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Spencer's heading back to Montana, but the journey is not going to be easy
Spencer Dutton is coming home, and it's about time. 1923's mysterious wild animal hunter is about to make the long trip from Kenya to Montana, where the situation is dire. His brother is dead and his uncle is dying, and the ranch is being hit hard by drought. It's devastating, but star Brandon Sklenar says it's exactly what the traumatized WWI vet needs. "As tragic as it is, it's ultimately what he's been looking for for years, which is something to live for. A mission, other than the one he's been on, which hasn't been the healthiest," Sklenar tells TV Guide. "He has purpose finally, really divine purpose for the first time in years."
In Episode 4 of 1923, Spencer's new fiancee Alex (Julia Schlaepfer) encouraged him to read the pile of unopened letters he had been sent by his aunt Cara (Helen Mirren) but had been avoiding for years. The final letter, dated three months earlier, is the one that shared news of the attack on the family that killed John (James Badge Dale) and gravely wounded Jacob (Harrison Ford), and begged him to come home. Spencer cried as Alex read it to him, but it quickly became clear that he has a job to do and a family to take care of, meaning it's time to get out of Africa.
Sklenar says that they were able to film most of the show in order, so he started out in Kenya and felt like a "kid in a candy store." "I've never read anything like it," he says of the scripts. "It was amazing." So what will it be like when Spencer leaves his hideaway in Zanzibar to face reality in Montana? Well, it certainly won't be easy. Below, Sklenar previews what his homecoming will look like and weighs in on whether Spencer and Alex are meant to be.
What the 1923 Premiere Tells Us About the Dutton Family Tree and the Family's Future
We've seen Cara writing Spencer letters through the first four episodes, so it was heartbreaking to realize he hasn't read a single one. How did that feel for you to learn, and how do you explain him not reading them?
Brandon Sklenar: I think he has that bit in Episode 4 where he says that not reading those letters kept him alive during the war, because reading them would have made him weaker, and would have been his death. But then you go two or three years not reading letters like that, and then you've got all this guilt about having completely ignored your family for years just so you could survive. I think it's really just guilt and shame that compounds, and he can't face the fact that he never [read the letters]. Then as he gets further on his journey in Africa, he's pretty much drinking himself to death and pushing all that stuff down, and it's not until he meets Alex that he starts to open up and let it out. She really saves his life in that respect.
What do you think it is about Alex that attracts him? Their connection was so immediate.
Sklenar: On paper, it's this terrible idea. I think if either of them talked to their friends, they'd be like, "What are you doing? You should not be seeing this person, you're going to get them killed, or this guy's going to get you killed." But I think what makes it such a special thing and why it resonates the way that it does is because there is something about their connection on a soul level that neither of them can even explain, you know? They are so opposite in so many ways, and she annoys the hell out of him and he annoys the hell out of her a lot of the time, but there is a magnetism and there is a pull where they just feel a part of each other. They really complement each other on a soul level. And I think as it goes on, that's something they're trying to figure out as well. They're looking at each other going, "What is this? I can't make any of sense of this. I just know how I feel, but I don't know why they feel that way."
Do you think they're in it for the long haul, despite how fast things happened?
Sklenar: Oh yeah. I think Spencer, he's a committed man for sure. He's not a flighty guy. He's very decisive. When he decides this is what he's doing, that's what he's doing. So yeah, I think their love is that strong.
Can you say what it will be like when Spencer and Alex get to Montana? It seems like Cara, at least, will welcome them with open arms.
Sklenar: I think he's going back with a mission, to defend his family and his legacy and to protect them, and he's coming back with six years of riding his guilt and his shame, and it's just love. Ultimately, he loves his family so much, and it's the first time he's stepping into that love in that long, so he's coming back in a very fierce way for sure.
It sucks that we'll never get to see him with his brother. Did you get to know James?
Sklenar: Oh, Badge and I became close. We didn't get to film together, but we spent a lot of time together. I've admired that guy's work for years, just as an actor. I've been aware of him for years and admired him for years and looked up to him, and then he got cast as my brother, we ended up hitting it off, and it's just very cool for me. He's a great guy and a phenomenal actor. Maybe his ghost will come back and ride shotgun with me.
How do you think it will affect him, going back knowing that his brother has died? Doesn't that just add to the guilt that he's already feeling?
Sklenar: Yeah, I mean, it adds to the guilt. It adds to the rage. There's a lot of anger there too, a lot of anger. Anger is the first response to sadness. That's how most people deal with that level of pain and sadness, through anger. I think Spencer will go through a lot of that when he gets home. He's out for blood, for sure. He's not going there to talk to people. He's not trying to talk it out.
How does the job he's been doing in Africa affect how he goes about dealing with issues on the ranch?
Sklenar: Well, I think it's safe to assume how he would handle that situation based on his prior experience in the war, but we'll see. He's also not a stone cold killer, but I don't know how diplomatic he's going to be, that's for sure.
The Duttons have never been afraid of disposing of someone who is threatening their livelihood, but after Spencer's experience in the war, is he the same? Or does he approach things differently than the rest of the family?
Sklenar: I think we'll have to see how he comes at it. Let's wait and see, but like I said, he's coming in with a tremendous amount of purpose and soul behind what he's there to do. He's got to protect his land, he's got to save his family, he's got to avenge his brother and what he assumes to be his uncle, by the time he gets home. He doesn't know, but he knows what he has to do. It's definitely not going to be an easy fare, that's for sure.
What is it doing to Spencer that he essentially has no idea what he's going home to? Anything could have happened in three months since that letter was being sent.
Sklenar: It's gutwrenching. When that letter lands, and he says, "How long has it been?" and she says it's been three months, his first thought is, "Is everybody dead?" I just gotta get back as soon as I can because for all I know, I'm gonna get home and everything's going to be burned to the ground. So the stakes are so incredibly high for him to get home, and it's not an easy journey home. You couldn't just hop on a flight. Lotta boats.
Can you talk about working with Helen and Harrison?
Sklenar: They're legends for a reason. Not only are they incredibly talented and have given so much to this industry and to film over the years, but you don't make it that long with that many people loving what you do without being a great person, and they're both such lovely people. I think that was just very cool to see, as someone who grew up, like we all did, watching Harrison and Helen. They're just nice, sweet people. It's really comforting. Same insecurities, the same sort of process on set. Just so nice to be around, and so great to see that you can go this long in the industry at such a level and stay solid and just be a lovely person to be around and hang out with.
You have quite the family on this show, between your parents and your aunt and uncle.
Sklenar: Yeah, I mean, if they were all still alive, it would be a hell of a Christmas, that's for sure. A lot of drinking.
1923 airs Sundays on Paramount+.