×

Playback: Sam Elliott on ‘The Hero’ and Living His Childhood Dream

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

Icon is a word that gets thrown around a lot but it seems safe to say Sam Elliott qualifies. Even the man’s voice is iconic, which was the entry-point for his role in Brett Haley’s new film, “The Hero.” Elliott stars as a voice actor searching for that next gear in life, and it’s the kind of character he admits he doesn’t get to play very often. Deep into a nearly 50-year career, he cherishes these kinds of opportunities — so much so that he’s actually taken to calling the role of Lee Hayden a gift, rather than an opportunity.

He put plenty of himself into the part, but he cautions that there are glaring differences. Still, he could relate to Lee’s plight, both in his own experience and those of friends and colleagues he’s observed in the business.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

Click here for more episodes of “Playback.”

“There is some stuff that I identify with,” Elliott says of the role. “I know actors who had a good run at it, a short run, and then nothing happened after that, and I watched those guys dry up on the vine, waiting for it to turn around. This business is not easy on its actors, I don’t think. My friend Bill Paxton told me and Katharine [Ross] one time, standing in our kitchen right after we’d done ‘Tombstone,’ he said, ‘We’re all just grist for the mill,’ and I just thought, ‘F—, man, that’s the truth of it.'”

This is Elliott’s second collaboration with Haley, following 2015’s “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” Haley was eager to write a role specifically for the actor, no doubt to harness that aforementioned iconography. And Elliott himself relished the chance to again work with young up-and-coming talent.

“It gives you hope for where the game is going,” he says. “I’ve been in this business a long time, almost 50 years, and wanted to do it since I was a kid. I’ve seen a number of changes, I think marked most prominently by the introduction of the chip, so to speak. That’s really revolutionized the business. And here comes this kid who comes from that side of it who I think is a brilliant filmmaker. I think Brett has an opportunity to do some important work over the long haul. He has things to say and he knows how to go about putting it together.”

As Elliott says, he has wanted to be a part of the movie business since he was quite young. He delighted in the big screen, watching Flash Gordon and Tom Mix serials (the latter helping to ignite his love of the western genre, which — not to belabor the term — counts him as one of its icons). He can’t pinpoint exactly when it was the hook sank into him but the rush of cinema is something that has flowed in his veins for a very long time and he frets, somewhat, for its future.

“There was a somewhat off-putting piece to me in the LA Times last week about all the exhibitors trying to bring the audience back into the fold,” he says. “All the bells and whistles they’re offering, the food, the reclining chairs, the rumbling seats, the spray. It’s like, what the f—, man. For me going to a film is about going into a darkened theater and it’s a relationship you have with what’s going on on the screen. It’s not about the distractions going on around you and having to focus and block things out. That’s why you go in there.”

For more, including Elliott’s thoughts on the modern viability of the western genre, popping up briefly in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” working with Bradley Cooper in the currently-filming “A Star is Born” and his personal secret to longevity, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

Subscribe to “Playback” via iTunes.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

  • Hereditary

    The Best Horror Films to Stream Right Now

    Good horror movies aren’t always easy to scare up, but with Halloween on the horizon, Variety has compiled a list of some of the best horror films available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. NETFLIX Apostle Cult horror meets religious hypocrisy in this creepy gothic thriller, which follows prodigal son Thomas Richardson, who returns home [...]

  • Brett Gelman

    'Stranger Things' Star Brett Gelman Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse'

    Brett Gelman, best known for his scene-stealing roles in “Fleabag,” “Stranger Things” and “Love,” has joined Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Jamie Bell and Jodie Turner-Smith are also on board. Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known as John Terrence Kelly, a former Navy SEAL who [...]

  • US director Francis Ford Coppola holds

    Francis Ford Coppola Honored With Prestigious Lumiere Prize by Thierry Fremaux, Bong Joon Ho

    Francis Ford Coppola took the stage to claim the Lumière Festival’s lifetime achievement honor, the Lumière Prize, in a stirring celebration that marked the festival’s 10th edition on Friday night in Lyon, France. The four-time Academy Award winner accepted the prize after a series of video tributes, musical performances and testimonials from family, friends and [...]

  • 'Human Capital' Sells to Vertical Entertainment,

    Liev Schreiber, Maya Hawke's 'Human Capital' Sells Rights to DirecTV, Vertical Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Vertical Entertainment and DirecTV have jointly acquired the North American distribution rights to “Human Capital,” an official selection of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival from director Marc Meyers. The film stars Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maya Hawke. The ensemble drama follows numerous interconnected stories surrounding a hit and run, [...]

  • Robert Zemeckis

    Robert Zemeckis in Talks to Direct Live-Action 'Pinocchio' for Disney (EXCLUSIVE)

    Robert Zemeckis is in early talks to direct Disney’s live-action “Pinocchio.” Andrew Miano and Chris Weitz will produce through their company Depth of Field with Weitz penning the script. “Paddington” director Paul King had originally been tapped to direct but had to leave the project for unknown reasons at the beginning of the year. David [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content