What Makes '1883' Star Sam Elliott Such an Expert on Westerns?

Sam Elliott can claim to be a Western expert with the amount of cowboys he's played, which is perhaps why he felt compelled to speak plainly about his feelings for the Oscar-nominated The Power of the Dog.

Appearing on the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, he called Jane Campion's adaptation of the story a "piece of s***" and criticized it for its "allusions to homosexuality throughout." The Power of the Dog is the movie with the most nominations at this year's Academy Awards, securing 12 nods including acting nominations for cast members such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons while Campion is up for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Elliott went on to blast the technicalities of the movie, questioning why Benedict Cumberbatch's character never removed his chaps, why he was "never on a horse," and he also thought all the shirtless cowboys "running around" looked like Chippendales dancers.

Elliott's name started trending online as people reacted to his comments. He was a global trending topic with many people defending The Power of the Dog as a movie and blasting Elliott for his views.

Writer and co-host of the Disaster Girls podcast Jordan Crucchiola refuted Elliott's claims, writing on Twitter: "I sincerely don't remember a bunch of naked cowboys playing grab a** in The Power of The Dog. Benedict had his lake dips but where... were the Chippendales ranch hands? Which Power of The Dog did Sam Elliott watch and why can't I?"

Comedian Caleb Hearon also took issue with Elliott's comments about the overtly homosexual tones, claiming that "cowboys have always been gay."

The Hill reporter Zack Budryk shot back at Elliott, claiming that while the latter may not like The Power of the Dog's homosexual undertones, one of Elliott's recent projects was exactly the same. On Twitter he wrote: "If Sam Elliott thinks Power of the Dog was homoerotic wait until he hears about Justified, the show he was a season-long villain on."

Vulture writer Bilge Ebiri defended director Campion, by stating on Twitter that Thomas Savage, the man who wrote the original novel The Power of the Dog, "knew a thing or two about the world he was writing about."

On Marc Maron's podcast Elliott admitted he loved Campion's previous work, but he questioned what "this woman from down there, New Zealand, knows about the American West?"

But what does Elliott know about the American West? As it turns out, based on his previous work, seemingly quite a lot.

Sam Elliott's Western roles

Even though he has played various cowboys in multiple TV and movie Westerns over the years, Elliott's upbringing does not suggest he was born into the life. Though his parents are from Texas, Elliott was born and raised in California before moving to Oregon as a teenager. After graduating college, he worked in construction and served in the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing.

When Elliott finally got into acting in the 1960s, one of his first roles was in the popular Western TV series, Lancer. He returned to the series twice more in the subsequent years as different characters.

Sam Elliott and Jane Campion
Sam Elliott as he appears in "1883" and Jane Campion working on the set of "The Power of the Dog" which was shot in New Zealand. Emerson Miller / Kirsty Griffin/Paramount+ / Netflix

This proved to be the start of a long career for Elliott which led to him starring in over 100 projects in his career, many of which are Westerns.

In total Elliott has played cowboy characters in over half a dozen movies, and well over a dozen different Western TV shows in almost every decade since the 1960s.

He started with small unnamed roles in The Way West and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, before one of Elliott's big breaks came in the 1972 movie Molly and Lawless John where he played the titular Johnny Lawler.

Across TV he then starred as cowboys in TV series Gunsmoke, made-for-television movies I Will Fight No More Forever (1975) and The Sacketts (1979). He continued his Western trend in the 1980s with TV appearances in Wild Times, The Shadow Riders, and The Quick and the Dead.

Sam Elliott career
Sam Elliott as he appears in "1883" (left), "The Sacketts" (top right) and "The Yellow Rose" (bottom right). Emerson Miller / Bill Nation/Paramount+ / Getty Images

He's only ever credited with writing one movie in his career and that came in the form of the 1991 television Western Conagher. He co-wrote the script and played the lead role Conn Conagher, which also earned him a Golden Globe nomination.

In the 90s he starred alongside Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer in the movie Tombstone, and in the 1998 movie The Hi-Lo Country with Penélope Cruz and Woody Harrelson. His TV and video projects saw him star in The Desperate Trail, You Know My Name, and an Emmy-nominated turn in Buffalo Girls.

Elliott generally took a break from the Western genre for over a decade before returning with FX series Justified in 2015.

Starring in Westerns for a sixth decade, Elliott recently made a popular return to the genre in Taylor Sheridan's Paramount+ series 1883. Elliott played the tough but emotionally tortured cowboy Shea Brennan who attempted to lead a group of pioneers along the Oregon Trail.

The entire first season of 1883, which co-starred Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, LaMonica Garrett and Isabel May, is available to watch on Paramount+ now.

Jane Campion's Oscar-nominated movie The Power of the Dog is available to watch on Netflix now.

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