Actor John Emmet Tracy joins us on Close-Up Culture to talk about season 5 of Yellowstone, working on Assassin’s Creed, training in the UK, and much more.
Hi John, welcome to Close-Up Culture. You are returning to Yellowstone for the highly anticipated fifth season. How excited were you to work on this season?
Hi, and thanks for chatting with me. Yes, it’s exciting to be back, and in more ways than one. What sets this experience apart from many others, is that I’m actually a fan of the show, so I’m also really looking forward to watching the new season. The various production departments at Yellowstone and at Paramount Network are working at the top of their game, so it is always such a treat to see the work of, say, our cinematographers, the locations team, the vision of the directors, our wardrobe and hair department, etc.
And of course the amazing cast I get to work with. Taylor Sheridan’s scripts are already excellent, then all of these groups of people lift the story off the page and bring it to life. That level of talent makes for a rewarding experience both on set and when sitting down to watch the final episodes.
What does this season have in store for Ellis Steele?
As audiences will know from last season, Ellis, Caroline Warner, and Market Equities have had their hands full with the Dutton Family, the Confederated Tribes of Broken Rock, the state government, and with the Montana way of life in general. I believe it’s safe to say that they arrived on the scene having severely underestimated the complexities of realizing their proposed project. Stronger obstacles require stronger tactics, so season 5 will see our characters rising to this challenge and learning that traditional strategies aren’t going to be enough in this place and situation.
I hear Ellis will have some run-ins with Caroline Warner, played by the brilliant Jacki Weaver. How much did you enjoy filming those scenes?
SO much! She’s one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met, period. “Zest for life” is a clichéd expression, but nobody has it like Jacki. She notices everything and takes a genuine interest in it all. I think that is one of the qualities that makes her such a compelling and impactful actor. So to get to work opposite her is always a rich, satisfying, and honestly fun experience.
You worked on the video games Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed III: The Tyranny of King Washington, voicing Thomas Jefferson in both. How did you find the experience of working on such a high-profile game?
I loved every second of that. It was funny because I didn’t audition for it; my agent just got an email that I’d been cast as Thomas Jefferson. I assumed it was a mistake and that I’d be sent home with an explanation. When I arrived to record the voiceover for ACIII, I was told that the director had seen me in a movie and decided that mine was the right voice for Thomas Jefferson. I forgot to ask him which movie it had been, but we got straight to work recording Jefferson reciting the entire U.S. Declaration of Independence. We did it multiple times, with a variety of accents. It’s hard to know for sure what his accent might have sounded like, but he was from Virginia, and his mother was born near London, so we tried versions that blended English and American sounds as well as versions that included Southern American traits.
They ultimately chose a fairly standard American accent for the final recording, which is only heard briefly in the final game. For ACII: The Tyranny of King Washington, I flew to Montreal to do the full-performance motion capture, which included live body, voice, and facial expression capture. Working in a motion-capture studio, known as a “Volume”, was a new and fascinating experience for me, and I loved working with the creative team at Ubisoft.
I understand you received a lot of your training and education here in the UK. What memories do you have from your time over here?
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve traveled to, visited, worked in, studied in, and – for brief periods – even lived in the UK. I’ve done courses at RADA, and after beginning my university theatre studies in America, transferred my credits to Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, where I completed and graduated with a BA in Theatre. I’d also spent part of my final year of high school as an exchange student at Lilian Baylis School when it was in Lambeth, just behind Lambeth Walk.
Back then I spent as much time as possible in the theatres of the West End and taking Shakespeare workshops from local theatre companies. I remember convincing a teacher to drive me to Bankside in Southwark to see the site that had then recently been designated for the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It was a bit of a run-down area in the late 1980s, but even as the sun began to go down, I walked on the cleared ground, trying to imagine where the stage would be, and promised my ever-patient teacher – who by now was checking her watch and beginning to worry for our safety – that I would one day perform on the Globe stage. It took me many years to keep that promise, but I was fortunate enough to perform there as part of the Globe’s International Actors’ Fellowship in 2011.
You have such an incredible acting background and resume. Is there a type of role or project you are still yearning to take on?
Thank you for saying so. Well, I’m an enthusiastic collaborator and love nothing more than working on a team to help bring a story to life. So I guess I look forward to every role and project and to the specific opportunities and challenges they each present. This has been true throughout my life, whether the performance took place in a classroom, on a Hollywood backlot, at Pinewood Studios, in a motion capture volume, on the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe, or on a ranch in Montana.
What are your hopes and ambitions for the future?
I never take for granted how fortunate I am to have been able to reach my dreams of having a loving family and building a life as an actor. I really just hope to continue to grow and thrive personally, creatively, and professionally. In my experience, the simple moment-to-moment pursuit of these goals is a great way to live.
Photo credit: Dan Jackson