1923's Julia Schlaepfer: 'You haven't seen anything yet' in the hit TV western

Julia Schlaepfer lies in bed in 1923
Julia Schlaepfer in 1923 (Image credit: Emerson Miller/Paramount+)

The Yellowstone franchise already had one of the biggest scopes on TV this side of Westeros between its five seasons of its main TV show and its prequel, 1883, set more than 100 years in the past to tell the story of the Dutton family's journey to Montana. Things have ratcheted up though with 1923 in just about every way. 

From the names that make up the 1923 cast (including Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren) to the breadth of the story (from 1920s Montana to the wilds of Africa), the first half of the Paramount Plus original series has engrossed fans. But according to one of the show's breakout stars, Julia Schlaepfer, what we've seen is only the beginning.

Schlaepfer plays Alexandra on the Taylor Sheridan-created series, a young British woman who quickly falls for Spencer Dutton (Brandon Sklenar) and leaves her aristocratic life behind to join him on his adventures. The Alex and Spencer love story has been a fan favorite as it plays out separately in Africa, but as 1923 episode 4 and episode 5 showed, Spencer and Alex are Montana bound to help the rest of the Duttons take on the enemies threatening the ranch, though not without their own challenges.

Schlaepfer spoke with What to Watch about what's in store for Alex and Spencer, their unique love story and what it’s like to hang with Helen Mirren on set.

What to Watch: Alex and Spencer have had a number of close calls in Africa and are now not having the easiest time getting back to Montana. What was it like filming those high intensity scenes?

Julia Schlaepfer: Oh yeah. If you thought they were put through the ringer in the first half, they are put through the ringer in the second half. Like they go through hell. They go through everything together. They're really tried and tested. And filming all of what's to come was both the most difficult thing I've ever done and the most rewarding. We were really put through it and it was hard physical work. Everything in the show is hard physical work because we're climbing the trees and we're doing all the things. But it also kind of made you feel like badass... I felt strong... and that's how you want to feel when you're playing these types of characters. Yeah, but it was intense to say the least. We were running on adrenaline.

WTW: Was there anything during production that was your favorite?

JS: Oh gosh, I mean it's tough because all of the cast always says that cowboy camp was the happiest that we've all ever been. We were on top of the world because we just got to hang and bond. The cast is full of just like the greatest people alive and we're out there on horses making fools of ourselves, and then we have family dinner every night. We weren't filming yet so it was just the time to get to enjoy each other and just talk about our love for the scripts and how excited we were. A lot of us are young up and comers and so it was like we were all kind of like, "I can't believe this is happening." So it's tough because that was so special and I just remember feeling so happy all the time.

Then being in Africa and being in Malta and all these different places, it was a different kind of joy because it was such hard work and we were going so fast and so furious. But this is what I've dreamed of, you know, to be acting on a show of this caliber with these types of people, the likes of Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford. So I think that was the most rewarding part of it, the hard work. Cowboy camp was all fun; it was hard work but it was fun. And the actual filming was just really, really rewarding.

WTW: What was it like working with Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford?

JS: It was so cool. And they are so cool. They are the coolest people. Helen just wanted to hang and she would just walk on up to you and join in on the conversation. Sometimes I'd be like, "does Helen care about the crap I'm talking about with Brandon right now?" and she did and she would crack jokes.

Brandon and I came to visit set, it was the interior of the Dutton home on a soundstage. It was their first day of filming, we came to visit the set and she found us and she was like, "Have you guys seen the set?", and we're like no, she was like, "It's my house, I'm going to show you. I'm taking you on a tour." And so she just took us on a tour on the set and just walked us through these rooms and all this stuff. And we hadn't filmed yet, so nobody really knew who we were in the crew, so they were like, "who are these random people wandering the set." But Helen was showing us around. 

I mean it's just been so surreal. All of these older actors who are so well renowned just made us feel right at home and like we really are deserving of being there, which was really special. 

WTW: People have really enjoyed Alex and Spencer’s storyline, but what makes their relationship so special?

JS: I think their relationship is like the dream love story. I think everybody wants that. Especially in today's day and age, people are too scared to seek that out and to go after those things and to take those type of really scary jumps when it's so much safer to stay inside and look at your phone and do the easy thing. 

I think what is so great about Alex and Spencer, and what I loved about playing Alex is she's so brave and she just jumped, she ran and she never looked back. She never looks back because meeting this person who just lights her on fire is so worth it to her to feel that way in this one lifetime that she gets. I think that notion and that idea really resonates with people, just who we are at the core of our beings. 

I know Taylor set out to write what he wanted to be the greatest love story of all time and I think we all just really related to it when we read it as well. This is what we all wish we could have and were brave enough to do.

Julia Schlaepfer and Brandon Sklenar kiss in the waves in 1923

Julia Schlaepfer and Brandon Sklenar in 1923 (Image credit: Emerson Miller/Paramount+)

WTW: The show has been building toward Spencer coming home to the Yellowstone. But what is that going to mean for Alex? How is she going to fit into this dynamic, this family and this situation that she has never really faced before?

JS: It's going to take a lot of her strength. I think Alex really levels up in terms of like, she starts with this naive idea of adventure and what she wants and this romance. She wants to see the world and she wants danger. She wants what all that represents but when she's faced with it it terrifies her. And she's like, "oh, no, I don't want that. I want you and I want a life with you, whatever that means." It tests her, it tests really if this is what I want? 

But then it also allows her to come into this really deep rooted strength that she's always had and forces her to come into her own and not just be the damsel in distress but fight for herself and figure out how she's going to muster the strength to be there for him through all of the terror that they endure. It's a really beautiful arch for her.

WTW: What can fans have to look forward to with these last few episodes?

JS: They are going to go through everything under the sun. They're going to experience a taste of everything and I think their love for one another is going to be tested, their devotion to each other and to the Duttons back home are going to be tested. They're put through it. And if you think they went on an epic adventure in the first half, then you haven't seen anything yet because they really endure a lot. It's a lot of fun.

New episodes of 1923 premiere exclusively on Paramount Plus Sundays in the US and Mondays in the UK.

Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.