Speaking to Slate in 2015, western icon Sam Elliott names the films he “wouldn’t have done” if not for “embracing his truth” and heritage.
If Outsider knows one thing, it’s that Sam Elliott will be Sam Elliott, moustache or no. He’s shaved his iconic facial hair for several films, including 2000’s The Contender with Jeff Bridges, a film we’ll get into below. Yet through it all, Elliott believes he owes a lot to that moustache, and the “Western icon” status it helped him rise to.
Sam Elliott, born to the deep Western roots of Sacramento, California, grew up in Oregon. But holds deep roots in Texas, as well. His ancestors fought for The Alamo and raised livestock in the Lonestar State.
Building off all of this with Slate staff writer Aisha Harris, Elliott recalls how he “kind of got into this box about being the cowboy in town,” and how it led to a career he never would’ve had otherwise.
“I used to have… Bristle at that, because it was very limiting in some respects,” the Western icon says of his early days in the Western genre.
“Then I got to thinking, ‘well, you know what? I wouldn’t have worked with the Coen brothers if that wasn’t the way it was. And I wouldn’t have done a movie called The Golden Compass, which I’m very proud of. I wouldn’t have done Tombstone,” he offers, stalwart. “I wouldn’t have worked with a lot of really good people if I hadn’t have been guided that truthfully.”
That truth, he says, is all due to his Western roots. And a family deeply embedded in the last great American frontier.
Sam Elliott on Embracing and Breaking Western Icon Status: ‘I’m Happy With it’
For Sam Elliott, “pursuing his truth” directly led to embracing his status as a modern embodiment of the Old West.
“True or not, it was some representation for, don’t misunderstand, but that iconic genre,” he offers humbly of his place in Hollywood’s Pantheon. “I’m happy with it.”
“And then I did a movie one time with a guy named Rob Lurie, that did this picture called The Contender. And Rod had Jeff Bridges to play the president in this movie,” the actor continues. It was for The Contender that Sam Elliott would famously break type again in his career. This, understandably, led to a bit of unease.
“He sent me the script, and it’s like – all of a sudden, [I become this guy] with a three-piece suit, you know, buzz haircut and no mustache… The Chief of Staff,” he recalls of his character.
“And I ask Rod, I said, ‘I see the script, it’s a great script, and you’ve got great people. But I don’t know how I fit in here,” Elliott grins of playing against his type.
To this, Elliot says Rod Lurie responded with: “I was watching The Big Lebowski last night and I just want to see more of you and The Dude together!” he laughs.