Taylor Sheridan has a knack for making a name for himself. As an actor, he stared as Deputy Chief David Hale on the FX television biker-drama "Sons of Anarchy." As a screenwriter, he has focused his attention on what he calls the new American frontier, earning wide acclaim with his machete-sharp script for Denis Villeneuve's Mexican drug cartel thriller "Sicario."
His next screenplay, "Hell and High Water," a morally knotty but highly entertaining story about bank-robbing Texas brothers, was nominated for the Academy Award. And now he's moved up as writer/director of "Wind River," a tense murder thriller. It stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen as outsider investigators in that huge Wyoming Native American reservation. It won an award for its visual design at this summer's Cannes Film Festival.
After the film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Sheridan said he chose this script for his directorial debut because he didn't want to turn it over to someone else. As a Texan, "It's a really deeply personal story. It's about some subject matter that I was scared another director might have a different vision for. I felt responsible to the people I know in Indian country to shepherd the vision my way, success or fail. At least I'd know it would be presented in a manner which they'd respect."
After shooting his film in snow-packed Rocky Mountains locations, he quipped that being a "screenwriter is a lot easier. You know, you get some wine, you get some music. Directing is a really miserable experience in every way."
But that doesn't mean he regrets the decision.
"There's stories you want to tell," he said. "You want to see them all the way through. And that's the only way to do it.
"We shot it in 30 days at 11,000 feet, most of it. Cameras freeze. Actors freeze. It was really hard. But in a certain way, it forced the crew and cast to bond because it was the only way to make the day. And I think that effort shows on the screen. It feels earned."
He focuses on the West because he's "interested in exploring these areas in our nation that were settled recently — 130, 140 years ago. How much of the consequences of that settlement are present today? How much have we evolved beyond that? How much haven't we? I just thought that's a really rich world to look at.
"There's a lot of self-examination this country needs, and I thought that was an interesting place to start."
Next up, Sheridan will write and film "Yellowstone," a 10-episode series about the exploration and death of the modern American West, starring Kevin Costner. Adding to its high profile, it will be the first show for the new Paramount Network streaming service.
Beyond that, Sheridan's fascination with Indian country seems likely to inspire new work throughout the foreseeable future.