‘1883’ Star Sam Elliott Loves the Simplicity of Westerns

by Leanne Stahulak
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If there’s one thing “1883” star Sam Elliott knows best, it’s how to play a cowboy in a Western film or television series.

Elliott’s played countless cowboys over the years, in iconic films like “Tombstone,” “The Quick and the Dead,” “The Shadow Riders,” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Something always draws him back to that genre and that character.

The “1883” star opened up about why he loves playing in Westerns so much earlier this week. He talked with Al Roker and other hosts of the TODAY Show, revealing why he keeps coming back to cowboys.

“I think on some level it’s the simplicity of that form,” Elliott explained. “You know, things are pretty black and white in westerns. At least they always have been to me. There’s not a lot of grey area.”

The “1883” star then admitted that one Western film that was released this past year is “all grey as far as I’m concerned.” The film in question is “The Power of the Dog,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Folks who have watched the film can confirm that the main character is certainly not all good or all bad.

But even Cumberbatch’s character goes through the same conflicts that most cowboys endure in Westerns.

“It’s a classic struggle,” Elliott continued. “The ways I’ve always looked at Westerns, it’s man against man, it’s man against himself, and man against nature. And I just think that those three struggles have spoken to me since I was a little kid and fascinated me. And I think they make for great entertainment. Particularly in Taylor Sheridan’s hands.”

How ‘1883’ Embodies What Sam Elliott Calls ‘Classic Struggles’

Any writer can tell you that those three conflicts Sam Elliott described above drive most stories. But usually, those struggles are a bit nuanced in books or movies or TV shows. In Westerns, those struggles are broken down to their most basic meaning and depicted mercilessly on screen.

We’ve seen all three examples in “1883” alone. Man vs. nature is simple enough. Everything in the Great Plains seems designed to kill these poor pioneers. From the wild animals to the raging rivers to the lack of food or shelter on the plains.

And when you’re faced with those natural struggles, it’s all too easy to turn on your fellow man. Even early on in this season of “1883,” the immigrants stole from one another. And then, later on, we witnessed people kill one another for food, horses, or revenge against injustice. It’s nearly impossible to trust anyone out there.

Including, at times, yourself. How many times did we watch Sam Elliott’s character Shea Brennan doubt himself? He spent a whole episode debating if he should stop the wagon train in Denver and wipe his hands clean of everyone. But then he wouldn’t be fulfilling what he set out to do, even if it’s slowly killing all these people.

Sheridan certainly knows what he’s doing as he ties these struggles into not only “1883” but the other Westerns he’s worked on as well.

Outsider.com