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Wes Bentley on His ‘Yellowstone’ Power Move and Why Jamie Dutton Is Getting Easier For Him to Shake

The actor, who plays the despised son of the Dutton family, speaks to The Hollywood Reporter about bringing his character home with him and how the explosive events of the midseason finale will shape the show's summer return.

[This story contains spoilers to the midseason finale of Yellowstone season five, “A Knife and No Coin.”]

Jamie Dutton has been simmering on Yellowstone.

The adopted son has always had a complicated relationship with his father, Yellowstone patriarch John Dutton (Kevin Costner). But after the explosive Jan. 1 midseason finale of the hit Paramount Network series, Wes Bentley’s Jamie nearly reached his boiling point, and he made a move that will ready him for a war.

“It feels like he’s found his spine,” Bentley tells The Hollywood Reporter of Jamie’s transformative moment. “We really are at a 50-50 clash right now, and it’s really hard to tell who comes out on top, if anyone, from this part of the story.”

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After opening the fifth season of the Taylor Sheridan neo-Western with Jamie under the thumb of his sister Beth (Kelly Reilly) and father amid John’s swearing-in as Montana governor, the shunned Dutton son attempted to get back in his family’s good graces. To do so, he uses his Attorney General status to benefit his father and the Yellowstone family ranch that the Duttons have desperately sought to protect for generations (see: Sheridan’s Yellowstone prequel series 1923 and 1883).

But his relationship with the enemy, played by Dawn Olivieri, has made the forlorn Dutton son feel loved and important, giving him the courage he needed to finally stand up against his father. After calling for John’s impeachment, a violent yet revealing confrontation with Beth prompts Jamie to ask Sarah (Olivieri) for her help to hire an outside party to have his sister killed. Little does Jamie know that miles away in the Governor’s mansion, Beth and John are plotting the same act of vengeance against him.

In the chat below, Bentley speaks to THR about the personal toll of playing the hated son and the “adrenaline power rush” he felt from the midseason finale. He also explores what Jamie is willing to risk by going up against his family in a bid to fight for his inheritance, and why he doesn’t have high hopes about emerging from the battle unscathed when the show returns in the summer: “Messing with John Dutton only comes to one end.”

When we spoke at the beginning of the season, you warned that Jamie shouldn’t be underestimated: “Inside, he’s boiling. And it will explode.” Would you call this his boiling point?

I’d say we’re almost to a boil. I think the boil is a controlled boil, not popping the lid off yet. Sarah Atwood (Dawn Olivieri) is that control. He’s boiling, and she’s helping to control and focus that anger in the direction where everybody wants it to be: aimed at the Duttons. Next, we’re going to see, what does that lead to? Does it pop off? What does that mean for everybody and for Jamie himself? Dangerous.

After Jamie called for an impeachment trial to remove John (Kevin Costner) as governor, Beth (Kelly Reilly) assaulted Jamie and reminded him she has footage of Jamie dumping the dead body of his biological father. But Jamie shocked her when he revealed that location to be known as the “train station,” a place where generations of Dutton men — including her father and husband Rip (Cole Hauser), unbeknownst to her — have been dumping their enemies to evade the law. How do you and Kelly Reilly get through a scene like that, and how would you compare it to your many Jamie and Beth confrontations?

This one’s very different from Jamie’s perspective. And probably, from Beth’s. I don’t want to speak for her, but I would think it would have to be, also from the viewer’s perspective. Because this is the first time Jamie has really got an upper hand. He, at first, thought, “Maybe she didn’t think/know about the train station.” And he doesn’t even realize it to its fullest until he realizes, “She really doesn’t know about this train station.” So it was a moment of release for Jamie. Between everything that’s been going on — the power he’s been given by Sarah and then by making a stand to John, and now against Beth — it feels like he’s found his spine. He’s got some muscle. He’s got some stance now, in the face of her. Before, he was always, for the most part, taking it. Except for a few moments in season one, she comes out on top. And it’s been rough.

But for us shooting it, it’s powerful. We care about each other so much, and we’ve worked through this so much since season one. I couldn’t be with anyone that I feel safer with. And she feels safe with me. We’re able to go so far because we feel safe. Now, we’re able to not even talk about it. It’s just little taps on the back or glances to say, “Are you OK?” And, “Go, go, go, you can give it. Let’s go there.” Encouraging each other, things like that. And this one was no different, except for me giving some power back that changed that dynamic. But, it still had that safety.

I imagine that Kelly Reilly gave you an extra tap after this one.

We both do to each other, especially on takes where we feel particularly tapped in, and where we’re locked into each other. Because that’s really the key: not individually but locking into each other on each other’s cameras. She’s very giving off-camera; I hope I am the same for her because the lock is so important. That’s what everybody loves, and we really give everything to that.

And yeah, it’s rough going home. You need a couple of days, sometimes. But this last time, it felt a little different. I felt more like an adrenaline rush I hadn’t felt, because of the power Jamie was feeling. And I wasn’t used to that.

Wes Bentley and Kelly Reilly in Yellowstone
Jamie Dutton (Wes Bentley) and Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly) in the midseason finale “A Knife and No Coin.” Paramount+

I read your recent profile in The New York Times, about overcoming addiction and landing Yellowstone. I was struck by how you spoke about Jamie’s sadness, and how it can stick with you. Is there anything staying with you from the first half of this season?

It took a good month and a half, I guess, for me to feel like I really shook him this time. And lately, I have not felt that way [his sadness] — I had a nice vacation! But because we still talk about it, it hasn’t dragged me back in there. It may be different because of where Jamie is at. It doesn’t feel like he is ever that far away, because we are gearing up again [for filming the second half of season five] now. So it may be just that Jamie is feeling a bit differently, that this time feels a bit different. The shaking off, like I said, was more of an adrenaline power rush this time than it was the season before, where it was just this sadness. That was really difficult and more difficult for me to get through than probably this was.

What are you privy to from creator/writer Taylor Sheridan about what’s to come in the second half of the season?

Absolutely nothing! But I take pleasure in that, and I hope the audience does, too. I know it’s a bit frustrating, but that’s why we love it. I feel the same way waiting to see where this is all going and where everyone is ending up. I’m a fan. I get it in scripts, everyone else gets it on the screen. So I’m pins and needles, too.

In the conversation that you mentioned between Jamie and Beth, I was surprised to see how shocked Beth was about the train station reveal. What does she think the Dutton men, and Rip, have been doing with their enemies all of these years? Do you think that’s denial on her part, and do you think her anger is more motivated by being left out of the secret?

Gosh, I don’t know. That would be really interesting to ask Kelly. It appears to me that she felt both. Both horrified — I don’t know how horrified — but also intrigued and disappointed that Jamie knew something and that he was closer to this knowledge than Beth was in something so important. It must have been devastating to her to realize Jamie was entrusted with that. You could see that all over her face and her body. That was more devastating than anything else Jamie could ever say to her, because it had to do with John, and I guess Rip now. But I do think this is also something she wants to take advantage of herself and is going to focus her anger by using it to her advantage over Jamie, maybe.

We also discussed at the beginning of the season if he really has the guts to stand up to his family. So, in this ending conversation with Sarah, where Jamie asks for her help to take out Beth, how committed is he to this? How were you playing it?

I had to believe it as Jamie. I think Jamie was already onto that early on, when he was making decisions about impeachment. Messing with John Dutton only comes to one end, when you’re messing with his land and power — probably more his power. And that’s what Jamie sees the problem being right now: John has locked into the power aspect and is forgetting about the land that he’s promised to hold onto. That’s the argument Jamie is making to Beth at the end: “This is what’s happening, and you’re not even seeing it.” Jamie is a chess player. I think he knows that by doing this, he’s going to have to ask for a hit on the Duttons. [Earlier in the season, Kelly Reilly also answered the question to THR.]

In the beginning of this season, he was unpredictable because it felt like he was put in a corner and had nothing to lose. But in his speech with Beth, you hear him say he wants to ensure the ranch is left to his son. Where is his son, by the way?

(Laughs.) He’s mostly with the mother. But I think this is what he cares about. I think he sees his life is over, basically. And that’s where the sadness partly comes from at the beginning of this season. That darkness he is feeling is realizing that everything he wanted is not going to happen. So, “What else is left? Well, I can leave it to someone else at least, because this doesn’t end well for me.” That’s what he’s thinking. So I think he really is trying to make a move to do something for his son, to give his son power.

I thought the Sarah relationship also gave him more motivation to fight and to live?

Yeah, he would love to live! (Laughs.) He knows what’s coming, because he’s in the family. And you can’t get out of the family, right? You don’t leave. So this is a move to leave, and that’s the only one end. So, Jamie must have something [up his sleeve], right? He must have some play. You would think Jamie knows what this means, and so we’re going to maybe find out [what that plan is].

Wes Bentley and Dawn Olivieri in Yellowstone
Jamie (Bentley) with Sarah (Dawn Olivieri) after his fight with Beth. Paramount+

There’s a conversation between Beth and John after she suggests having Jamie killed, but viewers can’t hear what they discuss. What do you think they are saying?

I’m as lost as everyone else, I have no idea! They are pretty imaginative in the way they’ve gotten rid of other people, so I imagine it’s going to be something like that. I’m intrigued to find out, as well, but it’s not going to be pretty.

If the back half of the season does come down to this war of Jamie against Beth and John — what do you imagine the chances are that Jamie emerges from this?

It doesn’t look good. Rip is gone, and so that is something there. But that doesn’t mean Jamie is safe, and he knows that. But I think it’s dangerous for [Beth and John] as well. Jamie has opened the door for the Market Equities group and for the dark side of this kind of stuff [of land politics]. And that’s as dangerous for John and Beth as it is back at Jamie. So we really are at a 50-50 clash right now, and it’s really hard to tell who comes out on top, if anyone, from this part of the story.

Do you believe what Jamie said, that John is the biggest threat to the livelihood of the Yellowstone ranch?

As Wes reading it, it’s a good argument. It makes sense. Because John seems to care about the power that comes from that ranch and has no idea what to do next with that power, just how you would say some despots are. They have the power, and they don’t know what to do with it, so everything under them languishes. And that’s what Jamie is saying, “You’re ruining the land, King. You’ve ruined the land. We need a new King.” That’s the argument he’s making, and it’s a smart argument. But it’s coming from a guy like Jamie, so it’s tough to take.

Are you watching Yellowstone prequel 1923, and did you watch 1883?

I’m almost done with 1883. I’ve been behind everyone on Yellowstone, because I don’t like it to influence my work and also, it’s tough to come out from Jamie. I’m behind on the visuals of that. But 1883, I’m loving and watching. I can’t wait to watch 1923 because I think the lineage is something Jamie would know well, so it’s nice to get this information in this way. It’s even better than hearing it — seeing it is something really special.

Does watching it make you want to bring anything different to Jamie?

I think Jamie always had an intellectual understanding of what this land meant to the Duttons, being of European descent and what that meant to the land before it. And I think that is an influence on Jamie that maybe others don’t have. But also, understanding what land rights mean, because that’s been the big battle in the West forever. What are the land rights and the water rights? That’s something Jamie has a real legal understanding with, also because of the historical understanding that he has.

Is there any other character in the Yellowstone universe or in the Sheridan-verse that you would want to play, or crossover and do?

(Laughs.) Gosh, I don’t even know. I feel really lucky to play Jamie, so that’s hard to pick. Sly Stallone, that looks like a fun character [in Tulsa King]. But no one can do it like him, so that would be a dumb thing to say!

Are you enjoying watching your scene partner as a member of the Dutton family in 1883? [Editor’s note: Olivieri plays Claire Dutton, sister to Tim McGraw’s James Dutton].

When I’m about to work with someone that I don’t know, I don’t often go look at their work because I want to work with them on the day and experience what that’s like without any prior understanding. And then people were telling me about that scene, saying, “You have to go back and watch that scene.” She was so great on set. It was just an instant hit and connection that was so powerful, and it made me excited to do the storyline. So I went back and watched that scene and, it is weird to watch it that way, but she was so great in that as well and so different. Taylor keeps picking great actors, and she’s a great actor. I’m really happy to be working with her. She’s brought something to the table that was unexpected.

Do you have a thought about who Jamie’s grandfather is in 1923, and if we’ve met him yet?

I don’t. I don’t. That’s why I’m really enjoying waiting to find out and why I’m catching up. I’ve seen the [Dutton family tree] flow charts online. But I’m waiting for Taylor to really reveal things. I know how he writes. So I’m going to wipe those away for now. Good first draft, but let’s see what’s coming down the line.

If this back half of the season is as deadly as it sounds like it could be, are you ready to say goodbye to Jamie? Do you think about getting written off the series?

Oh, yeah. Just as an actor, I’m always expecting for everything to end in a moment. Every day I shoot could be the last I could be working. That’s how acting goes — and as Jamie, especially! Since season two, I’ve been waiting for that surprise moment. Like everyone else, I have no idea. I’m always excited to find out. Of course, I’m nervous about it because I love doing this for as long as it’s going. But I also know good TV and how you write it, and sometimes you have to kill certain characters for that to be the case. And I would never guess, because I’m not a writer and nowhere near Taylor Sheridan. So, we’ll see what he comes up with.

Interview edited for clarity.

The fifth season of Yellowstone returns summer of 2023. Paramount Network has yet to set a release a date.