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'The Hero' director Brett Haley on why we lionize some actors and trash others

Brett Haley, right, directs Sam Elliott in
Brett Haley, right, directs Sam Elliott in "The Hero."
Beth Dubber

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The archetype of the hero is a staple of Hollywood movies.

The anti-hero may have taken over the most popular spot in cinema and TV for the time being, but there was a time when Westerns showed the world in easily distinguishable terms of good and evil: the hero wore the white hat, the villain wore black, and there was no question of who to root for.

The new movie called “The Hero” focuses on an aging actor named Lee Hayden, played by Sam Elliott, who's played that white hat hero role so well that he’s become something of an icon. In the film, Hayden wrestles with that identity as he faces his own mortality.

"The Hero" was directed by Brett Haley, who also co-wrote the film with Marc Basch. Haley stopped by The Frame studios to discuss the film.

Interview highlights:

On society's complicated relationship with actors

In this industry and this society, we're really hard on actors. We say, Oh, actors have got it so easy, but we chew up and spit out actors like it ain't nothing. I love actors, and they are my number one thing when I make a movie. They're usually my starting place, creatively. And I do think we are really hard on them. It's like somebody could be on top of the world, be the most famous person in the world — 10 years later, nobody gives a s---. That to me is fascinating. And to see the aftermath, years later, what is left, not only of this man, but of the people around him. The things that you sacrifice to do this job — it's just all fascinating, really good fodder.

On how much of the film was inspired by his previous work with Sam Elliott in "I'll See You in My Dreams"

A lot of it. Sam and I just became really close when we were doing promotion on "I'll See You in My Dreams." We talked a lot about what it's been like for him, almost 50 years in the industry. And he's been a guy that would say he's been incredibly lucky, incredibly blessed, with the roles that he's received. He tells a great story about when he got the script for "The Big Lebowski." And he was so excited, he was on the set of a Western, of course. And he got the script and he thought, Oh God, I'm going to be able to play not what I normally have to play. And then he opened the script and of course he saw [his character] 'The Stranger' and he was like, Aw man, I'm never going to get out of this. And then he said there was a turning point in which he said, I'm just going to embrace it. And then, of course, once you embrace something like that, the world sort of opens up to you. And he got "The Contender" and he got all these really wonderful roles since then, and I'm just glad to have added to the canon of his work, because I think he can do anything.

On the beauty of the Western genre's simplicity

The wonderful thing about the Western is the simplicity of it. Movies these days, like 15 things have to happen in a big blockbuster. Back in the day, three things would happen. "High Noon" — it's like, Hey, bad guys are coming. Can anyone help me? Oh, no? I guess I'll be here and try to stop them. That's it. Movies nowadays, and for a lots of good reasons, aren't necessarily made like that anymore. So it's not only about a dying breed of movie, it's about a dying breed of man, or actor. 

To hear the full interview, click the blue player above.

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