IMG_3867.JPG

Alex Bilbrey.  The Dumas High School freshman and actor is currently filming "1883," the prequel to the hit series "Yellowstone."

"I knew it would be cool, but I didn't know that it would be that amazing," said 14-year-old Alex Bilbrey about acting in movies.  For the last several weeks, he has been in Montana and the Dallas area filming episodes of "1883,"  the prequel to the hit Paramount series "Yellowstone," which stars Kevin Costner.  Shooting is moving to the 6666 Ranch near Borger, allowing Bilbrey some welcome time at home catching up with family and friends, before he has to start commuting to work again.  

The series premiers December 19 on Paramount +.  "I am ready for it to come out."   Bilbrey plays a young Russian emigrant who travels from Texas to Montana by wagon train with members of the Dutton family.  The Duttons establish a large cattle ranch in Montana that they pass on to their descendants and which becomes the scene of the "Yellowstone" series, set in the present day.

Bilbrey is in every episode of the new series, at least what is being filmed.  So far, his character has not had to speak, but he is hopeful.  "A speaking part would be huge."

Bilbrey is a veteran actor, having appeared at age nine as the younger version of the main character in The Iron Orchard, played by Lane Garrison.  Bilbrey and his family were living in Dallas at the time.  A friend of his mother, Kelli, was connected to the Texas movie community in Austin and told her about a film company looking for a child about Alex's age to play in flashback scenes.  Alex took a chance and auditioned.  "It just sounded like fun.  I wanted to try it out and see what it was like.  Once I did it, I was like this is what I want to do for my future."  He looked enough like Garrison as a child to be believable and got the part.  He has remained friends with Garrison ever since.

Bilbrey was able to acquire an agent and acting coach, something that is difficult for many aspiring actors.  He has managed to work in movies such as "12 Mighty Orphans," "Old Man Jackson," and others.  Most of his work has been in independent, Texas-themed movies, and the parts have been small.  But he has had speaking roles, and he got to film a playground fight scene.  While the choreographed fight was  difficult to shoot, for Bilbrey, who also enjoys participating in martial arts, it was a dream come true.

The "1883" series is the largest production Bilbrey has been involved in.  To the born-and-bred Texan, everything in front of the cameras looks very authentic to the period, and there are experts on set to make sure of that.  Surrounding the actors, though, is a vast, modern army of people and vehicles.  "It looks real, but then you see all the cars and things around."

Bilbrey said one of the most difficult things about the filming has been the weather.  Near Dallas, the temperatures reached above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  In Montana, they were below freezing.  No matter what, the actors had to appear on camera as though they felt completely comfortable.  One time, he said, he had taken his place to start filming, and he realized that he was still wearing his modern gloves.  He was able to get them off and hidden before the shooting started.

Bilbrey's days begin with wardrobe, then hair and makeup.  He is not allowed to cut his hair during the filming.  He was surprised to see that his clothing, authentic for a poor, Russian emigrant in 1883, had holes in it.  The movie business has not been able to avoid COVID; testing is done every day or every other day, depending on the scene.  

For the actors, there is a lot of waiting around.  Scenes are shot over and over again.  When the action starts, Bilbrey said he always thinks, "OK, I have got to make it look real and try to stay in character."

There has been no internet service on the ranches he has been working on, a new experience for him.  "It is interesting," he said about life without the internet.  He said he and some of the teenage girls in the cast spend down time weaving baskets out of grass, something more in keeping with 1883 than visiting websites.  But, asked if he would like to have lived in 1883 for real, he does not hesitate: "No.  If you think now is hard, it was way harder then."

The new series stars Sam Elliot, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, and Billy Bob Thornton, all well-known to people of a certain age, but unknown to Bilbrey and others of his generation.  He has gotten to know them and others in the cast and crew.  "They are all really good people.  They are fun to be around."  Bilbrey said he has made many good friends, and, important for his future career, many good connections.  His agent, always on the lookout for another project, said the experience and connections from "1883" should give his career a boost.

As much as he enjoys acting and being involved in the new series, Bilbrey said he was glad to be back in Dumas.  He is a freshman at Dumas High School, though he is being home schooled by his mother, a former teacher, during the filming.  His friends have been supportive, and he is glad to be able to do things with them.  "They think it is really cool.  They want me to keep doing it, but they don't like it when I am gone. … It is nice to be back home."

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.