In Conversation: Jefferson White
Jefferson White is an actor we all love on the hit series Yellowstone, but as his career gains traction, his charisma on and off screen has us excited for everything that’s yet to come. We had the opportunity to sit down with him recently and reflect on his journey, getting to the heart of the lessons he’s learned along the way.
BM: We know you as an actor, but how did you decide to pursue acting as a career?
JW: I’m from a tiny little town in Iowa, and my mom is a public librarian in the nearby town. I think it has a population of five or six hundred people. At her library, she would do puppet shows for the kids, a sort of children’s theater for the community, so I started helping her with that when I was really young and fell in love with performing through that experience.
I don’t want to speak for all actors, but part of what drew me to it as a kid is that it’s a space where it’s not only acceptable to be the center of people’s attention and put on performances, but you can also celebrate whatever is unique or specific to you. So as a kid, I found comfort in that and came to crave that environment.
BM: What did your first forays into acting look like? How did you take that inspiration and make a career out of it?
JW: I started doing theater in school and then local community theater, and it organically grew from there.
I went to Iowa State University in Ames and was planning on pursuing advertising because I was worried about not making any money acting. But I found that I have a hard time focusing on things that I’m not passionate about. Eventually, I skipped all my advertising classes to put all my time into acting classes — falling deeper and deeper in love with it.
I always loved the feeling of being on stage, and I had a passion for it, but that wasn’t very shaped. I had an acting professor in college, Matt Foss, who helped me fall in love with it in a more informed way. Matt was an incredible teacher who helped me shape and articulate what it was that I loved about acting.
I moved to New York ten years ago, expecting and planning to do small plays with my friends, and through a series of lucky stumbles, I ended up in TV and film.
BM: Were there any hardships or doubts along the way? How did you overcome them?
JW: Oh, I constantly doubt myself. I think every creative person does. We all continuously fear that whatever job we’re doing is the last job we’re ever going to have. Acting, and any other creative field, is always about dealing with rejection. I’ve leaned into that out of necessity from the start. I audition for ten times more jobs than I get, and what keeps you on the course is your friends and your community — especially collaborating with artists you admire.
Community is your bulwark against doubt, and it's your bulwark against the millions of little wounds you’re subject to in any creative field. When you find other artists you fall in love with, and you can mutually support each other, that community becomes your shield against how brutal the industry can be. So I doubt myself constantly, but I turn to the people around me in those moments because I know I’ll never doubt them. The brilliant artists around me are a constant source of strength and confidence.
BM: You’re hosting the Yellowstone podcast and have an active online presence that keeps you connected to a larger community. What makes it worthwhile to keep that connection with the community outside of acting?
JW: I think that it’s everything. From when I first started in theater and working on sets, there have always been these creative experiences that are so exciting and energizing that I leave those sets having to figure out what to do with all that energy.
In my earliest experiences, I fell in love with trying to understand the entire process and everyone’s role in it and applying that to everything I do. It’s a constant source of energy — a constantly churning imaginative furnace. Any one person’s imagination is limited by their own experiences, so when you spend more time with other artists, you can also draw from their experiences. From those interactions, you’re able to engage with other people in a more meaningful way.
There are many ways to do that, but I always try to collaborate with my friends. Yellowstone and other sets I’ve been on have been very generous in letting me take photos of my castmates. It's one of the ways I’ve been able to stay fully engaged in being an artist while I’m acting, which, to be honest, can be a very lonely and mercenary pursuit.
All freelance artists have this experience. We go from job to job and need to find ways to connect with the new groups of people we’ve thrown ourselves into on any given day. Photography’s been one of those means of connection for me.
BM: Are there lessons you’ve learned through photography and other people's experiences that you’ve been able to take back to acting?
JW: Working in photography and filmmaking has been instrumental to my process as an actor because it’s allowed me to have a more informed perspective on any given project — it enables me to understand the process from beginning to end.
Each of us is one little strand in this large tapestry, and the more you understand what everyone’s job is and how we’re all interconnected, the better you can fulfill your role. That’s been my principle, at least, and it’s something I admire about Buck Mason — the attention to detail across the entirety of the process. It’s clear there’s a curatorial eye and a hands-on approach to every aspect of the work, from the development of a product to the feeling you get wearing it, and I admire that very much. I try to pursue that same philosophy in my own creative work because if I can understand what everyone's job is, I can be a more valuable collaborator to everyone else.
BM: What is it about Buck Mason that you enjoy most or find most inspiring?
JW: I love that sort of holistic approach — I love that there’s care put into every step of the process. There's also this timelessness and a classic feel to everything that I admire so much. I use a lot of analog film in my photography practice, and the world Buck Mason has built has the same qualities as that film. There’s a texture and life to everything and an approachability that I gravitate towards in how I dress. I work on a cowboy show where I wear chaps and denim, and I live in New York, one of the world's fashion capitals. Buck Mason is one of the few brands I know that can represent and play seamlessly in both worlds. There’s an inherent sense of character to the clothing that’s very distinct, but I can still wear the same things in Montana, New York, and Los Angeles — wherever I go.