Josh Brolin wanted to do Outer Range because he liked 'taking a stereotype and killing it'
At first glance, Amazon Prime Video's new series Outer Range looks a lot like Yellowstone. An iconic movie star (Josh Brolin, in this case) plays a Wyoming ranch patriarch who must reckon with internal family drama, jealous neighbors, and trouble with the local law enforcement. But there's a big difference: Out in Royal Abbott's western pasture is a big hole in the ground, and not the kind you can dig with a tractor.
This hole, this pit, this abyss… does not seem to follow the laws of physics. Its very presence unmoors the people who come across it, and even those who don't see it firsthand sense that something is very wrong. Outer Range is therefore a fusion of the Western and the supernatural, a combination that first enchanted Brolin years ago when he was a kid on a California ranch.
"I remember growing up on a ranch and being turned on to Ray Bradbury," Brolin tells EW before rattling off a list of the influential sci-fi author's greatest works. "I had read The Martian Chronicles when I was like 8 or something and then got into The Halloween Tree and I Sing the Body Electric!, The Illustrated Man and Fahrenheit 451. It just blew everything open for me, because I was just this simple kid growing up on a ranch and then suddenly was inundated with this perspective that was so beyond anything I could have imagined. It was interesting to me, man, and I liked it. From that moment on, the idea of contrast was very desirable for me."
Brolin was first interested in Outer Range via a personal letter from show creator Brian Watkins, who also grew up in the Western United States. Watkins observed that contrast between reality and enchantment in the very landscape itself.
"To me, the West is this place that is just filled with equal parts wonder and danger," Watkins says. "It's the kind of place where you can stand looking at a mountain range or a forest and feel like you're looking into another world. That's where the story came from about a very simple rancher who one day stumbles upon this metaphysical void on his property that ends up revealing the interior voids within himself and within his family. Hopefully what comes across in the show is the same question I posed in my letter to Josh: What happens when the unknown meets us at our kitchen table? What happens when a disenchanted world stumbles upon enchantment?"
On top of growing up on a ranch, Brolin is no stranger to the screen Western. He starred in the Coen brothers' Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men and their 21st century update of True Grit: First as the hero, then as the villain. In Watkins' words, through these roles and these films, Brolin has helped "shape our imagination of the West."
But the star himself has little reverence for myths. That's what attracted him to the role of Royal, a man who seems to have everything in order — until the discovery of the hole and what follows from that expose the deep wounds in his multi-generational family that they've been trying to paper over.
"The attractive thing is you create this archetype and then you emotionalize it, you crack him or you break him," Brolin says. "It's clear that his raison d'etre is protecting his family. He's created a foundation that's all about selflessly protecting his family. But because of holding onto secrets, that foundation is precarious and fragile. When he's hit by this unknown thing, that foundation goes crumbling. I liked the idea of taking a stereotype and killing it."
Brolin continues, "It was scary for me because you have to be more emotional and walk on this uncertain plane. As an actor, that was really interesting to me. I was just looking at it like, 'why are you doing TV after 20 years?' Because it frightened me. It's a big swing, and I like that."
Outer Range also stars Imogen Poots, Noah Reid, Will Patton, Lili Taylor, Tamara Podemski, and more. The first two episodes premiere on Prime Video on April 15, with two additional episodes coming each subsequent week until the eight-part season concludes.
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