Role Recall: Sam Elliott on starting off in 'Butch Cassidy' and why the Coen brothers made him film his 'Lebowski' monologue over and over

Sam Elliott was making films for half a century before he earned his first Academy Award nomination last month for his heart-wrenching turn as roadie vet Bobby in the hit musical drama A Star Is Born. Still, his very first movie credit — no matter how tiny the role — was an impressive one.

The gravelly voiced, magnificently mustached Elliott, now 74, played “Card Player No. 2” in the Paul Newman-Robert Redford outlaw classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

“I was in the card game right at the beginning of the film, and in the finished print of the film, I’m not on camera at all, I’m literally a shadow on the wall. I’ve got one line,” Elliott told Yahoo Entertainment in our latest edition of Role Recall (watch above and see if you can spot the shadow). “I watched Redford work for a couple days, that was fun.”

Over the years that followed, Elliott became a fixture in Westerns, perhaps no more memorably than in 1993’s Tombstone, which followed the legendary exploits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and company. “You know when all the elements come together,” said Elliott, who played sharpshooter Virgil Earp. “When it’s on the page, and you have guys like Kurt Russell and Bill Paxton and Val Kilmer. The cast in that film alone, all of them — and a lot of them are gone today — that cast and that script, it just doesn’t get any better than that.”

Perhaps Elliott’s most celebrated part — prior to A Star Is Born, anyway — came in the small but pivotal role of The Stranger in the Coen brothers’ 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski. While Elliott’s enigmatic cowboy turns up only briefly throughout the film, he brings the curtain down with a fourth wall-breaking bowling alley soliloquy.

“That last day on that film, when I’m looking into the camera and talking to the audience,” Elliott remembered, “I’d done that scene eight [or] nine times and the brothers were [right there next to the camera]. I’d done the scene and I’d felt like I had nailed it more than once. And I just looked at them and said, ‘Hey, you guys gotta tell me what the f*** you want.’ And they said, ‘No, we got it on the third or fourth take, we just like seeing you do it.'”

The Oscar-nominated Sam Elliott currently stars in The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot, which opens today. Here he explains how it compares to Road House:

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