Sam Elliott has apologized for controversial comments he made about the Western The Power of the Dog last month in an episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.
Speaking Sunday on a panel at Deadline’s Contenders TV event to promote his Paramount+ series 1883Elliott was asked about his comments, which included calling the Jane Campion-directed movie a “piece of shit” as well as questioning its character portrayals and themes of masculinity and sexuality.
“First, don’t go do a podcast whose call letters are WTF,” he quipped.
Getting serious, he added that the movie “struck a chord with me.”
“And in trying to tell the guy, the WTF guy [Maron], how I felt about the film, I wasn’t very articulate about it,” Elliott continued. “I didn’t articulate it very well. And I said some things that hurt people. And I feel terrible about that.”
He went on to apologize directly to the gay community, who “has been incredible to me my entire career — and I mean my entire career, from before I got started when I was in this town. Friends on every level, in every job description, up until today with my agent, my dear friend. … And I’m sorry that I hurt any of those friends, and someone that I love. And anyone else by the words that I used.”
He continued: “I also told this ‘What the F’ podcaster that I thought Jane Campion was a brilliant director, and I want to apologize to the cast of The Power of the Dog, brilliant actors, all. And in particular Benedict Cumberbatch. I can only say that I’m sorry and I am. I am.”
Elliott’s apology comes a little over a month after the WTF episode was released. Asked if he liked the movie, Elliott told Maron: “Fuck no. I looked at it when I was down there in Texas doing 1883 and what really brought it home to me the other day … there was a fucking full-page ad out in the LA Times and there was a review — not a review, but a clip — and it talked about the evisceration of the American myth. And I thought, ‘What the fuck? What the fuck?’ This is the guy that’s done Westerns forever. The gutting of the American West. They made it look like — what are all those dancers that those guys in New York that wear bowties and not much else? Remember them from back in the day?”
Maron clarified that Elliott was referring to Chippendales dancers. Elliott then went on: “That’s what all these fucking cowboys in that movie looked like. They’re all running around in chaps and no shirts. There’s all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the fucking movie.”
He later added of Campion: “What the fuck does this woman — she’s a brilliant director, by the way, I love her work, previous work — but what the fuck does this woman from down there, New Zealand, know about the American West ? And why in the fuck does she shoot this movie in New Zealand and call it Montana and say, ‘This is the way it was.’ That fucking rubbed me the wrong way, pal. The myth is that they were these macho men out there with the cattle. I just come from fucking Texas where I was hanging out with families, not men, but families, big, long, extended, multiple-generation families that made their living and their lives were all about being cowboys.”
Campion and her cast’s reactions to the comments were mixed. For her part, the director — who went on to win the Oscar for best directing at last month’s Academy Awards — told The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast: “It has to be said, I think, he was being a bit of a bitch, because, you know, he’s not a cowboy either, he’s an actor — he grew up in Sacramento and was educated in Oregon, you know? We’re dealing in a fictional world, we’re dealing in a mythic universe. The West is a myth, it doesn’t exist — Annie Proulx said that — and there’s a lot of room on the range to explore that myth. And this is just another version of it. You know, like, if you think about Sergio Leone movies, where were they shot? They were shot in Spain, and they are some of the greatest explorations of the Western myth ever made. So, you know, I think it’s just a little bit of a crusty cowboy problem.”
Cumberbatch, who earned an Oscar nom for his performance, said during an appearance on a BAFTA Film Sessions panel that he hadn’t heard the comments at the time. “Somebody really took offense to — I haven’t heard it, so it’s unfair for me to comment in detail on it — to the West being portrayed in this way,” he said. “And beyond that reaction — that sort of denial that anybody could have any other than a heteronormative existence because of what they do for a living or where they’re born, there’s also a massive intolerance within the world at large toward homosexuality still, toward an acceptance of the other, of any kind of difference, and no more so I guess than in this prism of conformity of what’s expected of a man in the Western archetype mold of masculinity. So I think to deconstruct that through [Cumberbatch’s character] Phil, to look at that, it’s not a history lesson.”
His Oscar-nominated co-star Jesse Plemons told THR in March that Elliott’s comment “made me laugh,” noting that people can have their own opinions. “I know there are different layers to that,” he said. “Not everyone has to like it, I’ll say that. That’s fine.”