An interview with Sam Elliott, who stars in the movie “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” opening June 5.
Nearly half a century ago, I was in my freshman year at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash., where the drama department was staging the Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls” and Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist drama “No Exit.”
Appearing in both shows was Sam Elliott, a tall, slim, deep-voiced actor who quickly demonstrated great presence. Not to mention versatility. Sartre and Broadway? It was clear he had the makings of a major star, though he would spend some time in the National Guard and various construction jobs before that could happen.
“I had wanted to be an actor since I was 9,” he said during a recent Seattle visit. “Clearly, I just went to too many films when I was a kid.
‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’
Opens at Seattle-area theaters June 5. Rated PG-13. See Friday’s MovieTimes or go to seattletimes.com/movies for a review.
“I got very lucky after moving south (to L.A.). I got an agent and I got a portfolio of photos together. The first meeting they took me on was over at Fox, where they had one of those old contract programs still, and I was signed to a term contract.”
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In 1969, he made his film debut with a wisp of a role in George Roy Hill’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” followed by a more substantial part in a less substantial movie (Michael Winner’s “The Games”). Later he worked with Peter Bogdanovich on “Mask,” Ang Lee on “Hulk” and Daniel Petrie on “Lifeguard.” Many westerns and military dramas followed.
“I was just a shadow on the wall in ‘Butch Cassidy,’ ” said Elliott. “The only reason my name was on the credits is because I was under contract to Fox. George threw me this bone, as ‘Card Player No. 2,’ but you literally can’t see me. But it allowed me to be on a set for the first time.”
Also on the set was his future wife, Katharine Ross, though they didn’t meet until 10 years later, on a picture called “The Legacy.’’ They’ve been together ever since.
Earlier this year Elliott showed up at the Sundance Film Festival with three films, including “Grandma” with Lily Tomlin and “I’ll See You in My Dreams” with Blythe Danner. Both have generated Oscar talk for their stars. The latter played the Seattle International Film Festival last month and opens tomorrow, June 5, for a regular run.
“I’m a huge fan, as I think everybody is … Sam is often referred to as the ultimate man’s man,’’ said Brett Haley, the director of “Dreams,’’ who accompanied Elliott to Seattle. “But I saw something in his work that was more layered than that.”
Haley sees him as “more than just the cowboy or the biker, and I think I was thinking of who truly could stand up to Blythe Danner’s beauty. Blythe is 72 and a stunner and there’s not many men in their 70s who could pull off just the physical side of this role, because it does require a certain kind of sexuality and appeal and charisma.”
That icon quality was exploited most obviously in the Coen brothers’ 1998 cult comedy, “The Big Lebowski,” in which Elliott plays a bizarre cowboy/narrator. He was flabbergasted when he read the script, which was clearly written for him.
Has he ever gone to a Lebowski Fest?
“No. I’d be terrified.”
Has he ever been invited to these bathrobe-party celebrations of The Dude (played by Jeff Bridges)?
How many times?
“Oh I don’t know, a few.”