Ranch Hand: Yellowstone’s Cole Hauser brings heart and soul to cowboy role.
By Sondra Barr
When Cole Hauser ambled in to his first scene in the Paramount series Yellowstone, it took more than a few episodes to place where you’d seen the actor before.
Hauser’s transformation from the clean-shaven actor who first appeared in 1992’s School Ties, followed by such films as Good Will Hunting, Pitch Black, Olympus Has Fallen, Transcendence, and Too Fast, Too Furious, was such that it completely took viewers by surprise.
Sporting a dark, wiry beard, substantial heft, a worn cowboy hat, and steely gaze, Hauser’s portrayal of Yellowstone’s ranch foreman Rip Wheeler is engrossing. A complex character that is both fierce yet vulnerable, rough yet tender, his deft performance leaves women watching the show swooning and the men wanting to be him.
In a show that highlights ranching, wildlife conflicts, and politics amid fiery family drama and corrupt land developers, Rip serves as the show’s moral compass of sorts. The perfect foil to John Dutton, the hardened ranching patriarch of the Yellowstone ranch skillfully played by Kevin Costner, Rip’s storyline is rich in contrasts.
“He is quiet, cool, and breathes everything that is Montana. Rip Wheeler is someone who is not very modern, who is more old school in his loyalties and in the way he acts. I realized this is something that needs to be portrayed, and I wanted to do it,” explained Hauser to Guns & Ammo’s Mike Schooby on his motivation to take on the role.
In addition to wanting to work with Yellowstone’s two creators, Taylor Sheridan and John Linson and being intrigued with Rip’s character, Hauser also saw the job as a way to connect with the rural life he experienced as a child, as well as a chance to explore his deep personal ties to Montana.
“I grew up on a really nice ranch in Oregon for about four years,” he told Bobbie Jean Sawyer of Wide Open Country. “Those were my earliest memories of being a kid.”
Meanwhile, Hauser’s dad’s family hails from Helena, Montana. Recently, Hauser and his eldest son researched the family to learn his great-great grandfather, Samual T. Hauser, helped fund the Louis and Clark Expedition. “There is a lake named after him and all kinds of stuff. We went on this little history tour. He was a really special guy, a pioneer in many ways. He has been there since 1870. Think about that area in 1870, there was nothing out there. He came through the Great Lakes and into Montana, that’s wild. Samual T. Hauser was the first governor of Montana. I have always had this love for the state but didn’t really know why. It makes so much sense now. I mean, my family has been there since the beginning of time,” he told Courtney Rodgers of the Havoc Journal.
Although he spent time on a ranch growing up and performed some rodeo stunts for The High-Lo Country, a 1998 Western he starred in opposite Sam Elliott and Woody Harrelson, Hauser considered himself a novice horseman before Yellowstone.
“Taylor Sheridan, Ross Coleman and all these cowboys put me through the works. They had me on horses every day, different horses, different saddles and after a lot of work, I can say now I am a ‘rider,’ but before I was not. I now know about my feet and ankles and what they should be doing versus yanking a horse around by his neck,” said Hauser to Schoby.
While becoming a horseman worthy of Yellowstone took some doing, 46-year-old Hauser didn’t require much practice for the firearms part of being a cowboy. An avid hunter who advocates for gun ownership rights, his stance is an anomaly in Hollywood.
“Listen, my right as an American is to own guns. Responsibility is a big deal to me. Have we as a community forgotten a little bit about responsibility? Possibly. But in my household, no,” he told Guns & Ammo. “All my children know how to shoot and handle firearms safely. They will always know how to shoot, and they will be able to protect themselves, in every way they can. But gun ownership really all boils down to personal responsibility.”
Hauser has hunted in Texas, Montana, and other places around the West and holds a deep respect for the age-old practice. He won’t shoot anything that he doesn’t intend on eating and shuns the use of riding around in a truck or employing anything other than old school methods.
“When you hunt at the highest level, without bait, feeders, etcetera, and you finally get the one you are after, after walking miles, there is a certain amount of respect you have for that animal as well as respect for the process. I don’t think non-hunters really understand that. They may go to Whole Foods to buy meat, and they don’t really think about where it came from. When you walked for it and really hunted it and butchered it and stocked your freezer with it and now your kids are eating it, it is just a different feeling.”
It’s this ethos of a multifaceted, extremely interesting, deep-thinking, heartfelt, strong American man that Hauser embraces for this once-in-a-lifetime role, one which he suspected would resonate strongly with viewers.
“It obviously wasn’t what it is now. But there were people throughout the country who were watching very closely right out of the gates,” he told writer Joe Leydon for Cowboys and Indians. “And then I think it’s bled into the younger crowd, which has been really cool to see over the last couple of years. There are more and more younger people coming up to me and talking about this show then there were initially. I meant, I was at a high school football game the other day here in Florida, and I was shocked that 16-year-olds, 14-year-olds, 18-year-olds––male and female––are watching the show and are blown away and love it.”
While Hauser credits Kevin Costner for much of the show’s early buzz, he’s been surprised about the outpouring of love for his character Rip. “He’s not somebody that Taylor and I thought, ‘Oh well, people, men and women, are just going to love this guy.’ I think that’s been a happy surprise for us both. And to see the response in the public to the character––for me, personally, it’s just been a real blessing.”
Yellowstone fans will be pleased to know that the show’s popularity has spawned two highly anticipated spinoffs Y:1883, s prequel starring Tim McGraw and Faith Hill as John Dutton’s ancestors James and Margaret Dutton and 6666, set in Texas.
In case you can’t get enough of Hauser, he has two films set to debut in 2022––Muti, a thriller with Morgan Freeman, and Panama, an action-adventure co-starring Mel Gibson.
A happily married (sorry ladies) father of three, Hauser lives in Florida and puts just as much effort into his family as he does his thriving career. “I am pretty good about compartmentalizing working and family. They are two of my biggest passions. I am not the kind of guy who forgets about them.”