As in so many films throughout his storied career, Sam Elliott is The Hero in Brett Haley’s indie drama, which bowed to acclaim at Sundance. Elliott appeared at Deadline’s The Contenders this afternoon to discuss his experience with the film, which provided him with the role of a lifetime.

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Playing off Elliott’s status as a gruff Western icon, The Hero follows a washed-up movie star (Elliott) with a terminal illness who attempts to make the most of the time he has left, smoking pot with his former co-star-turned-dealer (Nick Offerman), striking up a relationship with a stand-up comic (Laura Prepon) and struggling to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter), all while looking for one last role.

“It’s one thing to get a great role written for you, but when you have performers like Katherine [Ross] and Nick and Laura Prepon and Krysten, it’s just a wonderful situation,” Elliott told Deadline’s Pete Hammond. “If you can’t do something with that, shame on you.”

Bonding with Brett Haley on his previous film, I’ll See You in My Dreams, and spending a lot of time together on the promotion circuit led to The Hero — an idea Haley hatched with writing partner Marc Basch. “It was a fun thing, I guess, playing an actor. I’d never done that before,” Elliott said. “There were a lot of personal aspects of the film, story-wise, that were really close to home. It came out of a lot of dialogue that I had with Brett about ourselves.”

Reflecting on a long and storied film career—beginning with his portrayal of “Card Player #2” in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, where he was literally “a shadow on the wall” —Elliott took a moment to consider the voice-over work he’s done over the years, and the strangest experience he’s had with that aspect of the craft. “I think being the voice of Smokey Bear,” he reflected. “I remember seeing that as a kid. That campaign literally started on my birthday, on August 9, 1944, which is kind of cool.”