Sam Elliott attends the world premiere of "1883" at Encore Beach Club at Wynn Las Vegas on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada./ Jane Campion Poses at the 27th Annual Critics Choice Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza on March 13, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images/ Photo by Steve Granitz/Getty Images

Director Jane Campion Resonds to Sam Elliott's Criticism of Her Western Film: 'He's Not a Cowboy; He's an Actor'

During an appearance on the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, 1883 star Sam Elliott had some choice words about the Oscar-nominated Western film The Power of the Dog.

Elliott, known for his roles in a slew of Westerns throughout the years, bashed the film during his conversation with Maron, calling the movie "a piece of sh-t."

Among his critcisms, Elliott took issue with the film being described as an "evisceration of the American myth" by the LA Times. 

"I'll tell you why I didn't like it anyway. I looked at when I was down there in Texas doing 1883 and what really brought it home to me the other day when I said, 'Do you want to f-cking talk about it?' There was a f-cking 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,'" Elliott said.

Elliott also questioned the credentials of the film's director, Jane Campion, who's from New Zealand.

"What the f—- does this woman — she's a brilliant director, by the way, I love her work, previous work — but what the f—- does this woman from down there, New Zealand, know about the American West?" Elliott asked.

The actor also took issue with the imagery of the cowboys in the film, comparing them to Chippendales dancers and adding that they were "all running around in chaps and no shirts. ("He had two pairs of chaps, a wooly pair and a leather pair. Every time he'd walk in from somewhere, he never was on a horse, maybe once, he'd walk into the f—-ing house, storm up the f—-ing stairs, go lay on his bed in his chaps and play his banjo. It was like, what the f—-?" Elliott said, in reference to one of the film's stars, Benedict Cumberbatch. "Where's the Western in this Western?")

"There's all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the f—-ing movie," Elliott continued.

The film, based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, centers on a repressed gay cowboy, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch), as he falls for the son of a young widow. The movie explores themes of toxic masculinity and binary gender roles in the American west. (As noted in a 2009 exhibit at the Autry Museum of the American West, there's a rich history of gay and trans people in the American West.)

In response to Elliott's comments, Campion said that Elliott is not a cowboy, but an actor. She also added that the history of the American West is too vast to be boxed into a stereotype.

"What can I say? I'm sorry, he was being a little bit of a B-I-T-C-H. Sorry to say it, but he's not a cowboy; he's an actor," Campion said during the Directors Guild of America awards. "The West is a mythic space and there's a lot of room on the range."

Campion also took issue with Elliott questioning her ability as a woman from New Zealand to tell stories of the American West, nodding to Sergio Leone, the Italian director who created some of the most iconic and beloved Westerns of all time — in Spain.

"I think it's a little bit sexist... because when you think about the number of amazing Westerns made in Spain by [director] Sergio Leone," Campion said. "I consider myself a creator, and I think he thinks of me as a woman or something lesser first, and I don't appreciate that."

The Power of the Dog star Benedict Cumberbatch also commented on Elliott's comments about the film.

"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 towards homosexuality still and toward an acceptance of the other and anything kind of difference," Cumberbatch said during a BAFTA Film Sessions panel.

Best Picture-nominee The Power of the Dog, also starring Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Jesse Plemons, is the most nominated film at this year's Academy Awards, which will be held on March 27.

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