Who is Taylor Sheridan?
Taylor Sheridan is often referred to as the “father of modern Westerns” for resurrecting one of America’s inherent genres of cinema. He is a failed actor-turned-genius writer and director, who almost did not succeed. His meteoric rise to fame is credited to, what is now known as the “frontier trilogy,” three critically acclaimed screenplays written by Sheridan only recently, after failing to establish his acting career for 2 decades. ‘Sicario,’ ‘Hell or High Water,’ and ‘Wind River’ are all a reflection of this writer’s strong connection to the “frontier life,” as opposed to the “American dream.” He is often heard saying, “I’ve felt real lonely in Los Angeles and New York, But never out here, never where there’s space,” referring to the vast expanse of impoverished lands at the border, reeling under ignorance and poverty. Ever since the release of ‘Sicario’ in 2015, Sheridan has acquired the reputation of a screenwriter who “never follows the rules.” His signature style of simple plots driven by complex characters keeps the audiences on the edge of their seats. When he was asked how he developed his style of writing, Sheridan’s answer was as simple as his plots. After reading thousands of scripts during his acting career, all he had to do was make a list of what not to do while writing. This ranch boy from West Texas continues to showcase through his stories and films a part of America that nobody wants to talk about.
Childhood & Early Life
Taylor Sheridan was born on May 21, 1970, in Cranfills Gap, an hour west of Waco, Texas. He grew up in an impoverished part of West Texas, with very little modern resources to support his childhood. His early life was marred by family troubles. In an interview, while reflecting on those days, Sheridan said, “Where I grew up, my salvation was in the solitude.” The ranch was young Taylor’s lifeline of sorts.
At age 11, Sheridan was bedridden due to a wicked case of pneumonia that constricted his outdoorsy life to the confines of his home. Sheridan kept himself entertained with the limited number of video cassettes he had at his disposal. He watched movies such as ‘The Graduate’ and ‘In the Heat of the Night,’ along with Clint Eastwood and John Wayne films, on repeat, creating a strong base for his excellent storytelling skills.
By the time Sheridan turned 12, he had started making rounds of the town in the ranch pick-up. He started herding cattle when he was 14, facing extremely harsh summers, freezing winters, and relentless rains in the fall.
Sheridan’s parents parted ways soon after his high-school graduation, in 1991. His mother got the ownership of the ranch but could not maintain it for long, owing to some unhealthy investments and bad loans, thus snatching away Sheridan’s only anchor.
With nothing holding him back in Cranfills Gap, Sheridan moved to San Marcos and enrolled at ‘Texas State University’, majoring in theater. In his own words, Sheridan was a “miserable student” and he only decided to study theater because it “sounded like fun” to him.
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During his university days, Sheridan had to take up odd jobs, such as mowing lawns and working as a handyman. In one such instance, when he was wandering about in an Austin mall, looking for a job, a talent scout approached him with an opportunity to work as a model. Instead, Sheridan asked him to arrange for an acting job.
The talent scout got Sheridan an audition and a plane ticket for the trip. However, Sheridan encashed the ticket at the counter and drove to Chicago. He got the ‘Montgomery Ward’ commercial. Following this, he dropped out of college and moved to New York, where he stayed for a year before moving to Los Angeles.
Without much success in the entertainment industry, Sheridan soon ran out of resources and had to resort to camping on the hills above Los Angeles. He eventually drifted to an Indian encampment, where he got acquainted with a few Native Americans from the Pine Ridge reservation, which became his next destination. For the next few months, Sheridan lived among the Natives, absorbing every story he was told of their struggle and hardships.
Sheridan eventually returned to Los Angeles and started getting bit parts on TV shows such as ‘Walker,’ ‘Texas Ranger,’ and ‘Veronica Mars.’ However, there was still little success in his life in terms of creative satisfaction and remuneration. He had to teach acting in the evenings to fill the gap.
In 2008, Sheridan finally got his first steady acting work, in the ‘FX’ crime series ‘Sons of Anarchy.’ However, his financial struggles remained constant. After being paid the basic weekly rates for 2 years, when Sheridan rightfully tried negotiating his compensation, the show masters refused to see reason.
Dejected by his slow acting career, Sheridan and his family moved to Wyoming. He even considered taking up a job as a ranch manager. However, the work required him to stay at the ranch, leaving his family in the town. This was a thought that disturbed him greatly and made him rethink the course of his future.
Career as a Screenwriter
Sheridan decided to find an alternative way of storytelling. He wrote his first speculative script, ‘Sicario,’ without any expectations of it being filmed. ‘Sicario’ was released on May 19, 2015 at the ‘Cannes Film Festival’ and on September 18, 2015 in the US.
Back then, he had no idea that within a few years, he would be writing a sequel titled ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado.’ The sequel was released in 2018.
In 2012, Sheridan wrote his second masterpiece, ‘Comancheria,’ in quick succession to his first, which was adapted as the modern Western ‘Hell or High Water’ in 2016. Incidentally, ‘Sicario’ made it to the silver screen in 2015, before ‘Hell or High Water,’ even though the latter went into production first. Sheridan’s films shook Hollywood out of a creative slumber.
‘Sicario’ earned him a ‘Writers Guild of America Award’ for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ in 2015. By the time ‘Hell or High Water’ premiered, it had gained the reputation of one of the most-awaited projects in Hollywood. Sheridan received eight nominations, including one each for the ‘BAFTA’ and the ‘Academy Award’ for the ‘Best Original Screenplay,’ in 2016.
In 2017, his neo-Western murder thriller ‘Wind River’ was released. It was also his directorial debut. Sheridan’s “frontier trilogy” has now become a guide for young writers who are willing to look beyond the set rules of writing scripts. For ‘Wind River,’ Sheridan received a ‘Directors Guild of America’ nomination for ‘Outstanding First-Time Feature Film.’
In 2018, Sheridan’s first TV project, ‘Yellowstone,’ premiered on ‘Paramount Network.’ The drama, starring Kevin Costner, Wes Bentley, Kelly Reilly, and Luke Grimes, was co-created by Sheridan along with John Linson, who is known for producing films such as ‘The Great Expectations,’ ‘Lords of Dogtown,’ and ‘The Runaways.’
Sheridan is currently filming his second directorial project, ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead,’ based on a novel of the same name by Michael Koryta, transformed into a screenplay by Sheridan himself.
Personal & Family Life
Even though the documented year of Sheridan and Nicole Muirbrook’s marriage is 2013, some doubt remains due to the timeline provided by Sheridan in his interviews. He has reportedly alluded to Nicole as his wife in as early as 2010–2011, also admitting to the fact that the couple was expecting a baby at the time.
Sheridan has a journalist brother named John Gibler, who stays in Mexico and writes about the socio-political struggles of Mexican people and the impact of exploitation by drug cartels rampant in that area. Gibler has authored two books, namely, ‘Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt’ and ‘To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War.’
Sheridan’s mates from high school would often carry guns in the back of their trucks to go out hunting, a usual extracurricular activity for high-school boys in those areas.
Sheridan wanted to grow up to be a lawman, like his maternal uncle, Parnell McNamara, who was a deputy US Marshal. Years later, he fashioned a character in ‘Hell or High Water’ after him, which was portrayed brilliantly by Jeff Bridges. While preparing for the role, Bridges spent time with Uncle McNamara to observe his mannerisms and temperament.