeth’s pregnancy and whether she’s the grandmother of Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone character, John Dutton III.

So, was there anything unusual about the casting process?

Well, I did a self-tape, and then I did a callback before flying to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the test. And then we had to wait for a while before going into the room and auditioning, so I ended up becoming friends with quite a few of the girls who were also testing for Elizabeth. It became a bonding experience for all of us, and because it’s such a special show, we were all really passionate about it. So it was fun to meet people who felt equally drawn to the project. 

Darren Mann as Jack Dutton and Michelle Randolph as Elizabeth Strafford of the Paramount+ series 1923.

Darren Mann as Jack Dutton and Michelle Randolph as Elizabeth Strafford in 1923. Courtesy of Emerson Miller/Paramount+

Did you and Darren Mann (Jack Dutton) read together during that test? 

No, we didn’t. But funnily enough, I actually worked with Darren five or six years ago on my very first acting job ever. He played my boyfriend in a movie [House of the Witch]. And so when we both found out that we were going to be working together, I was so happy because it’s obviously quite an intimidating show to walk into. So I was excited about having a lot of scenes with somebody I’m already comfortable with, and same with Darren. We’ve kept in contact over the years.

Gosh, what a small world. Going into the audition, it was common knowledge that Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford were already attached, right?

Yes, when I got the initial audition for it, I knew that they were a part of the show, and one of my audition scenes was a scene with Helen. While I was auditioning for it, I kept thinking, “Oh my gosh, it would just be so insane to work with somebody like her.” This is the first television show that I’ve ever done, and so the fact that I got to share the screen with Helen Mirren is pretty surreal. It’s definitely a career-peaking moment. 

Heavy hitters like Helen Mirren usually know their presence can be overwhelming for young actors. Did she do anything to disarm you on set? 

Honestly, she is so easy to be around. She’s like a little buzzing light, and when we did cowboy camp two weeks before filming, she came to learn how to ride a horse and a buggy. And so while we were doing horseback riding lessons, she was doing that and she was just so easy. On the ranch, we had breakfast every morning, and she just sat around the little fold-out tables with all of us and chatted like normal. So, by the time that we got on set to film, we were all so comfortable with each other because we bonded while learning how to ride horses in the middle of Montana together.

She elevates every scene, and she’s so fun to work with because she just brings this magic to every single take. I’ve learned so much just from being with her on set every day, like how she handles herself on and off screen. So I’m just thankful that she was so gracious and wanted to spend time with us. She didn’t have to do that. She could have gone back to her trailer in between setups, but she sat in her cast chair and chatted about anything and everything. So that was really special. 

Michelle Randolph as Elizabeth and Helen Mirren as Cara Dutton of the Paramount+ series 1923.

Randolph with Helen Mirren as Cara Dutton in 1923. Courtesy of Christopher Saunders/Paramount+

Did you survive cowboy camp none the worse for wear? 

Yes, no injuries, just lots of bruises. (Laughs.) We were all very sore after cowboy camp because you’re on a horse for eight hours a day over two weeks, and you gain completely new muscles. So we did a lot of ice baths, but no one fell off, thank God.

How much do you know about Jack and Elizabeth’s backstory before she went back east for school? As neighbors, do you think they’ve been admiring each other for most of their lives? 

Well, Taylor [Sheridan] gave us a lot of freedom with that part of it. So Darren and I discussed where we thought our characters met, and yes, [Elizabeth’s] family owns the Strafford Ranch, which neighbors the Yellowstone Ranch. So Elizabeth knew Jack growing up, but he’s five or six years older than Elizabeth and I don’t think they were ever really something until later. Maybe she liked him growing up, but never thought that he would be interested in her. She was younger.

But when she came back [from school] one summer, I think that’s when they fell in love. And so they’ve spent a lot of time apart — even when they didn’t want to — and that’s why they’re so bonded. Their relationship, I imagine, is like every Taylor Swift music video or cheesy love song. It’s the perfect little love story, and it was fun being able to play into that because it’s not something I’ve experienced in my real life. It’s very, very beautiful.

Michelle Randolph as Elizabeth Straffod and Darren Mann as Jack Dutton of the Paramount+ series 1923.

Elizabeth (Randolph) and Jack (Mann) were both wounded in the shootout that injured Harrison Ford’s character earlier this season.. Courtesy of Emerson Miller/Paramount+

In the third episode, Elizabeth and Jack went out drinking and dancing in Bozeman before consummating their relationship. And then the Duttons and Straffords were massacred by Banner Creighton’s (Jerome Flynn) alliance on their way back home, killing Elizabeth’s father, Jack’s father (James Badge Dale) and wounding them both in the process. And despite her mother’s insistence that they then move back east, Elizabeth immediately insists on staying. Were you surprised that she didn’t waver even a little bit after going through that nightmare?

No, because Elizabeth’s life has been pretty sheltered in certain ways up until that nightmare of a story. She was blessed enough to go to school on the East Coast, but as Cara [Mirren] and Emma [Marley Shelton] discuss on the show, the only thing her hands have touched with purpose is a piano. She spent her summers jumping in the creek and living this perfect life. And now, when Cara says that she has to choose this way of life, Elizabeth does in fact choose it. Elizabeth is loyal, and she also loves how loyal Jack is to his family. And when you love someone like she does Jack, you love their family as well. So I don’t find it surprising that Elizabeth chose to stay. She’s in it. 

You know it’s true love when one party is willing to look past a massacre.

Yeah, she lost her father, and she kind of lost her mother, too. So the Duttons are all she has. That’s her family. 

In the fifth episode, she made the point to Jack that she’s now an orphan just like him.

Yeah, only Elizbaeth and Jack understand what they went through, so it’s trauma bonding at the end of the day.

Also in that episode, Jack’s mother, Emma (Marley Shelton), dies by suicide following the death of her husband, John (Dale), and so there’s a great deal of distance between Elizabeth and Jack until she gives him a wake-up call. That leads to their impromptu wedding, and I found it interesting how Jack said her nickname Liz during his vows while she said Elizabeth during hers. That was intentional, right?

Darren and I actually talked about this because it was written in the script as Liz. And I was like, “Hey, do you think he should say Elizabeth?” I think there’s a lot more weight to Elizabeth, but Liz is what he calls her. That’s his Liz. So we talked about it, but I don’t really think there was a whole lot of meaning behind it. Also, when I say, “I, Elizabeth Dutton,” it’s faded into the background, and that part was actually improv. It was not written. So, it’s fun that they included it.

Michelle Randolph as Elizabeth and Darren Mann as Jack Dutton of the Paramount+ series 1923.

Elizabeth “Liz” and Jack marry each other before God Courtesy of Christopher Saunders/Paramount+

So, there are two schools of thought with regard to the Dutton family free. One is that Elizabeth and Jack are the grandparents of Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone character, while the other contends that Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) and Alex (Julia Schlaepfer) are his grandparents. Do you know who’s who and what’s what?

No, unfortunately. We all go back and forth on what we think is going to happen, but Taylor likes to keep us on our toes. So we’re just as confused as everyone else. 

Of course, I’m asking because we found out Elizabeth is pregnant in the fifth episode, and as the sixth episode proves, it’s pretty amazing that the baby survived given the close proximity of her gunshot wound. So that’s why I’m inclined to think that she is Kevin Costner’s character’s grandmother. That scar is meant to show that his future birth nearly didn’t happen. 

I would love for this theory to be correct. (Laughs.) Then I could win the fun, joking argument that we all have with each other. We like to debate what we think.

While this current moment in history has its fair share of problems, have you spent enough time in the 1920s to know that you’re glad you were born nearly eight decades later?

I’m so thankful that I was born in the generation that I was, but at the same time, there’s a lot of really special things about the 1920s. There’s a freedom there that we don’t have nowadays. Technology is expanding on the show, and we’re seeing if the Duttons are going to accept that change or push against it. Sometimes, I fantasize about not having cell phones and not having to respond to anybody. So in that way, I sometimes wish that I was born in the 1920s, but I’m very thankful for everything nowadays. No complaints.

Your show has sex scenes, which are rarer these days in both film and television. And lately, there’s been some odd discourse on Twitter as some people, usually of a younger generation, think they’re pointless in terms of plot and character. What case would you make for such scenes on 1923?

On this show, specifically, it’s about so much more than just the sex. It’s the connection and the intimacy between two characters. When Elizabeth and Jack lose their virginity, it’s them choosing each other. It’s sacred. So it moves the story along in a way that shows the deep bond between the two of them, and it’s not meant to be overly sexualized.

Their night together raised the stakes of the massacre, too.


As you touched on earlier, everybody got pretty close on this show despite having three separate storylines, and you and Julia Schlaepfer (Alex) are really good friends now. But how did that happen when she was with Brandon Sklenar in Africa for quite a while? 

Well, we were all in Montana for almost a month and a half before Brandon and Julia went to Africa. We also had cowboy camp at the beginning, and it felt like we were kids at summer camp. So we just had so much fun. We all lived in the same little area, and we were together from eight in the morning to midnight every night. We ate dinner together, and we spent our weekends off together, wandering around Montana. We were all just so excited to be a part of this show, and it’s so rare that you love all of your castmates this much. So we were really blessed that we all clicked so quickly, and same with Aminah [Nieves]. I actually live with [Julia and Aminah] right now during our hiatus, which is really cool because we get to watch the show together every Sunday.

Montana is certainly nothing to scoff at, but was everyone a little jealous that they got to go to Africa? 

I think we were just so happy for them. We FaceTimed each other every day and got all the photo updates and everything. But Aminah and I were in Montana together, and we had a lot of fun exploring together. I think Brandon and Julia actually had a little more FOMO because there were more of us in Montana and it was just the two of them in Africa. But they got to film around the world, so we all had something special.

Lastly, what can you tease about the rest of season one (which airs its finale on Feb. 26)?

Thank goodness we have a season two. (Laughs.) I’m happy about it, and I think everyone else will be as well. There’s a lot of loose ends to tie up.

1923 is currently airing on Paramount+. This interview was edited for clarity.



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