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[This story contains major spoilers for 1923’s season finale, “Nothing Left to Lose.”]
Julia Schlaepfer’s Alex has overcome an angry elephant, a vicious group of lions and a harrowing shipwreck on 1923, but her scorned ex-fiancé’s royal family proved to be insurmountable in the end. Alex and Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) tried to take the high road while voyaging to London on the same ship as Alex’s former family, but Spencer could no longer look the other way when Arthur (Rafe Soule) insulted his new wife and challenged him, a renowned war hero and hunter, to a duel.
Spencer proceeded to manhandle Arthur with ease, but the poor sport pulled a pistol, leaving Spencer with no choice but to throw him overboard to his death. Tragedy only compounded from there as Arthur’s family banished Spencer from the vessel without Alex, resulting in an emotional goodbye between the recently wedded pair.
While Alex promises to find Spencer at the Dutton family ranch in Bozeman, Montana, Schlaepfer is now pointing out a potentially worrisome story point for them to overcome in season two. (The Taylor Sheridan Yellowstone prequel has already been renewed.)
“The first time we see her real fear of [Spencer’s] demons is in the finale, when she sees him kill not just an animal, but a person. She saw the animalistic instinct to kill come out of him, and it’s shocking for her. So I think we might grapple with that a bit in season two,” Schlaepfer tells The Hollywood Reporter.
All season long, viewers have debated which 1923 couple is going to give birth to the future father of Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone character, John Dutton II (Dabney Coleman). And with Alex showing signs of either motion or morning sickness at the beginning of the finale, the odds appear to be in Alex and Spencer’s favor, especially as Elizabeth (Michelle Randolph) suffered a tragic miscarriage back in Montana.
While Schlaepfer isn’t sure which sickness Alex endured, she did leave room in her performance for both outcomes.
“Honestly, I have not been told a single thing, but I have my theories,” Schlaepfer says with a laugh. “But when I was filming those scenes, there were definitely some moments where I was choosing to believe that maybe it was more than motion sickness. But there has been no confirmation from Taylor [Sheridan, creator] at all, so it could have just been those waves.”
Below, in a recent spoiler conversation with THR, Schlaepfer discusses the cliffhanger ending, theories for season two and her finale storyline’s similarities to Titanic — which culminated in an on-set performance of Celine Dion’s Titanic ballad “My Heart Will Go On” in between setups.
Well, I was shocked when I first learned that you weren’t British.
That’s what I like to hear! I love when people say that to me.
We’re so used to Brits playing Americans, but the inverse situation is rare.
Yeah, it doesn’t happen too often. I have to hand it to Taylor [Sheridan], because all of the girls that he was considering at the end of the day for Alex were American. When I first got the audition, I thought there was absolutely no way I was going to be considered because I’ve auditioned to play a Brit a lot and they never cast Americans. And then when I kept going through the audition process, I was like, “Oh, this is exciting. This is amazing.” So it was a really fun challenge.
Does your casting story involve testing in Jackson Hole like the rest of your castmates?
Yeah, it was totally abnormal in the very best way, because usually you fly out to L.A. or New York for testing, but we were flown out to Jackson Hole. We were in this beautiful mountain resort, and our screen test was in a boot room at the Four Seasons Hotel. (Laughs.) So that’s where I went in and did my test, and it was really special. All of us girls were chatting in the waiting room together, and everyone was so lovely.
I was there for about five hours because Taylor brought us all in the first time to read and then sent us back out so they could chat and deliberate. And then he came out a second time and was like, “Hey, I’m an actor. I know how hard this is. We’ve asked a lot of you all to come out here and I just want to thank you so much, but we’re going to have you all come back in one more time. We’re going to put you through it again.”
So we went back in a second time, and when I got in the room, Taylor was like, “Alright, I’m reading with you, not the casting director. I’m going to be your Spencer, and all I want you to do is be you. Drop any notion of the character you ever had because you, to me, are Alex. You have all the qualities of this character, so just be yourself. You can drop the accent if you want. I don’t care. I’m just going to read with you.” And then we read through the 25 pages of material they had given us for that screen test.
And by the end of the last scene, everyone was quiet, and I was crying. And then I looked up and the 15 other people in the room were also crying. (Laughs.) And then we all just started laughing. So it was one of the most special moments of my life, even if I didn’t get it. I was like, “I’m going to remember this forever.” So it was very unconventional and very beautiful, and Taylor, because he is an actor, took great care of us, which was really nice.
Did the test only include the actors going out for Alex? Or were there some potential Lizes sprinkled in there, too?
I think one girl was testing for both Liz and Alex, but it was just us four Alexes in the room. Everyone was so lovely, and we all talked about how in another scenario, we would’ve loved to have been friends. And I’m sure if I see them around, it’ll be great. But it was nice to have female support in that scenario. Everyone wanted the best for each other.
Did Taylor ever have Brandon [Sklenar] read with you?
He didn’t. We skipped that part. Brandon was cast about a week before me, and he offered to fly out for the screen test and chemistry read with everybody. But again, Taylor, taking care of us a little bit, was like, “No, I think the girls are already going to feel enough pressure. I don’t want the pressure of that as well. I think I’ll have a sense of who you’re going to have chemistry with.” And he really did because it all worked out. As soon as Brandon and I met, the chemistry that you see on screen was just there; it just existed. And I think it shocked both of us how deep that connection ran right off the bat. So, we got really lucky.
And how was the news delivered that you and Brandon would have your own show within the show?
When Taylor called me to deliver the news that I was Alex, it was the next day after my screen test, and I was sitting in the Jackson Hole airport. I got a call from a Texas number, and I was like, “Oh my God.” So I picked up and I heard a voice say, “Hi Julia, it’s Taylor Sheridan.” And I was like, “Hi.” And he was like, “I need you to keep a poker face because I know you’re in public and some of the other girls who auditioned for this role might be in the airport as well, but I want you to know that you are Alexandra.” And I immediately started crying. So I ducked behind one of those desks in the airport terminal where they check people in, and I cried. And then he was like, “You have quite the journey ahead.” And when we got off the phone, he immediately emailed me episodes five and six and said that it was “a little light reading” for the plane. And that’s when I realized how epic our story would be.
But it’s been a constant process for me understanding that we have our own storyline. I got to cowboy camp, and Brandon was like, “Yeah, we’ve got our own story.” And I was like, “Do we? I don’t know how long I’m going to stick around. Maybe I’ll die. I’m not sure how many episodes I’ll be in. I might not be around very long.” And Brandon would get so mad at me. He’d be like, “Julia, you sound ridiculous. Obviously, you are the female romantic lead in our storyline. You’re sticking around.” He would get so mad, but it’s just been so surreal.
At the end of Spencer and Alex’s first conversation in the bar, you can see the sparks fly between them. Do you consider them a love-at-first-sight situation?
Yeah, I do. We spoke to Taylor about that when we rehearsed with him a bit in Texas before we started. He actually said to me that the moment she falls in love with him is their first meeting, when he finally looks at her at the end of that scene and says, “Dying is the most alive you’ll ever feel.” That’s the moment for her where she’s like, “Oh my God, this guy isn’t just a hunky hunter. There’s a lot of depth there.” And it goes right in line with everything she’s ever wanted: an adventure and to see the world and to meet somebody outside of her own stiff royal world who thinks that way, and has those deep internal feelings that are so foreign to her. So it was an immediate wake-up call, and that’s when she falls in love. And when she leans in and just challenges him back, I think that that’s it for him as well. He’s probably used to people being scared of how dark he can get. But yeah, I think it’s love at first sight, or first conversation. (Laughs.)
Well, I must say that I just love that a Schlaepfer and a Sklenar have been paired together all season. It’s another sign that Spencer and Alex are meant to be together.
(Laughs.) I know. We actually talk about that all the time. We’re like, “Our names are similar and clunky,” and we love that we chose not to change them for the industry. We’ve talked about that a lot, actually. It’s very funny.
Spencer said that the elephant encounter, the lion attack and the shipwreck were the universe’s way of telling him to put Alex back where he found her. And that was before they were split apart by the Earl of Sussex (Rafe Soule) and his royal family. Does any part of her believe Spencer’s theory that the universe doesn’t want them together?
I think there is some doubt, and I worked with Ben [Richardson], our director, along the way to sprinkle in moments of doubt. But what’s so brilliant about Alex is how strong she is internally. Spencer delivers the strength, physically, for the two of them to survive all these things, but when he tries to leave her, when he tries to tell her his doubts, she says, “Absolutely not. I’m here. I’m sticking this out.” And it’s such a beautiful example of the strongest type of love. Love is hard. Love is not easy. But because she’s so resilient, their love is so resilient. And now being separated is certainly the biggest test that they’ve had to go through, which is hard to believe given how much they already have been through. (Laughs.) But next season, I do hope that we see her fighting tooth and nail to get back with him and to see him again.
On top of every other obstacle they’ve faced, Alex still has to contend with Spencer’s demons at some point, be it PTSD, guilt or a combination of both. How has she not been scared off by now?
Well, I think the first time we see her real fear of those demons is in the finale, when she sees him kill not just an animal, but a person. She saw the animalistic instinct to kill come out of him, and it’s shocking for her. We definitely wanted to sprinkle in moments of fear and confusion. “What did I just witness? This person is capable of killing humans.” So I think we might grapple with that a bit in season two.
But prior to all of that, their love and their connection with one another runs so deep, and they have to wake up every day and choose each other. It’s not easy. She knows what he’s dealing with deep down in there, but she’s so disarming for him and he’s so disarming for her in a very different way. So she’s willing to put in that work and sit with him and listen to his stories. For her, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to leave her family, which is so major. It’s worth it to crawl through the bush in Africa and almost get eaten by lions. She’s chosen loyalty to Spencer, and coming from her world, loyalty is everything.
So I do think we’ll start to see her fear surrounding his demons come out a bit more as she processes what she’s just witnessed. But their connection is so strong that when she feels him leave that boat, she has to go to him. And Taylor actually wrote in the stage direction that when she’s running to find him, it feels like her soul is being ripped from her body, because it is. That’s what it feels like to lose someone that you love like that. He is a part of her now, and she’s going to fight for it, which I really admire.
In the finale, it was so frustrating when she was being lectured by Arthur, Sr. (Bruce Davison) about honor because the royal family didn’t act honorably in the slightest. Is their overall hypocrisy another reason why she’s fleeing her former life?
I think so. She was raised in a society where it was all about duty to your family and acting honorably. And when you’re raised in that environment, you grow up believing the things that you’re taught. But there’s always been this thing deep down inside of her that has wanted more, or maybe doesn’t believe it fully. And when she meets Spencer and realizes that that’s what she wants and goes for it and chooses him as her family, that is where her loyalty now lies. Her family and the people around her didn’t necessarily want the best for her. They wanted her to sit down and be quiet and look pretty and say the right things, and she doesn’t want to do that anymore. And I think it’s so lovely when you see Jennifer, who’s played by the amazing Jo Ellen Pellman, help her friend to get out of this web that she’s in at that moment and empathize with her, especially as a woman in that scenario.
Do you think Alex is going to be racked with guilt for not taking her own advice and just staying in the room?
Yes, I think she’s definitely wishing that they locked themselves in that room. (Laughs.) But I also love what she says to Spencer: “That was the girl in me; this is the woman.” They’re dealing with a woman now, and she doesn’t want to hide. And when she ran away from her family and her problems, we kind of knew that she was going to have to face them again at some point. She had to face them for herself and to show them that she’s become the person she was always meant to be. Of course, it didn’t end in the most glorious or victorious of ways, and so I think she definitely wishes that they stayed in the room. But I am proud of her, from an outside perspective, that she did her best to stand up to them.
Brandon told me that the two of you would often quote Titanic during this stretch of the story, and the overlap is certainly there, especially in the finale. Were the Jack and Rose similarities not lost on you?
Oh, certainly not [lost]. From the beginning, we were like, “This has major Titanic vibes,” and you do get that from the characters a little bit. And yes, we were certainly singing a lot of Titanic, and I’m sure there’s a lot of BTS footage out there of us singing. We would literally perform for the crew. We’d stand on the deck of the ship, and they would all be doing their jobs, just setting up cameras and stuff like that. And while we were waiting to film, we’d literally dance around together and sing “My Heart Will Go On.” (Laughs.) I don’t know if they appreciated it very much, but that footage is out there somewhere.
All right, it’s now the moment of truth. Was Alex suffering from motion sickness or morning sickness at the beginning of the episode?
Ooh, you caught that, didn’t you? (Laughs.)
I sure did! I even noticed that belly rub you did for a second.
Yeah. Honestly, I have not been told a single thing, but I have my theories. (Laughs.) So we’ll see where she ends up when we are back for season two. But when I was filming those scenes, there were definitely some moments where I was choosing to believe that maybe it was more than motion sickness. But there has been no confirmation from Taylor at all, so it could have just been those waves. (Laughs.)
I know there’s no definitive answer yet, but with Elizabeth (Michelle Randolph) tragically losing her baby in the finale, it seems like Spencer and Alex are slated to be the grandparents of Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone character. Do you think that’s where it’s headed?
(Laughs.) I think it could be, but once again, we have no answers yet. We haven’t gotten confirmation in either direction, but personally, I would love to believe that. Of course, I would love to be a part of the Dutton line and involved in that. It’s such a special honor. The whole cast would talk about this all the time. We’d go back and forth and back and forth. And as we were filming, we were trying to sprinkle in moments where you might see a little bit of Beth [Kelly Reilly] in there. You also see other similarities happening in the characters. So I would love to be the great-grandmother of all those characters [John Dutton III’s children], but we’ll see what happens.
Have you been briefed on season two yet?
Everything’s pretty much up in the air, but we all are eager to get back because we’re obsessed with each other. We’re crossing our fingers for some time this summer, but we’ve heard nothing yet. Sometimes, we’ll text Taylor and be like, “Hey, how’s it going?” And he’ll just give us some really cryptic messages back about everything. But we’re itching to get back to it. There’s going to be another cowboy camp for us, which is very exciting. But in the meantime, all of the girls from the show are living together. We cannot get enough of each other, so we’re making our own little family ranch on our own time.
1923 is now available on Paramount+. This interview was edited for clarity. Head here to read THR’s interviews with Brandon Sklenar, and Aminah Nieves and Mo Brings Plenty on the season one finale.
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