How Cole Hauser Got Back in the Saddle to Play Rip Wheeler for ‘Yellowstone’

If you’re a fan of Yellowstone, the drama that follows a tumultuous family whose ranch resides on the border of the eponymous national park, you’re familiar with Cole Hauser. The actor got an early look at the pilot script for Yellowstone, thanks to Taylor Sheridan and his co-creator friend John Linson, shortly after Kevin Costner signed on to play the role of John Dutton, the patriarch.

Having worked in show business for over 20 years, Hauser knew these kinds of opportunities don’t come often. Not only did he want in, he knew what role he wanted to play too: Dutton’s righthand enforcer, Rip Wheeler.

“There were only a few scenes with him in that first episode, but I connected with him immediately,” says Hauser. Being a part of the widely successful Paramount+ neo-Western series about a ranching dynasty allowed the actor to tap into his formative years spent on a farm in Oregon. “Horses were a big part of my early years, and doing this show allowed me to ride again.”

Men’s Journal spoke with Hauser about getting his hands back on the reins, why wine is an over-looked recovery modality, and the joys of filming in Montana.

Men’s Journal: How did you decide Rip was the role for you?

John Linson is a good friend of mine, so he was the one who made sure the pilot first got to me. I was excited at the idea of working with Taylor Sheridan and, of course, Kevin Costner. Looking at the script, the roles that were open at the time were of John Dutton’s sons and the smaller character of Rip. He only had two scenes in the pilot, but something about that guy really pulled at my heart strings. I could already sense there could be some amazing growth with him. There was the understanding that if I came in to knock out those two scenes, and was able to show them something, that Taylor might grow Rip in the series. I’m thankful it worked out the way it did and what we created has resonated with so many people around the country.

Man on horse wearing sunglasses and cowboy hat
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How comfortable were you with horses when you joined the show?

I grew up around horses in Eugene, OR, and that environment was a big part of my early adolescence. Riding around the farm where we had cows, goats, and chickens. My dad’s side of the family is all from Montana. They’ve been there since the beginning of time. My great grandfather was even the first governor of Montana. So the idea of going there to film a show really appealed to me and I looked forward to representing my family. It was an absolute dream come true. I got to ride a horse with the best out there. Taylor put me on every kind of horse and saddle that exists, then I got to get out there with experts in every discipline you need to know to be a cowboy…roping and reining. It’s been an absolute dream come true.

Can you tell me about the crew helping you get those cowboy scenes right?

Jake Ream [horseman and actor] started it all when he took us on a huge cowboy camp before we started the first season. And I’m talking the whole cast. Since then, I’ve also been able to spend time on set with Tom Foran, one of the best cowboys in North America. There’s [animal trainer] Paul ‘Sled’ Reynolds who helps gets us sorted on the horses. Ethan Lee is great as well. The list just goes on and on, including real riders like Ross Coleman. Each season I learn a little bit more, thanks to all of these incredible people who come through our crew. That’s been great for me as I’ve continued to build this character. Eventually I got to the place where I would completely forget I was on a horse because it was second nature. I could just do my job as an actor, hitting my marks and saying my lines.

How’s it been working with your horse costar?

My horse is named Dude—an all-around stud. He’ll go through anything for you. I’ve seen him become very trusting of me and vice versa. We ride high-level horses. They can sense how you feel, whether you’re afraid or off your game. Now that Dude and I have gotten together, we’ve become good friends.

There was a scene early in the show where I was riding Dude and an officer gets impaled on a fence. We had to take off down a hill doing a good amount of running and fast trot. He navigated through it beautifully, taking me there fast, and letting me hop off him. He did a great job of standing by me just perfectly. For a horse that young—that hasn’t been doing stunt work his whole life—I thought he did an amazing job. We both trusted each other in that scene, and it’s a badass one because of that.

You’ve done quite a few physical roles in movies like Tears of the Sun and Pitch Black, but being a cowboy is a whole other realm. How did you get ready for those long days on the ranch?

The best way to get ready for those days is to put the time in, and spend many hours riding. It’s all about getting in those reps. Following a full day of riding everything is going to hurt, especially your back, hips, and legs. Then your shoulders and neck hurt from roping. Being in horse shape is a lot different than being in gym shape. It’s important to have a strong core and legs. There are a lot of people who think you’re using the reins to steer your horse, but actually a lot of it happens through the legs and putting the right amount of pressure there with the saddle tongue.

Every year I go out to the location weeks before the season starts so I can get at least a few weeks of riding in. That first week always sucks, and the pain is no joke, but that’s just like training for anything. The time has to be put in. I’m 46 years old, and I feel it a bit more every year. I’ve been beat up quite a bit over the years. But at the end of those three weeks, I’m ready to go. I don’t ride only when the camera’s on either. I enjoy getting my hands on the reins in my off time too. There was nothing else to do really, so I would just head to the ranch and get in the saddle.

Man wearing cowboy hat, jacket, and belt
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You’re putting in some long days on set, how do you recover from it at the end of the day?

My recovery is a bottle and a half of red wine. It works every time. But honestly, sitting out on the porch in the beautiful place where we shoot is an absolute joy. These gorgeous landscapes are way up there in the mountains. I’ll sit there with a cold Coors Light or a big glass of red wine. That helps take away a little bit of the pain. On the weekends Taylor’s wife, Nicole, would throw these amazing barbecues where we would listen to music and enjoy each other’s company. We’ve been doing this for four years now. We’ve become quite a little family.

How has it been shooting in a place like Montana?

We had the pleasure of first filming in Darby and Hamilton. I also got to go up to Whitefish to do some hiking in the mountains on my off days. It’s nice to be able to get outdoors, breathe some fresh air, and be away from people for a little bit. There are so many beautiful places in Montana, all special in their own way. There’s Bozeman, and you can go south from there to Ennis and Cameron, where the Madison River is. There’s great fly-fishing around there on the Madison. You can go back up to Whitefish in the ranges and the lakes. There’s a resort up there, which is great in the winter time. If you go south from Missoula through the Bitterroot Valley, that’s where you’ll find not only the Yellowstone Ranch but Darby. I believe this drive is one of the prettiest. It’s a total blessing to be able to film in that kind of nature. I believe our team does an amazing job showcasing this beautiful land. There have only been a few films that really capture the majesty of the mountains, like A River Runs Through It. Taylor and our DP Ben went out before the show started filming to get their head around how they were going to shoot the series. The photos they got on those trips are incredible, and that’s how I knew it was going to look amazing too. I think the success of the show is based partly on how stunning this part of American is.

The fourth season of Yellowstone is now available to stream on Paramount+.

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