West Palm Beach native Eric Nelsen riding high in ‘1883,’ the ‘Yellowstone’ prequel

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From Tom Hanks, he learned not to take himself too seriously.

From "1883" star Tim McGraw, he picked up the importance of making people laugh on set.

From Sam Elliot, he observed what it means to give of yourself, both with your heart and your time.

And from "1883" actor/director Taylor Sheridan, he learned to treat fellow actors and crew like family.

Eric Nelsen stars as Ennis in the Paramount+ series "1883."
Eric Nelsen stars as Ennis in the Paramount+ series "1883."

“Every day I feel like I’m learning something new,” said actor Eric Nelsen. “This has been the greatest gift to my career yet.”

Nelsen, a West Palm Beach native, stars in the "Yellowstone" prequel "1883," which premiered on Paramount+ in December to massive numbers — it was the biggest cable debut in six years.

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He’s having a ton of fun in his role as Ennis, a young, handsome cowboy who agrees to help escort a group of inexperienced men, women and children north to find a home. He becomes the love interest to McGraw’s onscreen daughter, Elsa, played by Isabel May.

Eric Nelsen stars as Ennis in the Paramount+ series "1883."
Eric Nelsen stars as Ennis in the Paramount+ series "1883."

Nelsen, 30, is a three-time Emmy Award winner for his acting and producing work on the Amazon hit "The Bay." At age 23, he became the youngest producer to win an Emmy.

“When he won his Emmy Award for best supporting actor, our entire family was over the moon,” said Nelsen's mother, Teresa Gumley. “When they announced his name, I about fell out of my chair and I was crying tears of joy. The most exciting thing for me is that all his hard work is paying off.”

Eric Nelsen on the "1883" set with Isabel May, who plays his love interest, Elsa Dutton.
Eric Nelsen on the "1883" set with Isabel May, who plays his love interest, Elsa Dutton.

Gumley said one of the reasons for Nelsen’s swift rise to fame was that he had so many opportunities to be involved in the performing arts in Palm Beach County.

“The greatest gift each of my children were given was growing up in such a spectacular town as West Palm,” she said.

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A local background: Eric Nelsen attended The King's Academy, Bak Middle

Long before his acting career, Nelsen attended The King’s Academy, then got accepted to the BAK Middle School of The Arts. He started tap classes at Nicole’s Dance Studio, which led him to compete in a national dance competition in New York City, which led him to dance at FAME in Wellington under the direction of Amber Prosnick.

“Had it not been for the dance studio, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Nelsen said. “I thought I was a dancer, but some of the girls said I was funny and I should act.”

Locally, he performed in "Oliver" at The Lake Worth Playhouse, "The Sound Of Music" at St Ann’s School, and helped the community open The Maltz Jupiter Theater, formerly known as The Burt Reynolds Theater.

Nelsen and his three siblings, Katy, Joseph and Matt, attended many performances at The Kravis Center. When Nelsen was 12, he got to see one of his idols perform there, Gregory Hines.

In September, Nelsen also won a Tony Award for producing the Broadway sensation "The Inheritance" (2020). He is perhaps best known for his work in Hulu's revival of "All My Children," playing AJ Chandler. He also appeared opposite Liam Neeson in "A Walk Among the Tombstones," in "Nightmare Cinema" opposite Mickey Rourke, and recurred on Showtime’s "The Affair."

Nelsen enjoys producing because it allows him to choose which actors and crew he works with, and which creative path the project will take. But acting is his true passion.

“I produce to be able to act more,” he said.

Eric Nelsen and his wife, Sainty.
Eric Nelsen and his wife, Sainty.

Which is why "1883" is so important to him. He said he wants to keep growing in the entertainment profession to make his family proud. His wife, Sainty, gave birth to their second child, a son, in 2020, during the middle of filming the new series. His daughter, Molly Morgan, is 2.

Nelsen and his family moved from Los Angeles to Fort Worth just weeks before Sheridan (who also created "Yellowstone" and "1883") called him to let him know he got the role. It just happened to be that most of the show is filmed in the Fort Worth area, 15 minutes from the Nelsen house.

“This has been the most fun job I’ve had,” Nelsen said. “Taylor Sheridan has been a dream.”

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Sheridan and Hanks have been friends for more than 20 years, and many of those on set have worked together in the past.

“I pray that I stay in his universe,” Nelsen said. “There’ll never be an opportunity I would say no to from him.”

He’s benefitted from the many lessons of the seasoned veterans for his role as a cowboy.

“I’m a mega fan of Tom Hanks,” Nelsen said. “Despite the magnitude of his success, he doesn’t take himself seriously. He was approachable and kind, and I always strive to be that way.”

Nelsen hosts a weekly Instagram show at 6 p.m. on Sundays, where he gives advice to aspiring actors. He has guest actors on the show, including from "1883."

Nelsen visits his family in West Palm two to three times a year, usually around the holidays. He can be found at Camilli's Pizza in Lake Park, where he spent a lot of his youth, just about every visit.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: West Palm actor Eric Nelsen in Yellowstone prequel 1883 with Tim McGraw

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