‘1883’: Isabel May Recorded All Her Narration Before Filming Episodes

1883 is the story of the Dutton family before Yellowstone. James (Tim McGraw) and Margaret Dutton (Faith Hill) move their family to Montana in the 19th century. And the voice of their journey is Elsa Dutton (Isabel May), whose narration is in every episode of 1883 Season 1.

[Warning: This article contains spoilers for 1883 Season 1.]

'1883' star Isabel May stands with her arms at her sides
Isabel May | Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Deadline Hollywood

May was a guest on The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast on April 14 to discuss her work on 1883. When it came to the voiceover narration, May revealed that she recorded all 10 episodes before actually filming them. 

Isabel May’s narration was needed before she filmed ‘1883’

Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan built 1883 around May. May had auditioned for Sheridan’s The Mayor of Kingstown but did not get the part. However, she inspired Sheridan to create the role of Elsa Dutton. By the time he finished 1883, Elsa was telling the story. Problem for May was, that meant she had to do the narration before she got to the set. 

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“So I did the ADR for all 10 episodes in a day, before we ever did anything,” May said on Awards Chatter. “I was going, ‘Oh, I’m not yet… I need just a little more time to really get this accent and this voice. Of course, it would’ve been such a luxury to have been in the character figuring out what we were doing a little bit before.”

Isabel May got another crack at her ‘1883’ narration, but not all of it 

ADR stands for additional dialogue recording. It can be used interchangeably with “voiceover” in the industry. Sometimes ADR means literally dubbing dialogue into a scene. May said she was assured her first 1883 recording was only preliminary, but she can tell some of it remains in the show.

“I was told it was for temp,” May said. “Now, I know for a fact that they did use some of the temp voiceover.”

As she proceeded to film 10 episodes of 1883, May would go back and re-record some of her narration. So she did get a chance to perform some scenes after having portrayed Elsa. 

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“But we did do ADR, rerecorded throughout shooting and after as well,” May said. 

Prep work makes the dream work 

Elsa speaks with a Southern accent that is not May’s own. She said it was based on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Cold Mountain. May also trained on horses and with guns. She hadn’t embodied Elsa yet, but she was close. 

“But you know what?” May said. “You always got to be prepared. So I came in with guns loaded. I was ready to go”

The live-action shoot for 1883 was discombobulating, too. May filmed Elsa’s death and then still had half a season to shoot. However, she was prepared to know where she was in the story. 

“That was, again, memorization,” May said. “I had her entire life from the moment it starts in the series, the moment it ends (Sorry, spoiler alert), the moment it ends, laid out. So I knew every little moment, anything that I would need in each scene I had already written out. That’s my job. That’s any actor’s job so they should always come prepared, actors.”

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