At the moment, Michelle Randolph is like an open flame ready to catch on anything that spreads her flammable passion like a wildfire. She is a dancing flame, in constant movement, as she tells us, “If I don’t have the chance to be working on set, then I’m going to be doing something else that improves me as a person and still lights a fire in me.” Besides acting, Michelle is currently in her final year of college studying film and media while also creating her sustainable denim line, LNDN, alongside her sister Cassie Randolph. She also works with Chandler Bailey for their charity, house cat, raising money for cat shelters and rescues.
While she spent much of the last few years on other passions, she also spent some of her 2020s in the 1920s in Montana’s sweeping golden grain fields teeming with horses and cattle among mountains stretching up to the vast blue sky. With her golden grain toned bob curling under a cloche hat and a loosely fitted dress with a low hemline, Michelle becomes Elizabeth Strafford in 1923 on Paramount+, Yellowstone’s prequel and 1883’s sequel.
Elizabeth Strafford is the daughter of a rancher, however throughout the series she has to become acquainted with the life of a rancher as she spent most of her life on the East Coast, outside of that world. Now, she is set to marry Jack Dutton [Darren Mann], which also means marrying into a new life. Cara Dutton [Helen Mirren] describes Elizabeth as “gasoline,” igniting the Dutton fire through generations to come. Elizabeth’s tank is filled to the brim with passion, hope, strength, and resilience – attributes Michelle shares with her character. In all of 1923’s sweeping cinematic shots and wide-ranging landscape, Michelle and the rest of the cast hold a presence just as expansive.
In Schön!’s interview with Michelle, she discusses working in Montana, cowboy camp, and becoming Elizabeth Strafford.
Hi Michelle! I know 1923 is on a mid-season break right now but will come back in a few days. How has it been seeing the reception from the first four episodes, or do you tend to stay off of social media?
I do my best to stay away from it. I think it’s easy to get trapped in reading the comments, and wanting to know what people say, but I think it’s better not to because you can’t go back and change it. Once you do a scene and finish it and release it, the audience is going to make it into what it is.
I know you don’t want to know much about reception, but I do know that so many people really love the show. 1923 is so gorgeously shot and cinematic, which partially has to do with where it is filmed in Montana and how vast the land is. How did you feel when you first got there? Were you able to take everything in?
Yeah, like you’re saying, it’s crazy watching the show because it almost looks like a mini movie. Every episode feels like a film- like a full feature, and that’s kind of how it felt filming it. The sets were so grand, and I felt like I was in the 1920s when I was on set because of how amazing our production design team was. I loved Montana – it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I was thankfully there at the best time of year so I got all the good seasons! I got there in August and it was sunny and 80 degrees. It was perfect weather from August to October, and then it started to feel really nice in the fall in November. Then, when it got really cold, I got two weeks of snow and was able to go home. Montana really was one of the coolest places to film because we were able to spend so much time on our off days exploring as well.
Yeah, I wanted to ask about that as well! Were you able to spend time with the cast outside of filming? What places did you explore?
I spent so much time with the cast! I actually didn’t really have anyone come visit me because we all got along so well. We were so focused on the family we created. We went to Glacier Park, Whitefish, Big Sky – just everywhere around where we filmed. We were in Butte, Montana which was in the center and there are all the different cities in a circle. Everything was an hour away…Target and Whole Foods were an hour away! Everything you would want was far away [laughs]. So, I was able to travel to every city. There was an Ulta in Mazzulla, a Target in Bozeman…
I know you grew up in California which I’m assuming is such a different lifestyle. Did it make you think about what lifestyle you feel like best matches your personality? For example, I love the convenience of a city, but I would much rather live on really scenic land.
Montana was an adjustment, but I think we were so present and busy the whole time that I just fell in love with it completely. I mean, we were riding horses on our off days and spending time together. I actually have gone back and forth about [the idea of what place I feel suits me most] a lot. I kind of confuse myself. I love cities, I love the hustle and bustle and how everything is available and right there. At the same time, I think I am happiest, not to sound cliché, but when I’m in nature. It just feels like you’re taking a step back and the real priorities in life are health and wellness and you can meditate and not hear cars honking [laughs]! I do think it’s a balance. I could spend 6 months in Montana and then I need 6 months in the city too. I’d like to think of myself as a well-rounded person in that regard.
Yeah, and I think it must be nice because acting lends itself to travel in that way. I also want to get more into talking about cowboy camp too! I read that one of your castmates had said that it was so rewarding and difficult because you don’t normally learn a new skill as an adult. Did you feel the same way?
I did. As an adult, you feel like everything you do has to feel like it’s up to a certain level of productivity. That was the nice thing about learning to ride because it felt productive since it was for a job, but at the same time it was really rewarding. The transition from beginner to intermediate – or actually I don’t know how good I am at riding [laughs] – but it was so clear to see the difference. And watching all of my new friends improve too was amazing. It was just so much fun too. Even on the days after the two weeks of cowboy camp when the wranglers came in to shoot for the next five months, we would go in and ride. We all really fell in love with it!
When you first go into something like that, do you tend to feel fear first, excitement first, or a mix of both?
I was at a healthy level of both. For 1883, they did a cowboy camp and they had Youtube videos of that so when I booked the show, I stalked every possible video and interview about it so I could have an idea of what I was going to sign myself up for [laughs]! Yeah, I wasn’t nervous because I love animals, but I was nervous because I hadn’t done it before and a lot is about technique and the more time you spend on a horse, the better you get. A lot is also about the familiarity of it and getting the rhythm and learning your specific horse. I was so excited! We were all like little kids at summer camp!
That’s so cute! Before we get more into your character, I want to take some themes from the show and have you relate to them. In 1923, the lives of ranchers are bound by the seasons. Do you feel like the lives of actors are bound by anything in particular?
I was actually watching a podcast that Aubrey Plaza did, and she was talking about how as an actor you have to possess a certain level of delusion since you have to believe in yourself no matter how many times you are rejected. So, sometimes I feel like actors’ lives are bound by how other people perceive them, if they’re not careful. You have to have a really strong sense of self, and you can’t let other people define you. As an actor, you’re constantly balancing how you’re perceived and also being true to yourself.
That’s a great answer. That topic of perception is also really relevant to the show, especially with Elizabeth since we hear a lot about how she is perceived, especially in the beginning of the show. How do you think Elizabeth is perceived versus who she actually is?
Well, when you first meet Elizabeth, it’s easy to stereotype her. She’s a young girl. She went to boarding school on the East Coast. She’s a city girl. Her dad is a rancher and her family owns the ranch next to Yellowstone. People think that since she is the daughter of a rancher, then she should understand this life more than she does. I don’t think that’s the case. She is a city girl, she spent most of her time on the East Coast and so this is all really new to her. She’s been exposed to this completely new way of life more than anyone in the Dutton family. She’s kind of at a crossroads when you first meet her in terms of what life she wants to choose, but she’s so in love with Jack that I don’t think she cares. She just wants to be with him, and that means choosing to be the wife of a rancher one day. Throughout the season, she goes through a lot of hardships. She loses her father, and her mom tries to take her back to the city. She chooses to stay with Jack, so she’s a lot stronger than people initially take her as. I can’t say that I would do the same if I lost my father. I don’t know if I could completely change my life for a guy. I mean, that’s some strength and loyalty right there!
In the show, when Emma Dutton [Marley Shelton] is talking about Elizabeth and Jack, she says she was hoping your character would take some fire out of the next generation, but Cara says Elizabeth is like gasoline. Is there any trait that you feel runs really strongly throughout your own family?
We are all very close and very family-oriented. I spend so much time with my family. We are all very loyal to each other and we put each other first. My family really values quality time with each other which is something that I learned from my mom and her sisters being really close. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Your family knows you; You can be your most authentic, horrible self to them [laughs], but to make a choice and be pleasant and spend quality time is something that is not just second nature. So, that’s something that runs like gasoline through my family!
You’ve said in other interviews that there was a lot of room for you to inject some of yourself into Elizabeth. What parts of Elizabeth would you say are similar to you now, and what parts are similar to your 19 year-old-self?
[I pulled from] young love and my first love. Everyone’s first love is so passionate because you haven’t been hurt. You love unapologetically a little bit. I think I channeled some of that into Elizabeth because it’s a really selfless love. It’s very innocent. I put a lot of that hope into Elizabeth because when I was 19, I carried that same soft, beautiful idea of life because I hadn’t been burned yet. That’s something we get to see with her arc. Similar to me, she had a very sheltered upbringing. Her parents loved her and protected her and didn’t make her think about drought and the cattle dying and the dangers of being a rancher in Montana. Then, she is confronted with hardship and she still chooses to be a positive, loving person. I think it’s beautiful when someone doesn’t let the hardness in life change them, and they still choose to lead with love and resilience. I try to do that in my life as much as possible.
That’s a great answer. You bring up that youthful version of hope, and that leads me to one of my favorite quotes in the series so far. It is “Men’s great challenge is trusting ‘not yet’ or ‘something else’ [as an answer to a prayer] and avoiding the foolish notion of hope.” Have you had a moment in your career or personally when there was something you really wanted but had to trust that it wasn’t your time or there was something else you should follow instead?
Definitely! As an actor, you always think that you’re ready. I look back at so many jobs that I auditioned for when I was younger and I was devastated I didn’t get them. I thought I was ready at the time, but as you get older you really end up seeing that certain things didn’t work out for a reason. What’s meant to be is really meant to be. I like to keep myself very busy. I’m in school right now as a senior in college studying film and media, so when I’m not on set I like to fill my time with that. I also have a sustainable denim line with my sister that I put a lot of my creative energy into. It’s important to just keep yourself moving forward even if it’s not always acting. If I don’t have the chance to be working on set, then I’m going to be doing something else that improves me as a person and still lights a fire in me.
You mention your denim line which I really want to talk about because I love it so much, I’m obsessed with the puffer jacket that just came out! For a fun question, if you could take Elizabeth into the present times, what pieces from your brand would you style her in?
Thank you so much! I think that depends on when we meet her, or who she grows to be throughout the show. I’d put her in everything [laughs]! That’s the thing I love about denim – it’s so classic and timeless. I think she could blend into any of those pieces. I think she has a little spunk to her, which some of the pieces have, but she’s also very pure and innocent like the more classic pieces. That’s one thing that my sister and I did with the denim line- when you find a denim brand that works for your body, and you like the design of the pieces, you stick with that brand. So, it was really important to Cassie [Randolph] and I that we paid a lot of attention to the fit and shape of the pieces, and we made sure the material was the best possible quality. We want people to trust our denim, and that’s why it took us so long to come out with it. It took us 3+ years!
It’s really beautiful, you can tell that it’s done with so much care in the little details and embossing.
Thank you! Honestly, it’s so nice to have something to focus on when I’m not on set. I still feel like I’m enjoying myself and getting my creative juices flowing. I just love casual, easy fashion.
Going back to 1923, I also want to mention how much physicality is in the show with you falling and jumping and even in quieter scenes, Elizabeth can be fumbling and jittery. Can you talk a little about this aspect of becoming Elizabeth?
Yeah, Elizabeth has a lot of pent-up energy and a lot to give. That plays into her mannerisms a lot when you’re young and excited and passionate. The hair was such a big thing for me. I felt so much like Elizabeth when I had that on. With the way that Taylor [Sheridan] writes, it flows out of you so easily. You prepare your scene, and the set looks like the 1920s, so it feels so real and I was able to immerse myself which is so nice about a period piece.
I know you had worked with Darren Mann before as a romantic interest on another show. Since you two were already comfortable with each other, were you guys able to have conversations early on about your character’s relationship? Did it help being so comfortable?
Absolutely! I was so excited when I found out that we would work together again. Cowboy camp was a nice introduction to everybody on set which is a very rare and special thing. It’s an actor’s dream getting to know everyone before your first day on set. But yeah, I actually had played a couple with him before on my very first movie, and he was so lovely. Having spent two weeks together and then filming made it feel so easy. He’s such an amazing actor and a great human.
Last question – what are you most looking forward to in 2023?
Hmm, I haven’t even thought about this yet, this is crazy! I feel like this is something you would talk about with your friends on New Year’s Eve! I’ve been so busy thankfully, and I’m just excited for whatever is to come in my life. I think for the first time in a long time, I’m just really open to whatever doors open in front of me and I’m leaving overthinking in 2022! I’m a Virgo so it’s kind of a part of who I am, but I would like to leave it in the past! My mom always reminds me of neuroplasticity in that the more you overthink, the more you are going to keep overthinking. You have to revert your mind back, and eventually it will get easier.
1923 is streaming now on Paramount+.
photography + direction. Emilynn Rose
cinematography. Johnny Gonzalez
fashion. Trevor Boyd
talent. Michelle Randolph
hair. Oscar Pallares Gomez
make up. Jen Tioseco
retouch. Russel Dennis
studio. Ivy Studios
interview. Tessa Swantek
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