The Stranger, Virgil Earp, and Wade Garrett are a few of the famous characters played by the actor Sam Elliot. If you recognize those names from the films The Big Lebowski, Tombstone, and Roadhouse, you are certainly familiar with the man.
Maybe it’s his world class mustache, his smooth draw voice, or his calm and tranquil demeanor, but there is something about Sam Elliot that makes him so iconic.
In almost every role, Elliot plays some variation of a cowboy. He is no stranger to the hats, horses, and boots that accompany the western genre.
Perhaps the west was always calling his name. Growing up Sam Elliot always had an affinity to these types of movies.
In fact, Sam Elliot idolized some of the greatest screen cowboys of all time.
Keep watching to discover Sam Elliot’s favorite western actors. We will also take a look at some other interesting bits of trivia about Elliot.
Without further ado, let’s look at one of the most recognizable character actors in Hollywood.
Actors That Inspired Elliot’s Career
In almost any creative profession up-and-comers emulate and develop their crafts from the masters in the business. No exception to this rule is acting. That is exactly how Sam Elliot crafted his lifelong career as a westerner.
There are a certain few screen stars whose works have had the deepest impact on him.
Let’s see who he emulated his work after.
The first actor Sam Elliot learned to like was Gary Cooper.
Cooper was a two-time Oscar-winning actor in the 40s and 50s. His most notable work is likely High Noon. Not only did Cooper bring home the best actor academy award, but the film is also commonly cited amongst the best westerns of all time.
High Noon was selected by the Library of Congress as one of the films to be preserved in the National Film Registry.
In the film, Cooper plays Marshall Will Kane, a lawman who has to face down a group of gunmen.
It’s easy to see why Elliot holds Cooper in such high regard. Cooper’s character in High Noon has a strong moral compass and is committed to a code of honor. These types of traits are recurring in the roles Elliot has played in his career.
“Hey, Pilgrim.” We all know that favorite turn of phrase from the great cowboy John Wayne. What we don’t know is if that’s what Wayne said when he first met Sam Elliot.
That’s right, Elliot had the chance to meet one of his hero actors.
It was on the set of The Shootist. The film follows the story of an aging gunfighter who is looking to spend his remaining days living a quiet dignified life. The role was perfect for John Wayne who was at the end of his acting career.
Filming in 1976, Elliot approached Wayne looking for an autograph on a series of John Ford paintings. Elliot claimed Wayne had no idea who he was. It was early in Elliot’s careers and he didn’t have many credits.
However, Wayne did realize he was an inspiring actor, and he gave him some tips.
Elliot says his collection of films includes quite a few John Wayne films. Among his favorite are The Searchers and Red River.
Luckily, they met when they did because The Shootist was John Wayne’s final movie.
Elliot also notes Jimmy Stewart as having an impact on him.
Stewart was in such westerns as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and How the West Was Won.
Like Cooper, Elliott praises the types of roles steward played. He said the two actors always seemed to bring integrity to their parts.
Such a profound effect did these western stars have on him; they shaped his career.
Because of these types of films, Elliot decided to pursue and prioritize roles in these genres versus other jobs with better pay.
Today, Elliot claims this behavior allows him to hold his head high regarding his own movies.
However, his favorite western actors aren’t the only interesting thing about Sam Elliot. There are some more noteworthy things to mention about this actor.
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The Coen Brothers Kept Elliot Talking
In 1998, when the Coen Brothers were working on their classic comedy The Big Lebowski, they needed an excellent voice to act as the storyteller for the film.
They turned to the laconic smooth draw of Sam Elliot. His character is called The Stranger and he narrates the adventure of the film’s protagonist the Dude.
Towards the end of the movie, The Dude and The Stranger have a chance encounter.
For this particular scene, the Coen brothers shot a great deal of takes. After a certain point, Elliot started to get irritated. Wondering where he was going wrong, he begged the directors to tell him exactly what they wanted.
As it turned out, Elliot had nailed the scene a while ago. The Coen Brothers just liked hearing the sound of Elliot’s voice speaking the lines.
They only told him this after the 15th take of the scene.
Memorable Voice Work
The Coen Brothers weren’t the only ones who appreciated Elliot’s distinct voice. The actor has a number of memorable voice-acting gigs.
RAM used Elliot’s smooth draw in a commercial to show off their truck line. In the ad, the actor climbs out of one of the vehicles and dramatically insists “this is only the beginning”.
Another voice role was for The Coors Brewing. To help sell their beer born in the Rockies, this Colorado based company decided that it had to be Elliot’s western cowboy cadence.
However, possibly Elliot’s most famous voice work is for the Smokey the Bear forest fire awareness campaign.
Funny enough, early in his career Elliot was criticized for his slow talking demeanor. He was urged by many people in the film industry to try to speed up his voice and enunciate his words. They suggested this would help him land more roles. Though he tried this for a spell, Elliot ultimately gave up on it.
This was fortunate as Elliot effectively built his career on his unique voice.
Elliot is Also Known for His Mustache
Equally iconic as his voice is Elliot’s Mustache. His billowing white mustache is present in almost every one of his movie roles. His ‘stache is often commented on but rarely emulated.
While Elliot has donned the mustache most of his career, he claims he doesn’t understand the fascination people have with it.
When he was working on the set of A Star is Born, someone showed Elliot a pole for the best movie mustache. The contest came down to Sam Elliot vs Tom Selleck. Though he was intrigued, he thought the whole thing was utterly bizarre.
He refrained from casting his vote on the matter.
He Bounced Around A Lot of TV Series
Although he has carefully considered his movie and TV roles in his career, early on, Elliot didn’t have the luxury of picking and choosing.
Breaking into the industry, Elliot was cast in a small role in many TV series.
Hawaii Five-0, Mission: Impossible, and Gunsmoke were some of the roles he had. After bouncing around in bit parts, Elliot almost had his big break. In 1974, he was tapped by CBS to play the lead role in an Evel Knievel series.
The star role in a popular CBS series would have been massive. Unfortunately, after filming the pilot, the network decided to not put the show into production.
Indeed, Elliot picked up a lot of parts before he became a recognizable face. The actor has an impressive 102 TV and film credits to his name.
Along the way, however, a few of those credits would become by far his most famous.
Sam Elliott’s “Big Three” Roles
If you ask anyone about a Sam Elliot movie, chances are they will come up with one of three movies: The Big Lebowski, Roadhouse, and Tombstone.
These three are considered by fans and Elliot himself to be the big three of his career. Elliot doesn’t think these are necessarily his best acting roles. In fact, he was recently nominated for an Oscar for A Star is Born. Instead, Elliot suggests that these three are so memorable because they are played all the time. He says he just can’t get away from his big three.
Though all three movies are a different genre, Elliot has a very memorable role in each. What’s more, Elliot plays some form of cowboy in each one.
The western actors he looked up to when he was younger would be proud.
Sam Elliot is one of the most recognizable character actors in the business. While he is very selective with his roles, he always tends to wind up playing a cowboy or a westerner. It seems his favorite western film actors have inspired his filmography.
So, what do you think? What is Elliot’s most iconic role? Where does his mustache stack up with the rest of Hollywood? Sound off in the comments below.
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