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1883's Eric Nelson Breaks Down How the Western's Latest Tragedy Will Change Elsa Forever

Episode 5 is a real turning point in the series

Lauren Piester

[Warning: The following contains spoilers from 1883 Episode 5. Read at your own risk!]

Welp, so much for that wild, wild west romance. 

While Elsa's (Isabel May) blossoming love story has been cut devastatingly short, Episode five of 1883 delivered exactly the kind of action the show has been missing. Sam Elliott punished yet another thief. Margaret (Faith Hill) tried to give Elsa advice on sex. Elsa then went and had sex with Ennis (Eric Nelson), then basically informed him they were getting married. Ennis then got punched by James (Tim McGraw). Bandits arrived, a shoot-out commenced, and poor newly engaged Ennis was shot down. 

I feel like I've been waiting this whole season so far for Elsa to lose some of her naivete, given that flashforward at the beginning of the series and how much we know about the Duttons from Yellowstone. I kept worrying that development would come through sexual assault, as it so often does on shows like this. But instead, Elsa got the kind of story that men usually get when they're motivated by the tragic death of a beautiful woman. It was clear by the look in her eyes and the way, without a second thought, she straight-up shot the man who killed Ennis that Elsa is a changed woman, and there is no going back. It's a fascinating trajectory for Elsa, but a sad one for those of us who were excited about seeing where things would go with her sweet cowboy boyfriend. 

In a chat with TV Guide, Nelson echoed those feelings, offered a tease for where things go from here, and revealed the surprising scene partner he's been missing the most. 

I feel like I've been waiting all season to find out what was going to break Elsa, so what was it like to be that thing? 
Eric Nelson: Oh, man, there were so many emotions about it. I'm still sad thinking about it. And of course, the love was so real between these two, and it really developed and then it finally bloomed and blossomed in [Episode five]. Then we see what happens, happen. So it was hard, but at the end of the day, I think Ennis does what he feels he needs to do to save the love of his life, and sacrificing himself, in a way, was that.  So, you know, he went out a hero and he'd do the same thing all over again, if he had to. He knew what was going to happen over that hill, and it wasn't going to end well. And the fact that she's okay is a testament to his real love that he felt for her. So it's hard. But you know, it's crucial for Elsa's storyline. we see kind of where things head from here, and it changes things completely. And as much as I hated to see it go the way it did, it really lends itself to a shift in this entire series. So some big, big emotions for the fans to look forward to.

Isabel May and Eric Nelson, 1883

Isabel May and Eric Nelson, 1883


How much do you know about what comes next and how the death affects Elsa? Could we see you pop up in flashbacks or something? 
Nelson: Yeah, I think it'll be pretty apparent right away in future episodes. The audience will see, so I don't want to give anything away on that, but as you can imagine, the emotions and struggle that she went through was real for her. And so I don't know if anyone in the world can just get over something like that quickly. 

These two fell in love so quickly. What was it like to build that relationship so fast? 
  You know, [Taylor Sheridan] made sure he immersed us in this world very early on, even before the filming process began with things like cowboy camp, and he hosted events and dinners at his house. Before I ever stepped foot anywhere on set, or in cowboy camp, he hosted a huge dinner at his house for her and it to get to know each other and start developing our friendship and relationship. So the chemistry and relationship that we were able to kind of explore before filming started helped us immensely bring these characters to life. And, you know, she's such a sweet, incredible human being as in real life, and just as smart and as strong as she is on the show. So she's easy to get along with, easy to fall in love with on the show. We had a lot of fun doing it together.

What was it like to have Tim McGraw punch you in the face?
It was intense, but at the same time, it's a great turning point for Ennis' arc on the show. Up until then, we see him submissive and wanting his approval and wanting to make sure I say the right thing, do the right thing, I don't want to ruin my chances with this girl, to shifting emotionally and all of a sudden I have this power and strength and I stand up to him. And, you know, it's such a pivotal moment for Ennis' storyline. And we finally see that, you know, he doesn't care what James thinks because he found the love of his life and will do whatever it takes to keep it and to harvest it and explore it. So, though, you know, not the easiest thing to stand up to James Dutton it was imperative for us to do so. And I think it also changed James's perspective on Ennis.

What to Watch While You Wait for Yellowstone Season 5

What do you hope to see for Elsa after losing Ennis? 
You know, I hope the best for her. I know it's going to be hard, and it's going to be a struggle, but I also think it's what shapes her and gives her the shell and strength that she needs to get through the rest of this journey. And so I want to see her thrive, I want to see her healthy and happy. Ultimately, I want to see her out there kicking ass, and just being herself, her lovable, sweet, strong, sturdy, self. That'll make me happy.

Tell me about cowboy camp, because it sounds like a lot of fun. 
Nelson: You know, cowboy camp was the greatest gift Taylor ever could have given us actors, other than the job itself. You see the show. I spend probably 95 percent of it on horseback. And so what we did in cowboy camp all day, every day for weeks, was ride horses, rope cattle, cut cattle, learn how to maneuver these animals up and down mountains and hills and through streams and ponds, learn how to shoot guns of the time period, the whole thing. So by the time we got to set, the last thing we were thinking about was, am I gonna look right? And is this animal going to do what I wanted to do? You know, we weren't thinking about all that. We got to really be in the moment and engage with our scene partners and fully immerse ourselves in the world. Where otherwise if had you not had that training? Trust me, every single actor on this show would be stressing out. And you know, am I pulling it off? Is everyone who's ever ridden a horse going to call me out that I don't look like I know what I'm doing? So all these thoughts were out of our heads by the time the cameras were rolling, and it truly is the greatest gift we could have been given. 

Eric Nelson, 1883

Eric Nelson, 1883


Did you get real close to your horse? 
I did. His name was Jake. And he's like family, and I miss him and I cried leaving him. I cried leaving everybody, but I had a moment with Jake. And he was so wonderful to me. And you know, the bond is so rare. The love is real. And you're putting all of your emotion, trust and heart into an animal as well, because he's my scene partner more than anybody else. Yeah, if he doesn't do good, I don't do good. And if I don't do good, he's not going to be well. So you know, it was just a connection I never had with an animal before. So it was special. And I joked about wanting to buy him from Taylor and buy him from the show. But, you know, I think Jake's way out of my price range. He's a great, great expensive horse.

Was there also a little bit of a relief that you didn't have to spend all day on a horse anymore? 
Yes, and no. Because I truly fell in love with it. I honestly loved it. If I could ride an hour a day, every single day I would. People get off on running or lifting weights, like riding horses, to me was the most freeing, special feeling so no, I already miss it. And I'm going to pursue it outside of the show strongly. And I can't wait to continue to do so.

New episodes of 1883 debut Sundays on Paramount+.