On a dusty April morning in 2021, with his bedroll and cast-iron skillet in tow, Ty Mitchell arrived at a gated community in Bartlesville, Oklahoma—more than seven hundred miles from his Presidio County ranch, where he runs a cow-calf operation. He walked up to the empty three-story home he would stay in for the next six months, just a few doors down from Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. The high-ceilinged foyer echoed as he clanged his pan against the granite countertop. “Cowboys don’t need an open floor plan,” he thought to himself.
After a few nights, Mitchell began to feel fenced in by that gated community. “I just need a little old place to roll my bedroll,” he tells me. “So, I asked production if there was somewhere else I could go. They moved me to a duplex with the head wrangler in Pawhuska.” There Mitchell slept soundly in the living room. After a few weeks of rehearsals, he was on set shooting Martin Scorsese’s 3.5-hour epic, Killers of the Flower Moon, alongside DiCaprio and De Niro and Lily Gladstone. But instead of heading back to Bartlesville with the other actors after a day of shooting, he stayed in Pawhuska and day worked Oklahoma ranches when he could. “Shoeing horses on set, fixing cars in the mechanic shop, and ranching on my days off kept me sane,” Mitchell recalls.
Two and a half years later, as the film racks up awards-season wins and nominations, I sit down with Mitchell outside the historic Hotel Paisano, in Marfa. The 58-year-old arrives wearing a black cowboy hat, a button-down vest, and well-worn boots, looking like he walked straight off the Killers of the Flower Moon set. Standing six four, with an angular frame, one working eye, and a jealousy-inducing mustache, Mitchell commands attention from passing tourists. Ten minutes into our interview, he asks me if he can grab a beer from his truck. He returns with an unopened Coors Light: “this one’s been frozen and unfrozen a few times, but it’s still good,” he says. In his truck, dog tags from his Navy days dangle on the rearview mirror, and a SAG-AFTRA check sits nestled in the cupholder next to a pistol and a half-eaten bag of Planters. Screenwriters are already writing roles specifically for him, he says, and in a few weeks, Killers of the Flower Moon will be going for gold at the Oscars. Mitchell’s agent, Heather Collier, told me, “Ty has no idea how his life is about to change.”
In Killers of the Flower Moon, Mitchell plays John Ramsey, a bootlegger hired by DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart as a hit man. Even next to Oscar winners, it’s difficult to see anything but Mitchell’s raw emotion. He brings sincerity to the performance, thanks to details like the slouch of his shoulders and his crestfallen gaze as he gets called in for interrogation. Robert De Niro, who plays villainous ranch owner William “King” Hale in the film, would often watch Mitchell on set. “I studied Ty’s dialect and movement a lot,” he says, adding that Mitchell possesses a rare grit that some actors spend years trying to master. “He’s real. He doesn’t put a spin on anything. I love working with people like that.”
Part of Mitchell’s allure is his anti-Hollywood demeanor and appearance. His right eye was injured by shrapnel while he was stationed in Libya with the Navy, giving him a likeness to one-eyed Rooster Cogburn from the Coen brothers’ True Grit, in which he had his first major acting role. His left eye twinkles with the confidence of a lifelong Renaissance man. Mitchell’s acting résumé lists rough-stock rider, marksman, mechanic, wagon driver, and “good dancer” under special skills, none of which he learned in a Los Angeles acting class. In addition to his role in True Grit and an interview on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, Mitchell has traveled the world and done many types of work, including cowboying, fighting oil field fires, and commercial fishing. From 2010 to 2020, he owned the celebrated Lost Horse Saloon, in Marfa, an old-school watering hole that was a favorite of tourists and cowboys alike.
Mitchell’s acting career began in 2006, when he met Lindsey Ashley, then a location scout for the Texas Film Commission, at the Marfa Film Festival. A few years later, Ashley was looking for a Texan accent coach for the indie film The Dry Land, starring America Ferrera, and she knew just who to call. “I got to teach Tex Ritter’s grandson how to speak like a Texan, which I never thought I’d do,” Mitchell laughs. He made quick friends with the cast and crew on set: “We danced, went out on the town, and just had a large time. So, they gave me a part in the movie.” The role earned him his SAG-AFTRA union membership. After the film wrapped, Mitchell’s longtime friend Barry Tubb, who played Jasper Fant in Lonesome Dove, introduced him to Collier. She secured Mitchell his first movie audition, for True Grit. “I drove seven hours each way for that tryout. I was trying to memorize the script while keeping my truck between the lines on the interstate,” he says. He arrived at the audition bleary-eyed and simply “said the lines as I’d say ’em.” This approach worked, and Mitchell was cast in the film and performed alongside Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Hailee Steinfeld. When I asked Collier how she felt sending him to a Coen brothers set for his first movie, she told me, “I wasn’t worried one bit; Ty has no ego at all. . . . He’s genuine and treats everyone the same, whether they’re an A-lister or a quarter horse.”
On the Flower Moon set, while other actors were getting their makeup touched up and wilting in the Oklahoma summer heat, Mitchell would disappear to the far corners of Pawhuska, much to the chagrin of his assigned crew member. “She just hated it when I called her my handler . . . but she was one hell of a leash,” he says. “I told her to radio the mechanic shop, the wranglers, or the bar in town if she couldn’t find me.” The owners of Pawhuska’s Dry Hollow Bar saved a particular stool for Mitchell where he couldn’t be seen in his costume from the window. One of the production assistants told me she would carry umbrellas on set to shield actors from the sun between scenes: “I took one out for Ty and started to hold it over his head. He smiled at me and said, ‘My momma would roll over in her grave if she saw you doing that, darlin’; I’m just fine.’ ”
When I ask him what he thinks of his performance now, Mitchell takes a long sip of Coors Light. “When you’re a rancher, you get up before four and feed your horses by five. When the sun goes down, you get the Dutch oven going, and no matter what happened that day, you’ll critique it,” he says. “I’ll do that my whole life. Hell, maybe Leo does it, too.” Mitchell may have stumbled into acting, but in many ways, he’s prepared his whole life for this, often drawing on his own memories to add depth to his performances. Like Ramsey in the film, Mitchell’s grandfather was an Oklahoma bootlegger. “I was stepping into my grandpa [in the film]. . . . I’d trade places with him any day of the week just because of my love for him.” The difference between them, Mitchell says, is “my grandpa was no killer. . . . And if he were, he wouldn’t have told me.”
With one Oscar-nominated film under his belt, Mitchell plans to take his skills to the next level. He’s currently working with a coach to perfect his British accent in hopes of auditioning for more diverse roles. “I don’t mind playing a cowboy,” he says. “[But] I get critiqued pretty hard from my buddies out here—they’ll say, ‘Why are y’all moving them cows like that?’ I’ll tell them we do it for cinematic purposes, and they just tell me, ‘Well, you should’ve done it in the valley; it works better down there,’ and I’ll just say, ‘It sure does, asshole, but it don’t look as pretty.’ ”
On New Year’s Day, I accompany Mitchell to a buzzing party at storied defense attorney Dick DeGuerin’s home in Marfa. Mitchell seems nonplussed by the affair—when DeGuerin’s wife, Janie, offers him one of her famous margaritas, he replies, “Just a Lone Star for me, sweetheart,” and makes his way to the firepit to watch the band. He nods his head as the musicians pluck out folk classics. When I ask Mitchell if he plans on watching the Oscars this year, he carefully rolls another cigarette. “I don’t think I get that channel out here,” he says. “I don’t like crowds, and if they don’t allow smoking for eight hours, I don’t think I could stomach it. [But] if I ever win one, mail me that SOB.”