Sam Elliott is an iconic actor who challenged his well-known on-screen image with a memorably subversive guest role in Parks and Rec. Elliott is known for his deep voice and his tendency to play western roles, but his guest appearance in Parks and Rec cast him against type. The actor was one of many high-profile guest stars in Parks and Rec’s history. Jon Hamm played the incompetent Ed, Kristen Bell played Eagleton councilwoman Ingrid De Forest, Werner Herzog played haunted house proprietor Keg Jeggings, and First Lady Michelle Obama and R&B singer Ginuwine played themselves.


Elliott is best known for playing bouncer Wade Garrett in Road House, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross in the 2003 Hulk movie, and Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley in We Were Soldiers. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Jackson’s older half-brother and manager, Bobby Maine, in Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born. Much like his appearance as the narrator of the Coen brothers’ stoner noir The Big Lebowski, Elliott’s role in Parks and Rec subverted the audience’s expectations of his on-screen persona.

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Sam Elliott Played Ron Dunn In Parks And Rec

Ron Dunn with a bird in Parks and Rec

Elliott played Ron Dunn in Parks and Rec. He first appeared in season 6, episode 4, “Doppelgängers.” This episode takes place during the town merger between Pawnee and Eagleton. Everyone in Pawnee’s parks department is paired up with their Eagleton counterpart in Parks and Rec: April Ludgate is matched up with Tynnyfer, Donna Meagle is matched up with Craig, Tom Haverford is matched up with Eric, and Ron Swanson is matched up with Ron Dunn. At first, the two Rons seem like two peas in a pod. They both have prominent mustaches and appreciate brevity.

However, before long, Ron Swanson is horrified to learn that Ron Dunn stands for everything he stands against. Whereas Swanson is a staunch libertarian, Dunn is a free-spirited hippie; Swanson is an avid carnivore while Dunn is a vegan who plans to become a “freegan vegan.” Ron Dunn believes in the zodiac (he’s a Capricorn), he’s a member of a frisbee-golf league, and his spirit animal is a hawk. Much like the other doppelgängers, the Parks and Rec writers used Ron Dunn as a hilarious foil for his Pawnee counterpart.

Ron Dunn Is The Opposite Of Elliott’s Usual Characters

Ron Dunn sitting in Ron Swanson's office in Parks and Rec

Not only is Ron Dunn the polar opposite of Ron Swanson, but he’s also the polar opposite of the kind of character that Elliott usually plays. Elliott typically portrays gruff, tough-as-nails gunslingers like U.S. Army cavalry officer John Buford in Gettysburg, deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp in Tombstone, and ex-Union Army captain Shea Brennan in the miniseries 1883. Although he tends to play cold, uncaring, stern-faced characters in western movies and TV shows, Elliott affected an uncharacteristically warm and sensitive personality for his role as Ron Dunn in Parks and Rec.

A western sharpshooter like Virgil Earp wouldn’t be caught dead in a game of frisbee-golf, while an action hero like Wade Garrett would have no interest in reading up on his star sign. It’s a testament to Elliott’s dedication as an actor that he committed just as wholeheartedly to playing a friendly vegan hippie in Parks and Rec as he would to playing one of his typical western gunfighter roles. Casting the iconic Elliott was a genius move because it meant that the audience was just as surprised by his personality as Ron Swanson.

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