Laser generated surface acoustic waves (SAW) in a heterodyne diffraction scheme is a powerful technique for elastic characterization of thin films and it is frequently used on samples of high optical quality. We show that the method can also be effectively used in difficult conditions, on rough samples. Measurements are presented on a 3 mu m thick film of polymer, spin-coated on steel, and on the same sample after addition of an aluminum coating. The experimental data are interpreted using a model assuming a stack of perfect layers. The analyses show good consistency within the SAW results for both configurations, and consistency with nano-indentation results, cross-validating both approaches. (C) 2008 Published by Elsevier B.V.