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On 1883, Isabel May plays Elsa Dutton, a Tennessee woman moving to the northwest with her family. The Dutton family ends up settling and creating the Yellowstone ranch, but that’s a different series. May herself is not southern, so had to learn the accent to capture Elsa Dutton’s voice. Philip Seymour Hoffman was her guide. 

'1883': Elsa Dutton (Isabel May) warms herself by the fire
Isabel May | Emerson Miller/Paramount+

May was a guest on The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast on April 14. While discussing her preparation for the role on 1883, May revealed which Philip Seymour Hoffman role was the basis for Elsa Dutton’s voice. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman played a southern preacher in ‘Cold Mountain’

Yellowstone and 1883 creator Taylor Sheridan created the role of Elsa Dutton for Isabel May. He had auditioned her for The Mayor of Kingstown but cast Emma Laird as Iris instead. Sheridan didn’t forget about May though. He created this prequel to the Dutton family and knew she would be up to the task of Emma.

“I really wanted to work with a dialect coach because it’s 1883,” May said on Awards Chatter. “They’re from Tennessee. I should probably try to figure out how to make it as accurate as possible. I worked with Jessica Drake. The accent that Taylor originally referenced was Philip Seymour Hoffman in Cold Mountain. I remember going, ‘That’s a very strong [accent].’”

How Philip Seymour Hoffman inspired Isabel May on ‘1883’

In Cold Mountain, Hoffman plays Reverend Veasey, a slave owning preacher who hooks up with a Civil War deserter (Jude Law) on his journey to reunite with his love (Nicole Kidman). May took it from there. 


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“So I really worked with Jessica on that and tried to diminish it a little bit,” May said. “Then she worked with Claire, Dawn Olivieri. I know she was only in two episodes but my goodness, does she go out with a bang. She was remarkably good. She has a much more distinctive Tennessee accent but that little lilt. So I started working with her as soon as I could. I memorized all 10 episodes including my voiceover within a month after I received them. I got very intense about all that stuff, just was way prepared before I ever actually went to ‘cowboy camp’.”

On ‘1883’ Isabel May learned both verbal and physical skills

While May was working on her voice, she also had to learn how to ride horses for 1883. “Cowboy Camp” entailed learning the physical skills. May puts all those skills to use on 1883.

“The minute that I knew I had to do all those things, I did them,” May said. “I texted Taylor and I said, ‘I need a horseback rider person who knows how to do these things. I need to be on a horse right away.’ Never been on one before. So I went, ‘I really gotta to figure this out as quickly as possible.’ So I was very intense about that.”