In acting, if you’re stereotyped, it can often be tough. You may miss out on roles and only get called in for one specific type of character.
For Sam Elliott, though, it’s been good. “The western thing, rather than boxing me in, I felt that it was a blessing of sorts,” says Sam Elliott on being known as “The Cowboy Guy.” “It’s like The Ranch—I wouldn’t be doing this show if I didn’t have that western thing that I’ve had forever.”
He was asked to do other films such as The Big Lebowski and The Golden Compass for the same reason—his deep voice and signature mustache in addition to his acting prowess. “It closed some doors,” says Elliott, “but opened an unlimited amount of doors.”
“There was a certain period of my life around The Contender and The Big Lebowski—I got The Big Lebowski because of that western baggage, and it occurred to me then how fortunate I was to be known for anything,” Elliott recalls.
On The Ranch
Since 2016, Elliott has played on Netflix’s The Ranch. As the character Beau Bennett, he’s the father of Colt and Rooster played by Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson, respectively. Beau is divorced from their mom, Maggie, played by Debra Winger. He works like crazy to preserve the ranch passed down in his family. He’s a conservative curmudgeon, but deep down loves his family and the life, even when it’s tough.
While The Ranch is Elliott’s first foray into playing a starring role on a sitcom, it’s not his first rodeo, so to speak. “I’ve been lucky over the years in that I’ve had comedic moments in the stuff that I’ve done. Out and out comedy really came two years ago when I had a little part in Parks and Recreation (he played Ron Dunn on three episodes).
“It was a difficult decision for me to do a four-camera show, which I’d never done, and something that was pretty much out-and-out comedy,” Elliott admits. “The opportunity was always the thing that attracted me to it, and certainly the people I’m working with—not only the actors, but also Don Reo and Jim Patterson [the creators] have these long track records with success and multiple camera shows.”
Making Them Laugh
Elliott also enjoys how each episode may change in the course of a week of working on it. “I’ve found the creative end almost as much fun as the acting end of it—working on scripts and trying to figure it out. From Monday to Friday is quite a journey. The script goes through all of these different changes. All the way along, it’s changing, and rewrites are generated,” he explains. “It’s an interesting process, an exciting one.”
One of the toughest parts for Elliott, though, is balancing what would happen in reality with the comedic parts that make the show funny. “I think life’s funny in general and can be if given the right perspective on it,” he says. He understands now how they often stretch reality to go for the laughs. But he’s okay with it. “I tell you, there is nothing like hearing an audience laugh or making people laugh. That’s just a great gift to be able to do that,” Elliott says. “I’m enjoying that part of it.”
Back when he was under contract with 20th Century Fox, Elliott says he loved to go to the set to watch the filming of M.A.S.H. “I think the really great comedians are just so gifted in some ways,” he says.
Although the rest of his family was born in Texas, Elliott hails from Sacramento. His family moved to California the year before he was born. He wanted to be an actor since he was a child. “I think it started from going to too many Saturday matinees,” Elliott quips. “I wanted to do what I saw on the screen, which made me feel the way I felt as an audience member. It wasn’t about fame. It wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about anything other than I wanted to make films. Specifically, I wanted to be a movie actor.”
In grade school, Elliott performed in musical comedy. He participated in voice ensembles, choirs, and drama classes all through high school and into college—it formed his acting and performing foundation. Although he fulfilled his childhood dreams by performing in movies and having a successful career as a sought-after voiceover artist, there’s one thing that Elliott would still love to do. “I’d like to do a musical comedy someday,” he admits.
Elliott once had the opportunity to audition for Tommy Tune in New York for the Broadway revival of Annie Get Your Gun with Reba McEntire. Because his daughter was in school, Elliott and his wife of 33 years, actress Katharine Ross, decided they didn’t want to have to move. So he passed on the audition.
If he does do musical theater in the future, Elliott admits that it won’t be easy. “The thought of doing theater terrifies me because of my memory. I have to work hard to get my lines down. I always have. So doing Shakespeare would scare me to death,” he says.
Now 74, Elliott says that he’s working a lot more than he has in quite a while. That’s okay with him. “It just gets better and better.”
About Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski
Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski is the award-winning author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box), writer of the award-winning humor column, Wojo’s World®, and a not-yet award-winning stand-up comic. Like Elliott, she would love to appear in musical theater. Her only problem is that she can’t sing well. Check out her website at www.wojosworld.com.
Photo of Sam Elliot by Buckner/Deadline/REX/Shutterstock (7946172a)/Deadline Hollywood Portraits at Sundance Presented by Applegate
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