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Sam Elliott: What I Know Now

The actor looks back on a career guided by a rich inner voice

spinner image Sam Elliott, Portrait, Actor, What I Know Now
'Stache man Sam Elliott tells what he knows.
Catherinine Ledner

The lowdown

My voice gets recognized before anything else. It's always gotten attention. In choruses at church and school, I started as a tenor, moved to a baritone and finally became a bass. I knew then that my voice would be my instrument. Now if I want to hide, I just keep my mouth shut.

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Pa would be proud

My father once said, "You haven't got a snowball's chance in hell in Hollywood." That motivated me. My father was a good, practical man, but he came from a different time. He saw only a play or two of mine before he died. I think he'd be proud that his kid became the actor I did.

spinner image Sam Elliott, Actor, Katharine Ross, Actress, What I Know Now
Sam and Kate, wedded in 1984, are still crazy about each other.
ABC/Courtesy Everett Collection

Love of a lifetime

My wife, Katharine Ross, and I both worked on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but I didn't dare try to talk to her then. She was the leading lady. I was a shadow on the wall, a glorified extra in a bar scene. It wasn't until we made The Legacy [in 1978] that we actually interacted. We have a common sensibility, but we also work at being together. You work past the s--t; you don't walk away from it. That's how relationships last.

The famous mustache

I was one of the early guys from my generation to have hair on his face. Me and Tom Selleck, and I was first. I shaved clean and combed my hair straight back for a show called Justified on FX this year. It was fun transforming my look, but I did feel naked without the mustache.

Where have all the cowboys gone?

Hollywood's forgotten about the western genre, and that's unfortunate. Cowboy movies are really hard work, but I'd love to do another one. I have a great simpatico for the Old West. We need to stay true to those old values.

Tough choice

In Grandma, I play a man from Lily Tomlin's character's past. Her teenage grandchild gets pregnant. I had to think whether I wanted to involve myself. It's a painful, tough subject, and there's a broader spectrum about the decision than you'll often hear in L.A. and places where people tend to see one choice.

Cry, baby

I don't often break down and boohoo, but I'll shed a tear at the drop of a hat. Something will just move me, and my eyes will go misty. A lot of times it's music: Ray Charles, Johnny Cash. You can hear the whole world in certain voices.

Unplug already

I don't have email. Twitter, Facebook — everywhere you look, people are looking at their hands. In restaurants, it's like you're sitting in a patch of jack-o'-lanterns because everyone's face is lit up by their phone. Nobody's relating to each other.

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