'1883': LaMonica Garrett on Black Cowboy Representation in 'Yellowstone' Spinoff (Exclusive)

LaMonica Garrett was shocked when he read the script for 1883. Starring as Thomas, he's the only Black cowboy on the journey, and not once is the N-word used in the series. He credits creator Taylor Sheridan for such a choice in the script, and it made him even more excited to have the chance to work on the series. A longtime lover of Westerns, Garrett's character is a former buffalo soldier who serves as the right hand to wagon master Shea (Sam Elliott) and is the only Black person along for the ride. 1883 is a prequel to Sheridan's Yellowstone and chronicles the story of how the Duttons came to own the land that would become the Yellowstone Ranch. 

PopCulture.com spoke with the Sons of Anarchy alum on diving into the western, and how the project was a full circle moment for him as an actor and a fan of the genre. We also spoke about what it means to him to have such a strong representation of a Black cowboy, working with his co-stars, the next Yellowstone spinoffs and more.

PC: I read in your interview with Entertainment Weekly that the first thing that stood out to you when you read the script was that the script excluded the N-word, and you were very intrigued, considering that you're the only Black character on this journey in the film, specifically obviously how it relates to the time period, right?

LG: Yeah.

There are actors who stay away from similar time period roles because they refuse to get stereotyped into these characters. Do you have any idea behind the writer's motivation behind excluding the slur?

There's a lot. The history of Black cowboys, there was a thing called range equality, and it was still racism back then, it was still prejudice, it was you're in the 1800s, you're a Black man, it was post-Civil War, but there was a thing amongst cowboys that there was more equality. It wasn't equal, but there was more equality amongst cowboys back then. And you talk to some of the Black cowboys in the rodeos and from the time, they would talk about the racism they experienced wasn't as much with the cowboys, it was with the cities that you went to and the crowds, the people in the town. But the cowboys, it was man against beast. So if you could handle yourself in the field, that's what your worth was based on, not so much color.

But there was still prejudice back that – I don't want to say it was all roses and chocolate – but amongst the cowboys, there was something that was unique. And Taylor's a cowboy, and he knows the history. And the history of Black cowboys hasn't really been told in all these Westerns that I grew up watching. And he says to be truthful, to tell a story, you got to hold a mirror at nature and give the reflection and tell that story back. So the fact that it wasn't mentioned, and you think about it, Thomas is this 6'3", 220 pounds, former Buffalo Soldier with a badge that knows how to handle himself. Who's going to come up to him and say that? He's shooting people on site. They weren't put in a lot of those situations, but when they were, Thomas handled his business. So there wasn't a lot of room for that to be said.

I love that. How do you feel as if the exclusion of the slur allows the audience to view your character beyond his skin color?

I think it looks at you as you're just another cowboy. And that's the thing, there's going to be a point one day hopefully where we don't say Black cowboys and White cowboys, it's just cowboys from back in the day. Because one in four cowboys were Black, and they don't say White cowboys, they just say cowboys. So at some point, it's just all these men were cowboys, and the rich history of Black cowboys that helped build the American West, those stories are going to start coming out more and more. Thomas is one of those stories. There was the show, The Harder They Fall, the stories with them. There's Bass Reeves coming out. I think it's more and more now we're going to start seeing these stories, and it's going to take away the Black cowboy aspect of it. It's just going to be cowboys.

You mentioned briefly that you grew up on Westerns, so how much about this time period specifically did you know regarding how the Westerns and race intersect? How well-versed in that world were you, and how much research did you have to do to prepare for the project?

I watched a lot of Westerns, and when you're little, you don't really know about race issues and prejudice. You didn't know what you didn't know. And when I got older, then I'm looking back at these shows like Gun Smoke and The Virginian, and you're like, "Wow, there weren't really Black people around." You didn't really notice it as a kid, and then the older you get, you're like, "Wow," you start doing research, like, "Wait, who's this Bass Reeves guy? Who are these legends that we've never heard of?" And for the role, I dug even deeper and did more research, and you realize this is a huge part of American history that's been left out, and it's if not now, then when to start telling these stories?

But I wasn't as familiar when I was a kid watching with my parents. I got a little older, and I was familiar with a little bit more, like Nat Love and Bill Pickett, and Bose Ikard and Bass Reeves. But then you dig, and you keep digging and keep digging, then you find out about the first Black sheriff in Colorado, Kennard. His story is another amazing story. We hear about Bass Reeves, but we don't hear about Kennard, and it's like these stories are going to be told at some point. I'm just glad to be a part of the movement to get that going with Thomas' story.

You also spoke with Entertainment Weekly about working with the dialect coach to narrow down your accent. Did you find it troubling to stay in accent throughout filming, or did you fully immerse yourself into it? And then after filming, which I've heard with some actors who are real method actors, was it hard for you to transition out of that?

No, at the end of the day, I left it on my horse, I left it on the range. But every morning before I went to work, I would check in, and I would do the work, do the breathing and focus on the dialect. So throughout the day, and we filmed six days a week, so it wasn't like I had days off where I'm just checked out completely of using Thomas' dialect, I was using it pretty much every day, but when I wasn't working it, I left it there. Left it on the horse.

Now, you're in the project with a lot of heavy-hitters, including Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, how was it working alongside the rest of the cast?

First, you're working with Sam Elliott, he's a Hollywood icon, you have those nerves going, then you read, and you're like, "Oh, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Billy Bob Thornton's going to be [in the series as well]..." Like it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Then you meet all these people and it's like, "Wait a minute," then you start working with them. And we had a chance, a unique chance for a few weeks before filming during cowboy camp to really get to know each other, to hang out day in and day out. We were away from our families, we were away from our homes. It was just us.

So we all built this tight-knit bond together, and it rolled right into filming, from the last day of cowboy camp to the first day of filming. And from that point on, for the next four or five months, we were all we saw. We would have lunch together, we would have dinner together. If I'm going into town to get to the grocery store, like, "Hey, you guys, hey, I'm rolling." Tim's like, "All right, I'll jump in the car with you." Or Gratiela (Brancusi) or Sam, "Hey, get me this and get me that." It's like we were all we had, so there's no way but to create this bond, this family environment, and that's like Taylor Sheridan, he's the reason for that. He knows how close you're going to become from that, and we benefited from it.

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What can you tease about what's ahead and how would you like to see 1883/Yellowstone, that whole universe, expand?

Well, 1883, that's pretty much it for us. The new season, the 1923, the cast is stellar. Big announcements, I can't wait. I don't know what the scripts look like, but I trust Taylor, his vision. As the actor, you're like, "Oh, 1883 isn't moving forward," but it's going to be interesting to take a look in at this time period for a season or two or however long they go, and in the 1920s, and that's going to be something special I think. And Bass Reeves, telling that story is a story that needs to be told. And I spoke with David Oyelowo not too long ago, and he's excited to bring Bass Reeves to life and that's going to be something special to watch I think for everyone. A lot of people don't know who Bass Reeves is, but he was an American legend, not just a Black cowboy legend, but an American legend. And yeah, we're all going to be familiar not too long from now.

1883 is available to stream in full via Paramount+1883: The Bass Reeves Story and 1923 are set to premiere on Paramount+ in the near future. Yellowstone, which airs on linear cable channel Paramount Network, is streaming its back catalog of episodes on Peacock.