Sam Elliott on Playing ‘the Cowboy’ in ‘The Big Lebowski,’ and His Legendary Mustache

Sam Elliott: Six Questions With America's Last Great Cowboy
 Getty Images/Gregg DeGuire

Sam Elliott made his mark as the last great cowboy in the legendary stoner flick The Big Lebowski, and, more recently, Ashton Kutcher’s dad on the Netflix-original sitcom The Ranch. And his kickass mustache has remained steadfast throughout.

Here, six questions with the actor.

1. How do you feel about being identified as “the cowboy”? 

When I got the script for The Big Lebowski, I thought, “I’m finally going to play some wacky character.” But then it said the character had a Southwestern accent “not unlike Sam Elliott” and was dressed like a drugstore cowboy “looking not unlike Sam Elliott.” I thought, “Holy shit, this really is what I’m known for.” So, I figured, if the Coen brothers hired me because of that, I’m just going to embrace it.

2. When did you realize you had a spectacular mustache?

I first grew one in the late ’60s, but I’ve cut it off without hesitation. It’s always a shock to people who don’t know me: “How can you cut your mustache off?” You can’t even answer a question like that. Why do you get a haircut?

3. What’s your motto?

In the TV movie Conagher, I say: “When I take a man’s money, I ride for the brand.” In other words, when I sign up, I’m not gonna do two jobs at once.

4. You and actress Katharine Ross have been married for nearly 40 years. What’s the secret?

It’s work. And it’s give and take. One partner can’t be more valuable than the other.

5. What kind of give and take?

I fuckin’ wash the dishes more than my wife does. We have a real life. I still enjoy manual labor. If I weren’t an actor, I’d go back to laying concrete.

6. What’s the best advice you’ve gotten?

Western actor Ben Johnson told me, “I may not be a very good actor, but nobody can play Ben Johnson like I can.” That spoke to me. I may not be a very good actor, but nobody can play Sam Elliott like I can.

Sam Elliott stars in The Hero, in theaters June 9.