A Conversation with Kelly Reilly

Conflict and contrast are everything when it comes to acting, and sure enough there exists a notable shift to the way the strong-willed, sturdy corporates raider Beth Dutton goes about her business in the neo-Western TV drama series Yellowstone, compared to actress Kelly Reilly’s natural persona.

Photo: Paramount Pictures:

The British performer can count Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes and True Detective amongst her standout credits, along with a stunning performance as the wife of Vince Vaughn in season two of True Detective. However, in real life she’s a hard-working character actress and the epitome of measured calm.

“At the heart of everything I want to achieve is steely focus,” begins Reilly. “What motivates me is working hard, enjoying what I am doing and getting the next job. I’d like to think I am unassuming and committed to my profession… these are the standards that have got me to where I am.

“The celebrity side of things doesn’t bother me,” she sidetracks. “Obviously I know it’s something I have to live with, but it’s certainly never been my aim to be famous. It’s a side-effect of progressing from stage to screen, I guess, which is something I’m very proud of, but the more exposed you are to audiences, the more exposed you are to the press, and that’s just the way it goes.”

The gusto with which Reilly plays the role of Kevin Costner’s only daughter in Yellowstone – the story of a ranching family who live near to the famous National Park in Montana and find themselves battling against threats from factions bordering their land – would make you believe the actress was as hardline when face to face.

“She is a tough character, but I absolutely love the role of Beth,” Reilly enthuses. “It gives me the opportunity to immerse myself in her world, to act out a person who commands so much attention and wields a lot of power, but also – not unlike everyone else – has a few faults.”

Beth is very loyal to her father and the family ranch. Many people believe that fierce is due to the guilt she feels from her mother dying. Not only does she feel she contributed to taking away his wife in a freak horse-riding accident, but also his happiness. She is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her family.

However how much of Kelly Reilly is in the character of Beth Dutton?

Reilly says: “I wouldn’t say there is that much of Beth in me, to be honest with you. She is a character so deep, so complex, so emotionally involved that I could speak for a long while and not even scrape the surface.

“She’s undoubtedly the most captivating of all the roles I’ve played so far in my career, that’s for sure. The amount of space in my brain that Beth occupies is unreal – she makes me think a lot more than other characters I’ve played.”

The actress is also savoring movie success this year with A Haunting in Venice, the elegant Kenneth Branagh-directed project based on the Agatha Christie screenplay.

“Working with someone like Kenneth is a tonic for the imagination,” she says. “There are many directors out there who have a vision for how something should be, but with Kenneth that vision is matched by outrageous optimism.

“When you venture into his mind there is almost endless potential, and when you have that from the top, that infiltrates down into how you portray the role as an actress. It is totally inspiring.”

The movie is further evidence of the actress’s prolific elevation from British TV drama staples Wonderful You and Above Suspicion to the top table of Hollywood drama. While the trappings of success are nice to have, at the heart of the 46-year-old’s motivation is one thing and one thing only: satisfaction. “I don’t think there’s been any part of my career that I haven’t enjoyed and taken satisfaction out of, to be honest – perhaps because I’m quite cautious in selecting roles.

“From a foundation in theatre, there is always a risk when you being to step up and climb into new projects, and if TV or film wasn’t for me I would happily go back to the stage,” says Reilly, who passed up the opportunity to attend drama school in preference for getting a “normal job”.

Yet despite considerable terrestrial success in the UK, a few years ago the actress found herself becoming ever more eager to prove her worth on the other side of the Atlantic. “I think it’s sensible to be grateful for what you’ve got, but at the same time you must remain ambitious.

“I was determined to emulate the heroes of acting who I admired as a young woman growing up, but I never tried to kid myself that I deserved to be on screen, or that it was my life’s calling.”

Regardless, around a decade ago Reilly upped sticks to the United States and within 12 months was cast in Flight alongside a prime Denzel Washington; then soon after landed the role of Dr. Catherine Black in Black Box.

Yellowstone, which is now in season five, having debuted in 2018, represents the upper peak of her success, yet the actress continues to strive to move forward, and will need to, given that the Taylor Sheridan drama series is coming to an end after the next installment. “Letting go is a difficult thing for an actor after you play someone on film, so to do that after five years of embodying a character – well, let’s just say it’s not a challenge I’ve had to face before, and I don’t know how that will feel.

“Certainly, my relationship with Taylor has been fascinating and that is something I would like to rekindle at some point in the future. We invested so much in the early days into Beth’s character, chatting for hours about every aspect of who she should be; and I will miss not only the process of investing so much time and scrutiny into a character, but also seeing that person evolve over such an extended period.”

Reilly has silenced rumors of a spin-off, stating that when she leaves a role, she leaves it in its entirely. Besides which, the groundwork is now laid down for a career that can embrace all manner of new roles and genres.

“My instant reaction to a role is very rebound-like, like back in those teenage days of dating boys,” she laughs. “When you go from one partner to another, you often look for total opposites, and I think that’s the same for me in the way I gauge the roles I take. And besides which, variety is good for the soul!”

The New York-based actress last year celebrated a decade of marriage with Kyle Baugher, and admits both personally and professionally she has never been in a better place. “As an actor you tend to view things in the short-term, because there is no long guarantee of work, so your whole life becomes about little stages and little steps forward.

“I think for the first time in my life I have the confidence and courage to trust the process, and see that the future is more stable for me, and I hope, in turn, that will give me the belief to pursue even braver roles.”

A loyal, devoted and admiring fanbase share those hopes…

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