Eric Nelsen reflects on his time in 1883 and why Ennis had to die

When you signed on for the show, did you know you were going to die in episode 5 or was that a surprise to you?

It was a surprise for me after being chosen. I had only done, I don’t know, maybe the first episode and Taylor Sheridan was like, “Hey, I’ll send you the rest, read it, then let’s talk about it.” He sends it, and I can read it, and I can [Episode] 5, and I cry. I bawl. I can’t even believe it. I’m so sad. And then, we talk about it, and it’s seeing where the story goes from there. Everything is essential in the overall arc of Elsa and her storyline. It really makes sense in the scheme of things, but no, I was just as heartbroken as the people who saw it.

It’s a big episode for you story-wise, but it’s also your last. I guess it was bittersweet. What was going through your mind when you filmed your last scene?

So many emotions. We support these two characters. We see rapid ups and downs, and James Dutton has a lot to do with it. We finally fully immerse ourselves in each other and fall in love and the innocence and purity of these two is so evident. Then what happens at the end happens, but in my mind, Ennis is a hero because he knows what’s happening on that hill and the bandits are on their way. He basically says “Stay here” and he’ll take the ball for her.

I say this with 100% certainty, if he could go back and do it all over again, he would do it the same way because he got shot. This guy fell, but he also shot. And that hit that Ennis took is a hit that Elsa didn’t have to take. I think it really shows the heart and soul of who Ennis is, and then having his last breath talking to James, saying “I loved him”, was an incredibly emotional moment, especially for the arc they had, James and Ennis . Ultimately, it’s a sad moment, but Ennis, he gave his life for the love of his life. He leaves with a smile because he knows he saved Elsa.

That brings me to my next question, which you may have just answered, but you do it all in one episode, you slept with Elsa, you got engaged, and you died. Do you think that was a fitting ending for Ennis?

Yeah, and I get hit in there too! It’s a whole range of emotions and arcs right there. It’s a rollercoaster for Ennis, but that’s the show. It’s day one for everyone, and the unexpected he brings to the table is exactly what life was like back then. There are very few rules. You fly by the seat of your pants, and this episode shows it through and through. It was a lot, but I also think we saw a huge turnaround for a lot of characters in this episode, especially for Elsa and Ennis.

There was a lot of innocence before [this episode]. We finally see Ennis standing his ground and standing up to the man he just wanted his approval from. [James]. And now we see that he doesn’t need the approval because he has everything he ever wanted in Elsa. So, it’s powerful, and the arcs of these characters peak, and then we’ll see some sort of valley. Then we’ll see a peak again, but what an emotional episode, and I was so grateful to be able to be a part of it.

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