‘Yellowstone’ Star Lilli Kay On Clara’s Surprising LGBTQ+ Kiss: “Queer People Exist Everywhere”

Not everyone is offered a spot so quickly within the Duttons’ circle of trust as Clara Brewer. As Governor John Dutton’s (Kevin Costner) assistant, Clara is very smart and savvy—she survived John and Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly) cleaning house at the Capitol after all! Tasked with teaching the Duttons about the politics behind the politics of state government, she watches as John forges his own path and adapts to his style of leadership. Clara is clearly an asset to Governor Dutton’s team, both on and off the ranch. Yes, our girl knows her way around horses and wasn’t shy about getting her hands dirty during the spring gathering when she branded a few cattle herself.

There’s no better actress to play Clara than Lilli Kay, who just so happens to be the daughter of Yellowstone EP/ series director Stephen Kay. “The first day that I went up to the ranch, I had a little bit of a brain short,” reported Kay. As a massive fan of the show, Kay was excited to immerse herself in the world of the Duttons. Kay explained: “When you walk onto that set and it’s the world that you’ve been watching the whole time, it’s the most extraordinary feeling as a fan and as an actor.” Over the course of the first eight episodes of Season 5, we’ve seen Kay’s Clara gamely leave Helena to devote herself to her new boss and adapt to doing things his way all the while trying to help him fulfill his gubernatorial duties. When Taylor Sheridan’s western saga returns this Summer, who knows where the last six episodes will take her.

After that explosive mid-season finale, we got the chance to talk to Kay about Clara’s past, working with Kevin Costner, and her character’s LGBTQ+ kiss that set the internet ablaze.

DECIDER: We don’t know a lot about Clara’s past except that she’s from Miles City, a notorious cowboy town in Montana. Were you allowed the freedom to create a backstory for her?

LILLI KAY: A lot of Clara’s background came up for me as we were shooting. I learned the most about her by reading the scripts as they came in. I could imagine how she would she respond to the situations she was being put in. There are several surprising shifts for her during this first half of the season [laughs] to say the least. Her ability to evolve based on where she was physically and mentally told me a lot about her. She shows her colors on the show, which is pretty fun for an actor.

During Governor Dutton’s great firing spree at the Capitol, Clara is one of the few to survive. Do you think her keeping her job was out of necessity to him or did he see something in her?

It’s a combination. On the one hand, you can’t fire everybody, and on the other hand, he’s seen that she can hang. Having someone who does her job well but is also amenable to his personality goes a long way with John. Clara’s definitely a lucky girl, but she was the right fit.

Lilli Kay as Clara on 'Yellowstone'
Photo: Paramount Network

Though she’s politically savvy, Clara is surprisingly naïve when she insists that “truth prevails” after Jamie begins impeachment proceedings during the midseason finale. Will fighting with “menace” compromise her values?

It’s interesting. That was something that I asked myself when I was reading the script. It’s going to be a challenge for Clara. If fighting with “menace” aligns with her core values—meaning fighting for the truth and for the righteous cause—I think she’ll be willing to do it. She can see that what Jamie is doing is not right. Her moral compass, in terms of her values, is strong, and she seems willing to do what it takes to maintain those values, if that makes sense. I think that she knows what she believes in, and she’ll fight for her beliefs.

All your scenes in Season 5 are with Kevin Costner, which I imagine would be daunting for any actor. What’s he like as a collaborator?

He’s incredible. He’s really generous and takes the work seriously. It was such a gift to be a newer actor and to sit across from someone who is so brilliant and iconic and so relaxed in his work. He always wanted to talk scenes through and engage with me. It was really exciting to get to learn from someone like that.

Is there anything that you learned in particular that you’ll take with you to future sets?

There were many things that he said to me, but one conversation in particular stands out. I remember he was talking about feeling free to shift things around between when we rehearse things and when we lock things in. As an actor, you should not feel beholden to an idea that you had for five minutes. It’s important to keep playing. You shouldn’t feel pressured to keep doing something the same way if it feels dishonest, even if all the cameras are configured around a choice you made in rehearsal. There’s always flexibility if it means getting the character and the scene right. There’s still room to explore. What makes all of our acting greats so great is that they play.

Speaking of two greats playing at their craft, Clara was an attendee at the infamous dinner showdown between Beth and Summer (Piper Perabo). What it like to witness that pivotal scene in the series first hand?

Oh my God, it was so fun to be a fly on the wall. We were just all giggling at the end of the table because those two were so intense. We spent a whole day doing just that scene, and the rest of us were all pretty punchy by the end of it. Our reactions weirdly helped the scene because they heightened the energy in the room. Everyone was so uncomfortable, but also it was just hilarious.

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Clara’s make out at the fair caused quite the stir on the internet! Were you surprised it got so much attention?

I was surprised that anybody noticed. It speaks to my lovely gays who have a keen eye for our kind. The kissing scene was very intentionally not made a big deal of on the day of filming. I was surprised that people were as stirred up by it as they were. However, I do believe we have to desensitize audiences a little bit. This brief moment is a reminder that queer people exist everywhere. We’re out there, we’re doing our thing. It’s no big deal.

Your make out partner is your real-life partner, Juli Kocemba. Did they need any convincing or were they game?

Not really. They had been hanging out in Montana for so long that they were very familiar with being on-set. I just asked them to do it. It was an easy ask: we get to hang out under the stars and listen to great music and make out a little bit. And they said, “yeah, okay, let’s go.”

Lastly, what’s your favorite relationship to root for on the show?

Beth and Rip just destroy me. That scene in Season 3 where he’s making her breakfast just gets me every time. Also, I was sobbing this year when they were in the meadow and talking about their love being all they need. I remember seeing that in the script, and I screen-shotted it and sent it to my partner. I told them: “This is so beautiful. Rip and Beth just have this radical love and acceptance of each other, not in spite of their flaws, but because of their flaws. That’s something to aspire to, to be honest.”

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