The rugged Sam Elliot has most often cast in character actor roles throughout his long career in film, though the 70 year-old Elliot thinks it wasn’t always meant to be that way. While promoting the indie drama I’ll See You in My Dreams — one of the few films in which Elliot plays the lead — Elliot spoke about exactly when he thinks he torpedoed his chances at being a leaning man by speaking out about the marketing of one of his early films and his displeasure with the casting practices of Hollywood with young actors.
Elliot starred in a 1976 drama titled Lifeguard about a beach lifeguard who undergoes something of an early midlife crisis. However, the Paramount’s marketing highlighted the beach scenes, something that Elliot felt was inappropriate. “I bristled at the way that they were selling the film,” he recalls. During the press tour, he didn’t hold back on his thoughts about the marketing. He remembers, “I was kind of a smartass. I was on the road for six weeks with that picture [as part of a press tour]— that’s a lot of traveling, and really the first time for me — and every situation where I’d come in to do an interview, invariably the first line out of the interviewer’s mouth was, ‘This movie isn’t anything like I expected it to be!’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, I know!’ And then go ahead and start flapping my lips about it.”
Unfortunately for Elliot, grudges in Hollywood run deep — nearly four decades later he has never worked in another Paramount film. He acknowledges in hindsight, “I had my shot. I had my moment, where I had the starring role in Lifeguard and all that, but I think I kind of fucked myself out of a career on that level from being too honest and too opinionated and not really very smart at the same time. I think I scared people off.”
All these years later, Elliot thinks little has changed in casting in studio films. Elliot believes that instead of searching for talented actors, studios look for a particular look. He says, “It’s all about fucking youth. It’s never about people that have learned, people that have grown, people that have life experience, something we can glean something from or learn something from or be amused by. It’s all this shit about big tits and hard asses, you know? And everybody’s got ’em, and they all look the fuckin’ same because they’re all fuckin’ coming out of a mold somewhere, you know? I don’t know what it is, but it’s a thing. It’s not one of the great things about the business.”