July 2019

On Set with Denim Richards: C2 gets the inside scoop from one of Hollywood’s rising stars

Author: Iain Denholm | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai

“I’m a competitive animal,” said Denim Richards, who returned alongside Kevin Costner in Paramount’s award-winning drama Yellowstone last June. His name may be unfamiliar to some right now, but, with one movie set for release and another, which he wrote himself, about to begin production, the driven young actor is embarking on the most challenging stage of his career so far. Here, he shares why he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Iain Denholm: Yellowstone was really well received and returned for a second season on Paramount last June. Was this your first major TV role?
Denim Richards: Yeah, I’ve had lots of guest star roles where I would be on set for one or two days and be in one episode, but Yellowstone is the first big show that I am consistently on in every episode. The audience responded amazingly to Season 1, so going back to film Season 2, we all knew that we had something really special.

lD: People may be seeing you now for the first time, but you have actually been working towards this for over two decades, haven’t you?
DR: Yeah. I’ve known a lot of ups and downs in my career and a lot of poor times (laughs), but that’s the part of the journey that I appreciate the most, because you learn so much about yourself. I really believe that if you keep putting it out there that you wanna do something, eventually the universe will test you. If you can push through that, it proves to yourself and everyone else that you really did want it (laughs). In my early 20s, it was really difficult; I went through a long period of time where I was a waiter, but in my head, I was an actor—I was an artist. I never allowed my circumstance to define me, and God blessed me with the opportunity to stay at it and keep going.

lD: Tell me about your character in the show.
DR: My character Colby is a ranch hand at Yellowstone, so he is your pro-typical cowboy if you will, you know, riding horses and cutting calves, and doing the gritty work. The show is quite wild, but he is probably one of the more wholesome characters. So, when we see him on camera, it’s always in a lighthearted type of a situation. He is very rarely in any real danger, and he doesn’t take anything too seriously, although that will start to change as the seasons go on, but for right now, that’s where he is.

lD: Yellowstone showcases some brilliant acting talent, both new faces and also some very familiar faces, doesn’t it?
DR: Yeah, there are a lot, and I feel like I’ve learned so much from them all. Firstly, having Kevin Costner as the number one on the show is just so amazing. He has had decades of working this entertainment industry through film, so being able to work with him and just be in his presence and learn so much has been incredible. We also have Gil Birmingham, who’s another all-star talent, Luke Grimes, Cole Hauser, Kelly Reilly and Wes Bentley; the list just goes on and on. They are all so masterful and unique in their artistry and couldn’t be more different from all their characters. Now, as I’ve gone on to do other projects, I feel I’ve learned so much and, although I am young, I’ve gained this wealth of knowledge that puts me 20 years past my age.

lD: The show is very much an ensemble piece. Did that create a sense of camaraderie on set?
DR: Oh my gosh, yes. Taylor Sheridan, who is the writer, producer and director of the show, put this whole group together, and he really knew what he was doing. It’s interesting because with a show like this that is so immersive, where you’re doing the physical work in the elements instead of on a soundstage, it’s nice to have this ensemble cast of characters where we’re all in it together. When we come together in Montana, it feels like we are hunkering down—like we’re all in this fox hole together, and it’s kinda nice. It really brings the brother and sisterhood on, and we’ve been able to bond so much.

lD: You had your first taste of performing very young, didn’t you?
DR: Yes, when I was five years old, I was asked if I would sing for a Christmas special at my school, which was one of the biggest churches in Orange County and one of the top churches in the world at the time. It had these big national televised Sunday services and a musical theatre show called The Glory of Christmas. People from all over the world would come out to see it. It was a spectacle.

lD: Wow! What do you remember from that day?
DR: Everything! (laughs). I was so small, but I remember walking down the aisle and seeing all these people, then being popped onto the stage to sing “Away in a Manger.” We had only rehearsed one verse, and I couldn’t really see the people as the lights were in my face, but I could hear all the oohs and the aahs. I got so wrapped up in that, I ended up going onto the second verse (laughs). The teacher cut it off, and everyone clapped and cheered; I just loved that attention and felt so comfortable. I hadn’t grown up in an entertainment family, but even at that age, performing felt natural. When I stood on that stage and felt all those eyes on me, I loved it so much, and I never wanted to lose that feeling.

lD: How did your parents feel about you going into the entertainment industry?
DR: I don’t know if I really gave them an opportunity to react. Anyone who knows me knows that I refuse to lose. You could put something in front of me, and I have no idea how to do it. But tell me I can’t do it and I will stop my entire life just to prove you wrong (laughs).

ID: The entertainment world is filled with judgment and rejection. How do you deal with that?
DR: To me, getting rejected and learning from that is part of this course, and I think that eventually you learn to redefine your wins and losses. You cannot define your win as booking a job. You have to look at it and go, okay, well, did I feel prepared for my audition? Did I feel I was honest with myself? Did I feel comfortable? You have to start creating all these mini-milestones within the challenge, otherwise you’ll go crazy because you can’t book everything that you audition for. That’s the goal, but it’s not the reality.

lD: Have you always had such a mature outlook?
DR: Oh, it took me several years (laughs). In my early 20s, it was really difficult, but I’ve learned to be more of a tactician with my mental state and in grounding myself and not allowing my failures or whatever in not booking anything to define me. Trust me, still to this day, it’s a daily battle. But once you get that under control, I think it allows you much more freedom in your art, because now you are not walking into an audition saying to yourself, I need to get this audition, otherwise I’m not worthy. Once you get past that, the sky’s the limit.

lD: Tell me about your new movie The Chickasaw Rancher.
DR: This is a story that desperately needs to be told. It is absolutely amazing. The movie is set in 1860s Oklahoma, and it’s the story of two real-life sharecroppers, Montford T. Johnson and my character, Jack Brown, and how they had to fight the United States government for the right to own land and to survive. It was a time of great turmoil for both Native and African Americans, and I am so excited to be a part of this story and to honor those people.

lD: Was it a different challenge to play someone who actually existed?
DR: Man, what an amazing opportunity. One of my career goals was always to play a real-life person. That said, when you pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud too (laughs). I started researching and trying to prepare, but I couldn’t find a lot of recorded history on this guy at all. So, I had to go back and try to immerse myself in those times instead. I had never really known much about what life was like for African Americans and Native Americans in that time period and how they were all going through this same struggle, and how those relationships worked. I felt like just that alone was gonna take me forever to figure out. I focused on the human experience of what life would have been like and played with those elements.

lD: Have you seen the final edit of the movie?
DR: No, but I have seen a lot of the scenes, and it’s funny ’cause it takes me back down memory lane. The hard thing about film is you shoot something, and it can be years before it comes out. So, when you look at it now, you feel like you are such a different artist and a different person, and you might have played it differently. But in my opinion, it looks great. The film has been testing well, and I’m so excited for when it gets released. We’re hoping November.

lD: What else is happening for you in the next year?
DR: You’re the first publication that I’m saying this to, but I have a film that I wrote called The Forgotten Ones that just got finished, and there is a character in there that is very dear to my heart. It’s taken me since 2012 to complete, but that is the next thing that I am trying to take on. Whether or not it happens within the year, I don’t know, but it is definitely the power piece that I am looking to do.

lD: That sounds amazing. What is the film about?
DR: It’s set in the World War II era, not in the actual war but what was going on in Europe during that time with Hitler and with the rise of the Third Reich and how Jews were being treated. My character is an African American man, and the story is told from his perspective. It’s both the character and the piece that I am really looking forward to creating, and I’m so passionate about it. I think a lot of people will connect with the story on a human level.

lD: Film is a great way to do that, don’t you think?
DR: Oh, absolutely. It has always been my goal to do meaningful work that encourages you to emotionally question yourself and what you thought about history. Film is such a tremendous medium, because it can break religious and political barriers and really connect emotionally with people. I think that, for me as an artist, that is one of the biggest reasons why I am so passionate about acting. We artists get this amazing opportunity to go back and shine a light on history and offer a different perspective and to share ideas through film in a way that is equally as effective as writing a bill of legislation.

lD: You certainly have a lot to look forward to creatively.
DR: Definitely! It has been a grind and a process, but, in my head, I’ve always seen myself getting to this point, and I’m really excited with the way things are going with Yellowstone and with my movies. It’s all been such a tremendous blessing. With everything else, I just wanna produce work that challenges me to do things that make me uncomfortable and takes me out of my comfort zone. I’m a competitive animal, so anything that forces me to compete, I’m there for it!

At press time, Denim booked a recurring role on Freeform’s new breakout show Good Trouble. The show’s second season premiered on June 18.

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