The Drama Between Sam Elliott And Benedict Cumberbatch Explained

"The Power of the Dog" is an award-winning revisionist Western that premiered in late 2021. The film, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirsten Dunst, and Jesse Plemons, centers around the gruff cowboy Phil Burbank, who is unexpectedly exposed to potential love after his brother marries a widowed mother. While the film has been critically acclaimed for its use of the American West to explore topics of queerness, gender, and repression, it also sparked drama between Cumberbatch and well-known actor Sam Elliott.

The controversy arose after Elliott made critical comments about "The Power of the Dog" on the "WTF with Marc Maron" podcast, taking issue with the revisionist nature of the film and its New Zealand filming location. After referring to the movie as a "piece of sh–-," the actor likened the cowboys to Chippendale dancers. "They're all running around in chaps and no shirts. There's all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the f—ing movie," Elliott commented.

"And why in the f— does [the director] shoot this movie in New Zealand and call it Montana and say, 'This is the way it was?'" While the movie's director, Jane Campion, responded to the comments, Cumberbatch also clapped back at Elliott's words during BAFTA's 2022 "The Film Sessions: Leading Actor." 

Benedict Cumberbatch and Jane Campion responded to Sam Elliott's comments

When asked why it was important to portray a character like Phil Burbank in modern media, Benedict Cumberbatch responded with a reference to Sam Elliott's disparaging comments about "The Power of the Dog." After mentioning the importance of identifying the poisons that lead to toxic masculinity, the "Sherlock" actor said, "I'm trying very hard not to say anything about a very odd reaction that happened the other day on a radio podcast over here."

He continued, "Without meaning to stir over the ashes of that ... someone 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. 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."

Similarly, the film's director Jane Campion responded to Elliott's comments in an interview with Variety, explaining that she felt the criticisms had a sexist undertone. She adds, "The West is a mythic space and there's a lot of room on the range."

Sam Elliott apologized for his criticisms

Following these negative responses to his comments, Sam Elliott made a public apology while appearing on Deadline's Contenders TV event. The "1883" actor was asked by the panel's moderator if he had any further comments on the situation, to which he jokingly responded, "First, don't go do a podcast with the call letters WTF."

Then, the Academy Award-nominated performer became more serious. "That movie struck a chord with me and, in trying to tell [Marc Maron] how I felt about the film, I wasn't very articulate about it," he explained. "I said some things that hurt people and I feel terrible about that. The gay community has been incredible to me my entire career. And I mean my entire career, from before I got started in this town. Friends on every level and every job description up until today. I'm sorry I hurt any of those friends and someone that I loved. And anyone else by the words that I used."

Elliott added, "I also told [Marc Maron] 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."