Saturday matinees inspired Sam Elliott to become an actor
First there’s the voice, that distinctive sonorous baritone. Then the thick silver hair and the handlebar mustache that would fit in perfectly in a saloon in the Old West.
Sam Elliott is instantly recognizable – it’s part of the reason he’s been working in Hollywood for nearly five decades with almost 100 roles. He’s been on countless TV series, including the original “Mission: Impossible,” “Justified” and his current part as Beau in the Netflix series “The Ranch,” which has been renewed for a second season (the second part of Season 1 is streaming). His movies includes such films as “Lifeguard,” “Mask” and of course the droll and mysterious “Stranger” in the cult classic “The Big Lebowski.” He’s been married to actress Katharine Ross (“The Graduate”) for 32 years.
Elliott discussed his long career and “The Ranch” over lunch in Bel Air, California. And yes, he is as charming as you would hope.
Q: Here you are at 72 and are working more than ever. What’s the secret?
A: I like to think some of it has to do with the choices I’ve made over the long haul … I never worked for the money. I’ve never been driven by it. It’s always been about the part or the project or the people.
Q: Was there a certain movie or actor that inspired you to become an actor?
A: I’ve wanted to do this since when I was a little kid. There were lots (of inspirations). I used to go to the Saturday matinee every Saturday.
Q: I would imagine you were a John Wayne fan.
A: Yes. “The Searchers,” films like that. “The Quiet Man.” I was going to the (movie) theater and having that experience and thinking “wow, that’s incredible.” Then later on in high school I was always in plays. I was always in the choir, always in vocal ensembles. My mom dragged me to sing in the church choir – the Congregational church – when I was like 5 years old. That’s where it began.
Q: I’m sure you didn’t have this voice at 5.
A: I think that’s before my voice broke, safe to say!
Q: Speaking of John Wayne, did you ever meet him when you began working in the late 1960s?
A: I went and got John Wayne’s autograph. He was doing “The Shootist,” his last film. I had this collection of water-colored prints called a John Ford Collection – beautiful paintings done by 14 of his favorite 20 actors he ever worked with. Wayne was among them. … I went in and talked with him for a few minutes. He didn’t know me from Adam but he knew I was an aspiring actor.
Q: You played Jane Fonda’s love interest in a few episodes of the Netflix comedy “Gracie and Frankie,” but “The Ranch” is your first starring role in a comedy series.
A: These guys (the creators) took a shot at me to see if I’d do it. And then I called Don Reo (one of the creators) and said I couldn’t do it. Then he came up to my house and we talked and then I got back on board.
Q: You recently finished indie feature film “The Hero,” directed and co-written by Brett Haley of “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” in which you play the lead.
A: I’m on every single page in this script. Brett Haley and I traveled a lot for press junkets for “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” Got very close. Became fast friends. We were trekking around the country and I talked about a lot of stuff. We got to know each other and he wrote this script based on all that conversation. He put together a brilliant presentation. But it was so personal in so many ways that I was like “Wow, are we really going to do this?”
Q: Your wife Katharine is in it too.
A: Katharine plays (my character’s) ex-wife. Something else that was great about this was seeing Katharine work again.