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Sam Elliott has nearly 100 titles on his professional acting resume, and while many of those projects have given him the opportunity to play complex and different parts, the movie-going public really knows him for playing one: the cowboy. Few actors have ever looked better on the big screen sporting a giant mustache and ten gallon hat, and as a result the guy has found himself roaming around movie sets dressed as the Old West for his entire career. You might think he would get tired of this shtick after a while, but it seems that the guy is just happy to keep working with interesting filmmakers and material.
While recently a special guest for the "My Big Break" segment of NPR's "All Things Considered," Elliott discussed the strange path that he took towards being a professional actor, but also touched on why he doesn't really have a huge problem constantly playing cowboys. He admits there was a time when he was concerned about being trapped in the "Western Box," but eventually he simply learned to accept the path that life has put him on. He explained,
You just grow up and you realize, you know, life serves up what it serves up. I got over being anything but thankful for being in any kind of a box — Western or not. It's been a rich life. It's been a rich life.
Elliott got his first big screen role playing the off-camera "Card Player #2" in George Roy Hill's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - a part he landed after doing some cement work for an assistant director in Hollywood. Since then, as NPR notes, he has gone on to have much more significant performances in films like George P. Cosmatos' Tombstone and the TV movie The Shadow Riders. Of all his fantastic turns, however, the arguable fan-favorite is his mysterious presence as The Stranger in the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski:
What's funny about this part in particular is that Sam Elliott originally thought that the project was going to be something outside of the "Western Box." In the interview with NPR, he said that he received the script believing that it would give him the opportunity to explore new areas, but discovered that it really didn't once he started reading it:
Over the dialogue, there's this tumbling tumbleweed blowing and talk about this southwest accent and, 'Sounding not unlike Sam Elliott.' They had my name in the script. And then I read further and you see the character come into the bowling alley and he's dressed like a drug store cowboy or whatever he's dressed like. And looking 'not unlike Sam Elliot.'
Obviously he wasn't so disappointed that he decided not to make the movie - and cinema fans around the world are certainly grateful that he made that decision.