Sam Elliott met the soldier he plays in We Were Soldiers in real life – and portraying him in “the most difficult” film he’s ever made had him leaving takes “in tears.”
“Of all the films I’ve done, that was the most difficult to make.” So says Sam Elliott, the type of one-of-a-kind actor who needs no further introduction.
The words come courtesy of a fascinating 2006 interview with author and entertainment writer Scott Holleran. Within, Elliott discusses all facets of his career – from television failings to the heights of Hollywood. The most fascinating insight, however, comes courtesy of that line above.
2002’s We Were Soldiers tells the harrowing story of the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War. Through it, we get to know the soldiers on both sides of the unbelievable conflict. All the while, their wives wait anxiously at home for either good news… Or bad news.
“This was an opportunity to get the Vietnam War right and most of the veterans who come up to me tell me we did,” Sam Elliott continues of the celebrated film for Holleran. “It was a very powerful movie—I walked off some of those scenes in tears.”
Powerful, indeed. Elliott’s character, Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley, is a very real man. In fact, some argue he’s one of the most prolific soldiers in American history.
Basil L. Plumley, born January 1, 1920, was a career soldier. More specifically, he was an airborne combat infantryman in the United States Army. Plumley fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War – the latter being the time span for which Sam Elliott would embody him for We Were Soldiers.
Sam Elliott Met the Real Basil L. Plumley Before His Death
Plumley, who was most noted for his actions during the Battle of Ia Drang during the Vietnam War, would pass on October 10, 2012. Before he did, he had risen to the rank of command sergeant major. And he would also meet the man who portrayed him in film: Sam Elliott.
“By the time we’d gotten into production, I’d met my character in real life,” Elliott offers in the 2006 interview.
While he isn’t forthcoming with the details, the actor does state plainly that “He was amazing.”
While we can’t be sure how accurate the dialogue of We Were Soldiers is to the real-life Plumley, this makes it no less iconic to the ears and eyes. Sam Elliott gives the film’s best one-liners by far – hopefully a consolation prize for what was the most difficult film to make of his career.
Such classic Plumley lines include:
“You want to know how Custer felt? Why don’t you ask him?”
Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: I wonder what was going through Custer’s mind when he realized that he’d led his men into a slaughter?
Sergeant Major Basil Plumley: Sir, Custer was a p—y. You ain’t.
Sergeant Ernie Savage: Beautiful morning, Sergeant!
Sergeant Major Basil Plumley: What are you a f—–g weatherman now?
And this author’s personal favorite: “If any of you sons of b—-s calls me grandpa, I’ll kill you.”
Truly words to live by – and a role worth shaving off the world’s most iconic moustache for.