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Actor Jeff DuJardin portrays real-life villain Marquis de Morès in original western drama series ‘Elkhorn’.

Actor Jeff DuJardin is Historic Villain in Western Series ‘Elkhorn’

Every Western needs a villain. The new original drama series, Elkhorn, on cable channel INSP, introduces audiences to a bad guy of historic proportion – the French aristocrat turned Dakota entrepreneur, Marquis de Morès, played by actor Jeff DuJardin.

Set on the 1880’s Dakota Frontier and based loosely on the early years of Theodore Roosevelt (Mason Beals), before he become President, Elkhorn delivers a clash of two titans’ tale. As Roosevelt sets out to become a respectful cattleman, he soon discovers the Marquis (DuJardin) has a different way of doing business – his own lawless, self-serving way. After all, these are the Badlands.

Jeff recently appeared alongside Oscar nominee Terry Moore and Golden Globe nominee Isabella Rosellini in the festival favorite film, Silent Life: The Story of the Lady in Black. He also starred in the dramatic feature, Immortalist, alongside Golden-Globe nominees Sherlyn Fenn and Franco Nero, and starred in the period horror comedy, The Frankenstein Monster Project. His credits also include several spine-tingling episodes of the Amazon and Tubi streaming series, True Nightmares.

Tell us about your role as the historical figure Marquis de Morès in Elkhorn.

Jeff DuJardin (JD): Definitely a fun role to play because the character has many sides to him; he is anything but one-note. On one hand, he is a sophisticated aristocrat, raised as the son of a Duke back in Europe. On the other hand, he is quite comfortable in the rough and tumble Badlands, full of dusty winds and savage gunfights. Maybe that comfort originates from having served his time in the French army—where he learned how to duel and become one of the deadliest marksmen in the world.

And while a ruthless killer, he is also a doting husband, who compliments his wife constantly, seeks her advice, and names the entire town of Medora after her. Not to mention that he threatens Teddy Roosevelt over land disputes, while at the same time respecting Teddy immensely and seeking Teddy’s friendship.  And so, it was fun and challenging to explore all these different sides to him – and to try to find the overall worldview and moral code that connects these different personality traits.

What attracted you to want to portray him?

JD: My ancestors emigrated from France and Belgium to North America not long before the real Marquis de Morès arrived. It was a blast to tap into my French roots and bring the Marquis’ language, accent, and cultural flair back to life. Not only that, but my father served in the US Navy as a navigational officer, and my grandfather served in the American Army during World War II as a French interpreter during the Normandy Invasion. And so, I could kind of draw upon the stories I heard growing up to connect with the character’s allegiance to the army and his pride in his glorious military past.

I also have experience as a business owner and entrepreneur, much like the Marquis. I have owned Elite Calibration, in the science and research sector, which was a successful company that I ended up selling. I can relate to dealing with expenses and revenue, and the stress of constantly having to prove that your endeavors are profitable – much like the Marquis had to prove to his wealthy father-in-law (who was funding many of his ventures) that he should keep the funding going.

Not to mention, it has always been my dream to act in a western. As a kid, I would dress up as a cowboy with my friends, with hats and boots and all. We would play in the backyard for hours, and my dad would help us shoot western movies on the home camcorder. We would even walk around the neighborhood dressed as cowboys.

What significance do you think the real Marquis had on the development of this territory?

JD: Despite his sinister tendencies, the Marquis did employ hundreds of people and spurred the economy of an otherwise desolate region. Most of the Marquis’ wealth originated from his father in-law, an uber wealthy New York banker. Many people west of the Mississippi had never seen this kind of money, and his seemingly endless cash (along with his dead-shot aim with a pistol) allowed the Marquis to gain a following and operate much like a king, often above the law.

He invested in ventures such as newspapers, stagecoach transportation, mining, cattle ranching, refrigerated train cars for carrying meat (which were kind of ingenious and ahead of his time), and much more. His goal was to become the first billionaire of the west. He founded the town of Medora, North Dakota, which still exists today. Even though the Marquis and his wife were only in the Badlands for three or four years, they probably expedited the development of the west’s infrastructure. And their legend is still talked about today, especially because they were such larger-than-life characters.

Any fun stories from the set you can share with us?

JD: There is a scene where the Marquis invites Teddy to enjoy a round of clay-pigeon shooting in his backyard before dinner. In real life, a friend of mine had been inviting me to go clay-pigeon shooting for years, and I had always declined. Once I read the scene, I finally took him up on his offer, and we went to a range in the Burbank, where he showed me a few pointers and I ended up hitting some of the clay targets with birdshot. On set a few days later, I felt much more comfortable and confident with the shooting and could concentrate on just being in character. I hope that confidence translates onto the screen, during that bit, which was a very cool scene to shoot.

Where do you start when you first get a script?

JD: I would say that when I first get a script, I read it first for enjoyment–simply taking in the fun of the story and the quirks of the characters and just getting lost in the energy that emanates from the pages. Then I highlight and memorize my lines, so I don’t have to worry about them–usually by recording them on my phone and listening back to them. I record them without much emphasis on delivery, so they can be delivered any which way during the actual shoot day and just come naturally. Then comes the hard part, but also the most creative: I focus on my scenes and try to figure out why my character is saying or doing the things in them. I imagine juicy backstories for the different topics my character mentions and for the relationships my character has with others in the scene. These backstories are a combination of a fictional world I create in my head, but also instances and emotions I may have experienced in real life. For this role, I also had to pay attention to the French accent and language, and ensure I was saying things properly.

As an actor, do you gravitate towards a certain type of character, or do you just take them as they come?

JD: I have been told that I naturally give off a mysterious quality. And so, I do gravitate to characters that have a deeper or darker side, where the audience doesn’t quite know what I am thinking. This quality is often linked to villains, which I love playing. But I have also enjoyed playing the genuine leading man or the straight-shooting detective. I try to find the depth and mystery in these characters as well. When a comedy comes my way, I always have a blast and just try to translate that depth into various character quirks, which I hope the audience finds funny.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an actor, and how did you overcome it?

JD: When I first moved to LA, I would sometimes get so worked up for an audition, and I would put so much into preparing and building up the emotion for my character, that sometimes that bundle of energy would spill into real life as nervous energy. I would be so nervous, that my hand would literally start shaking uncontrollably while holding the script. At some point, I realized that every audition is not a life-or-death situation, and I learned to relax, just have fun. One role or one audition will not define my life or my career. That nervous energy suddenly disappeared.

How did you get started in acting?

JD: I come from a creative family. My mother acted in college, and her mom (my grandmother) was a professional painter and sculptor. Her sister (my great aunt) was a professional radio actress in Hollywood during the 1950s. My dad loved movies. His grandfather was a cab driver in New York City, and one time, a production crew stopped my grandfather as he was driving and asked him to be in a chase scene for the film. Stuff of legend in my family. As I mentioned, my Dad would help me film movies in the backyard – with my siblings and friends – westerns and Indiana Jones spinoffs. Most of my siblings were part of Drama Club in high school, at the perennial theater powerhouse St. Raphael Academy in Rhode Island. And so, it was only natural that I started acting at a young age – in local professional theater, then high school, and then I majored in Theater in college at Providence. I did some professional theater on the East Coast after college as well, and took classes with the amazing theater actor Fred Sullivan, Jr. before moving to LA.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

JD: My longtime acting coach John Kirby, the well-known coach on several iconic sets and for several Hollywood stars, would often challenge us in his class to go deeper with our emotions and motivations. He would encourage us to create a master blueprint for the character, that he would refer to as a “score.” Almost like a symphony orchestra omposition – where we could add various notes, shades, and colors. Whether this score is primarily kept in a notebook or lives largely in our head, we would constantly be striving to add detail and nuance to this score and ask ourselves questions about the character. My favorite question to ask is: why?

What inspires you most in your life and career?

JD: I have had some really great support in my life – people have always rooted for me to follow my dreams in the world of acting – parents, siblings, relatives, teachers, friends – and that support inspires me to validate their belief in me. Also, I want to use my talents to perpetuate art in this world. Art provokes human beings to take a step back and reflect on this thing called life and truly appreciate it. Telling stories that pluck at the chords deep within the human soul, the chords that connect us all. And I don’t know why, but I have always been most happy when I am being creative. Maybe that is what inspires me the most of all – simply wanting to do what brings me the most joy – doing what I am meant to do.

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