Sam Elliott has racked up nearly 100 credits since his film debut as Card Player #2 in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—Lifeguard, Gettysburg, Up in the Air and lots of westerns, including Tombstone, The Sacketts, The Shadow Riders and The Yellow Rose. His deep drawl cashes in even when he’s not on screen, as Dodge Ram, Coors and American Beef Council ads plus his Smokey Bear PSAs prove.
And at 71, the mustachioed silver fox is more in demand than ever, with recent roles in Justified, I’ll See You in My Dreams and Grandma. Having ventured into TV comedy in Parks & Recreation, he’s sticking with the genre in two Netflix projects: a Grace and Frankie guest arc as Jane Fonda’s love interest (May) and The Ranch, which begins streaming this Friday.
Elliott plays Beau, a stubborn, conservative Colorado rancher who clashes with his failed athlete son (Ashton Kutcher) in the multi-camera family comedy, also starring Debra Winger and Danny Masterson. The role may be familiar, but the format is not, one of the reasons Elliott was intrigued. That and the prospect of letting F-bombs fly with no censorship, as he explains here…
“I didn’t even think about swearing in terms of this show. But I do use the F-word quite frequently.”
Some people may be surprised to see you in a sitcom, albeit a Netflix one. What brought you to The Ranch?
It just happened. Good fortune came my way again. I had an incredible year last year that really began the year before with Justified. After 47 years, all of a sudden I’m doing things that I’ve never done before. This show is just an extension of that. I’m doing a four‑camera show and working with people that have proven themselves in this genre. It’s pretty daunting because it’s new for me. But it’s a real joy to go to work and make people laugh, I must say. I always wanted to work with Debra. It’s funny, you have careers that go on forever but you never cross paths. You just know people from afar.
What was the appeal of the premise?
I think the thing that makes this universal is it’s about a family, a pretty dysfunctional family, as it turns out. The two boys are old enough to be on their own and have families of their own but they’re still in the bar, chasing women. The parents are dealing with issues that have been their issues for a long time, still trying to make a go of it.
How many times have you played a cowboy, do you figure?
Too many! I say that facetiously. It’s the genre I most love. I’m not sure I can even include this guy in being a cowboy. He’s a rancher and there’s a real distinction between the two, I think. But there’s a common thing at the core of it, the West, the mythic stuff.
Do you enjoy the freedom you have to swear that you don’t get in broadcast TV?
I didn’t even think about that in terms of this show. But I do use the F-word quite frequently.
What do you watch on Netflix?
I like Grace & Frankie a lot. Orange is the New Black, I enjoy that a lot too.
You’ve done one project after another of late. Do you like working so much?
No, I like taking a break. I have real life that I’d like to focus on. I’ve got a house in Oregon that belonged to my mother who died four years ago and I have still not dealt with the 50-plus years of her life she lived in that house. I’m going to complete that journey this summer and sell that home. But there’s a couple of independent films I’m talking to people about. I like to keep working. Brett Haley, the director of I’ll See You in My Dreams, has got a couple of things he’s eager to do and I have no doubt that something will get put together. But that’s the great thing about this business. You never know what’s around the corner. It’s unsettling, but it’s part of it. It beats going to an office every day and being one of the minions.
Photo by James Dimmock/Netflix.