DALLAS — It might not be an overstatement to say Cole Hauser is one of the most famous cowboys in America.
He doesn’t make his living as a ranch hand. But he plays the part pretty dang well.
Hauser stars as Rip Wheeler, the straight-talking, all-business, often-brooding cowboy who helps run the Dutton Ranch on Paramount’s hit series “Yellowstone,” the top-rated show on cable television.
So his newest gig is fitting: A brand ambassador the Professional Bull Riders, which is hosting its annual World Finals at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth this month.
Hauser was in town last week to shoot a commercial for the PBR as part of his “co-creative” role with the league.
“It’s been a pretty cool journey and just even getting kind of more involved in the actual organization and seeing who these guys are, the people that really love the sport,” Hauser said. “It’s not a circus, it’s not a sideshow.”
Ahead of the commercial shoot, Hauser sat down with WFAA’s Matt Howerton for a wide-ranging interview over video chat, covering everything in his career from “Yellowstone” to the new gig with the PBR to his early days as a cast member on the Texas classic, “Dazed and Confused.”
But first, a disclaimer: We spoke with Hauser just days before Paramount announced “Yellowstone” is coming to an end after Season 5. So no, we didn’t get much insight on what might be next for the show’s storyline. But we learned plenty more, and if you know Hauser’s character Rip, you’ll see him in our conversation.
Take this exchange, for example:
Howerton: What’s your favorite line that [show creator Taylor Sheridan] has written for you that you said on set?
Hauser: “F— you.”
Howerton: That’s your favorite one?
Hauser: Yeah. I love when he’s like, “Jimmy, f— you,” or Shut the f— up, Jimmy.” But it’s endearing, though. It’s just Rip’s way. And I think Taylor and I, there’s this real serious kind of part of the both of us, and I think we get the humor of it. And I think what’s amazing is that people got the humor of that relationship with Rip and Jimmy, which was surprising, I think, to us, because they were like, ‘God, they’re going to think Rip is such an a–hole.’ But it actually worked the opposite, which was pretty wild. Listen, it’s tough love, man. That’s missing in this country. So it’s good to see Taylor write it, and Jeff White (actor who plays Jimmy on n”Yellowstone”) and I act it.
Howerton: You have a family tree with so many people connected to Hollywood’s earliest beginnings, from producers to screenwriters to the founder of Warner Bros. It feels like you were meant to be an actor. What’s that like, growing up with that type of family history?
Hauser: I didn’t know until I really got into acting. My mom kind of kept me out of the business. I grew up in Oregon on a ranch and then Florida and Tampa Bay, Clearwater. So when I started getting interested in doing plays and got serious, she said, ‘Come here for a second, son. Let me explain to you the lineage of your family.’ And I was pretty blown away, to say the least.
Howerton: Well, one of your first films, you were a teenager when this happened, and it’s near and dear to my heart because it was something that I watched when I was a kid: “Dazed and Confused.” It’s a beloved movie in Texas with a who’s who of actors who went on to do great things, including yourself. What do you remember from that movie and what were your first impressions of Texas? What are they now?
Hauser: My impressions of that film in Texas are very fond, as you can imagine. That was one of those films that was once in a lifetime, once in a generation. I feel like the actors that Rick [Linklater] and the casting director Don Phillips put together, were tremendous. It was like summer camp in many respects, but we were trying to create the 70s and what kids were going through, the times. And Rick was a tremendous proponent to improvisation, being as natural as possible. I believe the movie is still playing in Austin every Saturday night at midnight still, which is a testament to the film itself but the amount of people that affected.
Howerton: Just staying on that topic, Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey were in that film. You obviously ended up starring in “Good Will Hunting,” which also had Ben Affleck. Was that how you guys met? And did he ask you to come on the film because you guys had been in “Dazed and Confused”?
Hauser: No, so we did “School Ties Together,” which was my first film, and it’s about football in 1955. And Matt was in it, Brendan Fraser, Chris O’Donnell, Randall Batinkoff, I mean, a tremendous cast. And [Affleck and Damon] ended up moving from Boston out to L.A.. And when I was being cast for that, Ben was actually out in L.A., living with me. We were young kids, 16-17 years old, and then Matty came out and he ended up staying with us. And we were so close at that time. We were all kind of living off oodles and noodles and mac and cheese and, you know how it goes when you’re struggling.
So it was just a special time that I think we’ll all remember, as one that I don’t know if it’ll ever be emulated amongst young actors like that again. It’s such a different vibe. I mean, social media has changed all of it. There were no phones back then. We were thumbing for rides. It was just a different time.
Howerton: Matthew McConaughey is obviously rumored to be connected to Taylor Sheridan and “Yellowstone.” What’s that like now? Because now you get to reconnect, possibly. I’m not sure of all the plans, but when you heard that news, what did you think?
Hauser: He’s one of my dearest friends, and it’s always been a dream. We’ve done a couple of things together, but to have an opportunity one day, I don’t know if it’s going to be this, I don’t know what it would be, but we’ll find something.
Howerton: As far as Texas goes, what’s your thoughts about being here? Now, I know you’ve been in Fort Worth a few times for some autograph signings. You’re in Florida, but you come here pretty frequently, it sounds like, to either do something for “Yellowstone” or to meet fans. What’s it like being here in the Lone Star State?
Hauser: I was pretty close to moving to the Texas, Fort Worth area, but my wife nixed it. She’s from Florida, she’s from Gainesville, but she wanted to be around the water. And I totally understand. We made the right choice for our kids, too, but I have tons of friends there, family — West Texas, Austin, Dallas, South Texas, you name it. I love the state. It’s one of my favorite states in the Union.
Howerton: Another deep cut to your early acting career: You were the villain in “2 Fast, 2 Furious.” Did you ever think that movie franchise would go as far as it has when you were filming it at the time?
Hauser: I’m certain that that movie [would continue], after the first one and then doing the second one, it was unbelievable the amount of people that were flocking to the theaters to see it. So it’s not surprising that it’s had the success that it’s had. I didn’t think it would go ten, but s—, it might go 20. Who knows? It’s just a matter of whether Vin [Diesel] and Neil Moritz, the people that have been there since the beginning of time, want to keep doing it.
Howerton: I want to shift over to Yellowstone. Clearly, that’s what everybody pictures you in now when they see your face. You’ve said it yourself, when this show began, it was a grassroots kind of show, and it just kind of took off. How did you get the role for Rip and did you read for any other parts? And what did you like specifically in those first draft scripts about Rip?
Hauser: I didn’t read for it, No. 1. John Linson, who’s one of the creators of it, is a dear friend of mine. And he brought me the script and then said, Taylor’s writing it. And I thought, “Jesus, really?” And I’m a big fan of his, just as a writer in film. “Sicario,” the list goes on. “Wind River.” And so when he told me that, I thought, “Wow, this is going to be exceptional.”
So he gave me the script. I looked at it. I think the initial thought was that I would play one of the Dutton boys. I read it and initially just was drawn to the colors that I saw in Rip. Maybe nobody else saw them at the time, but I certainly did. And I loved the relationship with Beth, out of the gates, even though it was very intense. And then I liked the fact that he was aggressive towards other people and dark, but also had kind of a beautiful side to him as far as nature and horses are concerned. So there were so many levels to the character, and that’s certainly what you look for, especially an actor like me. I don’t enjoy playing one-trick ponies.
Howerton: Rip is beloved, and it’s kind of weird because, you’re right, he is a bit of a heartthrob, but also somewhat homicidal in so many parts of the series. What’s been your favorite scene to act out on the show, and what parts of Rip do you take home and what part of you goes into Rip?
Hauser: That’s a hard answer question to answer. I’ve done so many, I think, great scenes with Kelly [Reilly] and Kevin [Costner] and Luke [Grimes] and the list goes on. Wes Bentley. Tough one to answer. I don’t think I will. But look, my interest is to continue to do great work. I don’t sit back and go, “oh, I’m this heartthrob” or I’m this or that. My interest is to continue to do great work. That’s it. I don’t really pay attention to the funny papers.
Howerton: Do you kind of get pretty taken aback, though, that such a character is so beloved? When you kind of read him every day and you’re like, wow, he’s kind of a crazy guy. But also he’s very dedicated to his job. Rip kind of does the thing you get in trouble for, and he always says what no one wants to say. Do you feel like that is kind of why everyone just loves him and resonates?
Hauser: The women aspect of it was a bit surprising, I won’t lie. I’ve always appealed to men (laughter). They’re like, “That guy’s crazy. He’s cool. He says what he wants, he does what he wants.” But the aspect of women falling in love with him — I guess I understand it, but at first it was a surprise, but now I get it. He has a heart of gold. He is loyal as loyal gets. He’s honest. He’s not full of s—, which most people are. So I think, again, there’s a lot of colors to him that appeal to not only the female audience, but also the male audience as well.
Howerton: A lot of actors have said this: Great writing, it makes it easy for an actor, and it leads to great characters. But how much of a collaboration is there between you and Taylor Sheridan?
Hauser: It was very natural in the sense that Taylor and I got to know each other very well. We’re out in the middle of nowhere, in Utah at times, and in Montana, and we just became dear friends. And when you spend time with people, especially as a writer like him, he takes little kind of interesting things, whether it’s who I am as a person, who he is as a person, the things we care about, that we want to talk about in society. And he found that Rip was a good vessel for that.
Howerton: What’s your favorite line that he’s written for you that you said on set?
Hauser: “F— you.”
Howerton: That’s your favorite one?
Hauser: Yeah. I love when he’s like, “Jimmy, f— you” or “Shut the f— up, Jimmy.’ But it’s endearing, though. It just Rip’s way. And I think like Taylor and I, there’s this real serious kind of part of the both of us, and I think we get the humor of it. And I think what’s amazing is that people got the humor of that relationship with Rip and Jimmy, which was surprising, I think, to us, because they were like, “God, they’re going to think Rip is such an a–hole.” But it actually worked the opposite, which was pretty wild. Listen, it’s tough love, man. That’s missing in this country. So it’s good to see Taylor write it, and Jeff White (actor who plays Jimmy) and I act it.
Howerton: It’s just interesting for me because I’ve talked to some hard-cut ranch hands or cowboys, and when we mentioned Yellowstone, they gush about you. Have you ever had a hard-cut ranch hand just come up to you, shake your hand and be like, “Man, I love what you do on the show. It depicts me perfectly.” And how do you take that?
Hauser: I’ve had a couple of guys that have come up in Montana and Wyoming, Idaho, even Utah, Texas. And it’s not “Hey, I respect who Rip is,” as much as it’s, “Man, thank you for telling the truth of who we are and how tough it is to be in the position that we are in,” and just bringing back the awareness of the old-school cowboy. There’s nothing new about this [Rip]. He’s very old-school. He’s taught by an old-school guy in John Dutton, and Kevin Costner, who in real life is a bad— in his own right. I think it’s just more of the acknowledgment. I’ve had a couple of dorky guys who on ranches say, “Man, you’re me.” And I’m like, “You’re not me.” Anybody that comes up and says that is definitely not a Rip.
Howerton: Are you turning down roles or are you kind of picky about what you want to do? Because it seems like you’re at a crossroads. You can do what you want here. And how does that feel like to just kind of have this big kind of following at this point in time where everyone knows you?
Hauser: It’s not really turning down roles. It’s being selective. But also the ability to create things for me and for the future that I see fit. The kind of person that I am is not somebody who’s waiting around with their hand out hoping that the role comes to you. I go and I write it. I’ll produce it. I’ll direct it. I’m directing this film “The Westies,” which is about the Irish mob in New York in 1975. I just finished writing a project called “Chosin,” which is about the Korean War in the Chosin Valley. “Dakota Damned,” I mean, the list goes on of stuff that I’m doing. So it affords you more of the ability to go do the things that you want to do and the stories you want to tell.
Howerton: How does it feel to have that now compared to the days where you were thumbing for rides?
Hauser: This career, buddy, has been simple. It’s the stairs. There’s no f—ing elevator, man. And that’s why you can sustain success, in my opinion, is you see — and I’m not going to name names — but you see actors come and go, but there’s a sustainability to people that have actually taken the stairs. And sometimes you got to take lateral steps. Sometimes you take steps backwards, but ultimately you take that next step up the stair. So that’s the way it’s been in this 30-odd year career, and I’m proud of that.
Here’s our extended conversation with Hauser, which has been edited for clarity and length: