‘Outer Range’: Josh Brolin talks strange and intoxicating sci-fi Western

Outer Range
Pictured are (from right) Josh Brolin, Lewis Pullman and Tom Pelphrey in ‘Outer Range.’
Amazon Prime

In the Wild, Wild West gun-toting cowboys, intense shoot-outs, and a dose of masculinity a la John Wayne is typically on the menu—or at least, on screen that’s how these types of stories unfold. However, for Josh Brolin, growing up on a ranch wasn’t exactly the normal Tinsel Town stereotype, and neither is his latest show, ‘Outer Range.’ And that’s what makes it more intoxicating than ever. 

“There’s a strange kind of hybrid—a contrast to how Westerns are perceived and this superman and super masculine [idea] and all that kind of stuff…That’s not my experience,” Brolin explains. “My experience is that there is very little difference to me between Ethan Cohen and a great cowboy that I know from the Central coast of California, because they are both iconoclastic in a way that they can’t help but beat to their own drum. They don’t know how to not do what they want to do. And they’re not really concerned with success per se, but really just following whatever desire, drive and interest personally they have.”

Outer Range
Josh BrolinAmazon Prime

‘Outer Range’ doesn’t use its setting—a family-owned ranch in Wyoming with thousands of sprawling and gorgeous acres— or its characters as an overt shift from the genre. From the beginning of episode one, we are introduced to the Abbott family, with Brolin (Royal Abbott) as the head, his wife Cecilia (Lili Taylor), two sons Perry (Tom Pelphrey) and Rhett (Lewis Pullman), and granddaughter, Amy (Olive Abercrombie) all living under the same roof. Noticeably missing is Perry’s wife and Amy’s mom, who we find out early on went missing just months before. 

Throughout the first half of the premiere, the Abbott family seems like a blue-collar bunch focused on herding cattle, riding bulls and throwing down beers at the local watering hole, all while dealing with the flashy neighboring ranch family, The Tillermans. The juxtaposition of the two somewhat dueling clans is highlighted even more when the Abbotts ride in on horses for a meeting with The Tillmans over property, and the latter come speeding in on ATVs, and cocky attitudes. 

However, early on, the sci-fi element comes into play when Royal discovers a mysterious hole that seems to lead to nowhere on his property. With no inkling of what it could be, he keeps it to himself. 

“The Western genre conjures this simple time, you know? You do something, the integrity behind it at least cosmetically… Behind doing something that is wrong or you get wronged, you have immediate consequences—and the consequence is a pretty extreme,” Brolin continues. “If you read early Sam Shepard plays—which I always loved and Sam was a friend—I always harken back to that just to be re-inspired. I love the contrasting elements of creating something off-camber or absurdist and then marrying it to a stereotype of a genre. What you get out of that is crazy behavior, and what you get out of that is humanity being confronted with their weakest self and you get to see foundations crumble like this guy and his family.”

The hole is just the beginning of a string of events that unfold for the Abbott family in just the first episode alone. And it only deepens as time goes on.

Outer Range
Amazon Prime

“[Royal] comes across as the manly man and last cowboy and all that sh*t. Then everything starts to crumble because he says my family means everything to me, and yet, he’s withholding a secret because he thinks that’s the right thing to do—but it’s the very thing that crumbles the foundation and the core of his family. So, it has the opposite effect. We’re fallible and to watch that unfold on screen I think is dynamic, that’s interesting to me,” Brolin finishes. 

And it’s true. Once you get to the end of the series you get to see the breakdown of Royal. The things that have worked for him as a survival mechanism for so long are no longer working. 

What’s also dynamic about the series is what unfolded behind the screen. Playwright Brian Watkins was keen on making the show, and even more keen on recruiting Brolin to play the part. After writing a letter to the veteran actor, who for all intents and purposes has helped shaped much of what we think about the Western genre (ie ‘No Country For Old Men’), Watkins sealed the deal. Brolin was all in, in more ways than one. 

“Because of his interest and who he was influenced by and how some of his plays read,  he was given a chance that not a lot of people get, that I think was rare but really fun. I enjoyed working with him. Even though I come from a theater, he comes from a different echelon, and how he goes about these things was very theater oriented,” Brolin says. 

Brolin, who comes back to TV after two decades with ‘Outer Range’ also serves as E.P. on this series, which filmed for months in New Mexico. And being a fan of bringing together the real, with the surreal, also bringing together the theater and television seemed like a good deal—and also, putting a playwright on a film set. 

“To catapult somebody into that position is insane, but, I think that there is a naïveté with the experience that was good because it kept it grounded and it kept it real and it kept it visceral,” Brolin explains. The actor also went into the fact that another layer to the already interesting style of ‘Outer Range’ came from having Alonso Ruizpalacios as a director on the first two episodes. A student of RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) at one time from Mexico, he brought styles to the production that were interesting. 

Outer Range
Amazon Prime

“We were doing Peter Brooks exercises and all of these weird exercises long before we started. So, it had a very communal, theater vibe,” Brolin explains. 

‘Outer Range’ also has the talents of D.P. Adam Newport-Berra (Euphoria) behind the camera and onscreen chops from Noah Reid (Billy Tillerson,) Shaun Sipos (Luke Tillerson), Will Patton (Wayne Tillerson,) Tamara Podemski (Deputy Sheriff Joy,) and Imogene Poots (Autumn) among a stellar cast. So, it’s a tall order, one that means to be different in the world of Westerns where everything is typically simple. 

“Brian is a fascinating guy because he’s got an off-camber understanding of what we were going for, and what he was going for.I think together with he and I, we were able to see that through because we understand that vibe—which a lot of people don’t understand,” Brolin finishes. “They make a spectacle out of it, instead of humanizing it. That was our intention… To constantly remember to humanize.”

Outer Range‘ premiered with two episodes on Amazon Prime April 15.