One of the breakout stars of Taylor Sheridan’s Western expansion saga 1883 is LaMonica Garrett. Though familiar to audiences for his roles in Designated Survivor, Sons of Anarchy and the Arrowverse, Garrett truly comes into his own as Thomas, a buffalo soldier turned Pinkerton agent who uses his hard-earned skills to take pioneers along the arduous Oregon trail alongside his former Captain and friend, Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott). While protecting the settlers from the various dangers on the journey, Thomas finds love with Noemi (Gratiela Brancusi), a recently widowed Roma woman. Though his life has been full of hardship, Thomas remains a beacon of hope in treacherous terrain.
“Thomas is the humanity and the soul of the show,” said Garrett during our phone interview. “With everything that’s happened to him, he makes the choice to live life in the now. We all have choices. It’s a choice to be hopeful for tomorrow,” mused Garrett. As Shea’s partner, Thomas is often put in a position of stopping him from making a rash decision. Garrett explained: “Thomas is the cool and the more collected person. In those times, Thomas can’t really afford to be too hotheaded.” It is important to note that even though many years have passed since the Civil War, Thomas must still be wary of the prejudices in the West that surround him and the immigrants he’s determined to protect.
Over the course of our chat, Garrett gave us his take on past and modern-day Black cowboy culture, going to cowboy camp with the rest of the 1883 cast, Thomas and Noemi’s romance and why Taylor Sheridan is truly the best in the business.
DECIDER: You join a small but important legacy of black cowboys on screen. Given that you and the character of Thomas are being recognized by actor/cowboys Glynn Turman and Reginald T. Dorsey, what does it mean to you to join this remarkable community?
LAMONICA GARRETT: It’s incredible, and I didn’t really see this happening for me. It just wasn’t in my realm of a possibility. I was just trying to bring Thomas to life and do justice to Black cowboys of the past. There is a wonderful culture of contemporary Black cowboys and that shouldn’t go unnoticed either. People ask me where I get Thomas’ sound from, his speech and his dialect. I took inspiration from Floyd Frank who passed in 2020. He was from Southeast Texas, and he was a legend down there in the Beaumont area. I’m just so honored to be the same category as great actors like him who have played black cowboys, both past and present-day, on screen.
Taylor Sheridan is containing to explore the legacy of black cowboys on screen with his upcoming series about Bass Reeves, the Black US Marshall who was the true inspiration for the Lone Ranger. Why do you think black cowboys are coming to the forefront of Western storytelling?
People just want authenticity. We’ve been regurgitating the same things for so long, and the old stereotypes just don’t go across like they did before. Black cowboys aren’t portrayed now just for diversity; they are part of our history. I look through the comment sections of 1883 and pretty often I see people saying, “The show is great. The show is historically accurate. I’m just not sure if I’m buying the black cowboy being there with him.” I’m like, “What?”
For a long time, if black audiences wanted to see themselves on screen, the subject matter was either slavery or the civil rights movement from the 1850s to the 1960s. There’s a whole hundred-year gap in between! There were so many wonderful things in this country that black people were doing that just do not get talked about in history class or and in cinema.
It’s true. With the exception of Mario Van Peebles’ Posse and a few others, we haven’t seen a lot of Buffalo Soldiers portrayed on-screen. What kind of research did you do for the role?
I read a lot of books. I was pretty familiar with a lot of Buffalo Soldier stories and that culture, but the black cowboy culture wasn’t as familiar to me. I knew some of the big names like Nat Love and Bass Reeves and Bill Pickett, but I really just did a lot of research. I’m still finding stuff that fascinates me. Each day I’m posting different items about historical black cowboys on my social media, men who had remarkable accomplishments that never got noticed. I just want to keep digging.
Even though you and Taylor Sheridan both worked on Sons Of Anarchy, I understand your paths didn’t cross. Can you talk about the audition process with Taylor Sheridan?
Yeah. That’s crazy how it all lined up. Isabel May, who plays Elsa Dutton, and I have the same manager. Isabel was attached already, and my manager told Taylor, “Hey, we got Thomas. We have Thomas with us.” I, along with a bunch of my buddies out here, ended up auditioning for the role. We all sent in our tapes, and Taylor saw something in mine and asked for more. I got a call from my manager on my birthday, May 23rd last year, and he told me, “Hey, Taylor Sheridan wants to call you right now.”
Taylor and I then talked for about 45 minutes. He gave me more backstory about what he wanted to see in the next tape I sent him, just a little bit more depth in Thomas. After I did that, I didn’t hear anything for six weeks. It was mid-July when I found out that I got the part, and when it happened, it happened quick. I was told I was needed in Texas tomorrow for cowboy camp. I was thrilled, but I was still filming The Terminal. When I wrapped on that movie, the very next day I flew out to Texas and was there for the next five months.
I hear that you, James Landry Hebert and Gratiela Brancusi were in the “old folks” bunkhouse during 1883 cowboy camp? Can you talk about that experience?
[laughs] We were the retirement home community. Our place was like converted apartments, but it really was a barn. I thought you’d wake up with the roosters, but not with ranch life. People outside would be talking on the porch in the morning, and you’d just go get your coffee and hang out, just like old folks. Our bunk house was like a revolving door. At different points, Noah Le Gros and Alex Fine were in our fourth room at times, but Gratiela, and James and I were the long-time residents.
Had you had experience with horseback riding before?
No, not at all. I’d been on a horse when I was younger in Mississippi where my family’s from, but that was it. Cowboy camp was a necessity. It was hard and it was rough, and I got a whole new respect for cowboys. It wasn’t great just because we learned riding and roping and cattle driving. Mostly it was great because we got to bond with everyone. Most of us were learning for the first time, but Tim [McGraw] and Faith [Hill] and Sam had been on horses before. The camaraderie we all felt spilled right over into filming.
Thomas’ and Shea’s history feels so rich and lived in which you and Sam Elliot manage to convey with just brief conversations and quiet moments. Can you talk about building that chemistry?
I first met Sam at cowboy camp. He came a few days after the rest of us. When word got out that he had arrived, everyone was so excited. When I worked with him on the gun range, we hit it off right away. He just embraced me and told me that the relationship between Thomas and Shea was one of his favorite aspects of the show. I had to agree! [Laughs] We were pretty much inseparable behind the scenes and on camera. Spending a lot of time with Sam, I couldn’t help but pick up on some of his really good habits in terms of acting and just being a human being. Our relationship bled over into the screen.
Elsa’s love life is front and center, but the steady and nurturing romance belongs to Thomas and Noemi. How did you and Gratiela build that relationship?
Gratiela was great. We hit it off right in the beginning, and it was playful brother, sister energy. We teased each other and were competitive on the gun range. She hasn’t had a lot of experience in front of the camera, but she’s had a lot of theater experience. It was just fun to watch her grow her craft. She also easy to work with, a giving actress. I know her future is really bright.
While Thomas is strong, capable, and brutal when he has to be, the most challenging experience we see him go through on-screen is that fireside chat with Noemi. She has to explain that he’s in love with her. Can you talk about filming that sequence?
Thomas hasn’t really had a lot of experience with relationships. He’s a very capable cowboy, but he’s the opposite when it comes to these loving situations. He doesn’t really know how to be loved because he has never been loved. You could be intimate with someone, but that might not be love. When Thomas was 12, the slave owner on the plantation he was at passed away. Thomas got on a horse, rode off and never looked back. He’s experienced life but never had a woman to embrace him and to show him love.
What’s so great about Thomas and Noemi is that they’re learning from each other. They both come from have experienced oppression, just in different parts of the world. It’s a beautiful, slow-building connection that they have. It was great how Taylor wrote their story.
What do you love most about Taylor Sheridan as a collaborator?
So many things. First of all, we got all the scripts in July [laughs]. That never happens in television. To get all the scripts up front was such a gift. You’re able to really craft a fully realized performance when you know how your character’s journey starts and ends. I’ve been on shows where they give you a whole new script each day. With Taylor, what he writes is what he writes. That’s it.
He’s an actor first. He gets it. If there are certain words or certain energies that don’t feel right, Taylor doesn’t mind you switching up something here or there. Some people, some directors might feel the need to tweak something just for the sake of tweaking, but Taylor believes that if it’s not broke, no need to tamper. He lets the scene breathe. Nothing moves too fast. He knows the time, he knows cowboys. More can be said about a relationship between two people with silence than a bunch of talking back and forth with each other. Taylor’s good at that.
Taylor Sheridan, Ben Richardson and Christina Voros directed all the episodes of 1883 and were on set together often. Was that a gift to be able to work with these same collaborators over the course of the series?
It was special to be able to have access to them day in and day out. Taylor, Christina and Ben have all worked closely together for years so the look of the show was not pulled in 20 different directions. 1883 had a different tone and energy than other shows I’ve worked on. If you have too many cooks in the kitchen, a show can lose its identity if you’re not too careful. With Taylor as the sole writer and Christina and Ben as the directors, their vision was aligned and cohesive. We could bounce ideas off of them without worrying that things could get off track.
We all lived together as we filmed, and at the end of each day we’d have dinner together and talk about what’s would be coming up tomorrow. It wasn’t all work though! [laughs] We’d talk about life in general and just get to know each other. I told Gratiela that this is so not normal. I’ve never been a part of any production like this. It felt like we were just one big family from the time we woke up to the time went to bed every day. It was special.
The post LaMonica Garrett Says Working On ‘1883’ Was “Special” appeared first on Decider.