Kurt Russell was in a much more cheerful mood when we met while he was promoting his latest film, Miracle. Perhaps it was because that movie is a more optimistic film than last year’s more nihilistic Dark Blue, or more importantly, is it because not long prior to this interview, Mr Russell became a grandfather for the first time.
“I love it”, Russell, 53, says smilingly. “I’m happy for my kids and I’m happy that there is going to be babies around again, so I hope they have more.” Russell expressed surprise that daughter Kate Hudson and husband kept his surname. “By surprised I mean, I had never really thought by it. It made me think of how much it meant to Kate, and it means so much to me and a lot to Chris as well. It’s one of those things in my life I never said, that I hope my kids would carry on my name. It was a complete surprise and it’s beyond feeling honoured. It means the world to me and I’m just really happy about it.” Russell says that of course he has seen the baby whom he gushingly describes as “really cute. He looks a lot like Chris and then a couple of hours later, he looks a lot like Kate. It’s pretty great. People are beginning to joke that the baby is going to refer to Goldie as Glam-ma, and so people are asking me: What are you going to be called? So, I think I’ll just teach him to call me Mr. President,” Russell says laughingly.
As content as he is as grandfather and father, not to mention partner to Goldie Hawn, over 50 films later, Russell may find it hard to remain passionate about his professional life, but that passion is evident when discussing Miracle. Here he plays legendary ice hockey coach Herb Brooks who did the impossible in leading a U.S team to victory against the Russians during the 1980 Olympics. There is no sign of Russell in this character, admitting that pulling this off was his hardest challenge since his portrayal of Elvis Presley. “Herb is more subtle than Elvis. It was more difficult with Elvis because everyone knows exactly how he was and he is broader, which means you can do more wrong. This is more subtle, but it’s more confining, which means it’s that much more specific.”
Movie goers outside of the US may not be as familiar with Brooks, a very specific, tough and intense character in sports, but Russell still had to avoid merely mimicking a sports legend. “If mimicry is what you’re going to do, then the approach is something that I actually don’t much understand. I don’t really know how to do that. However, what I DO know what to do, is watch people and I think perceive why they are the way they are why they behave the way they do, and I can do that with anything to certain degrees, which I have known all of my life. I’m good at seeing people and getting inside their head and know how and why that person feels,” explains Russell, which probably explains why he wanted to act in the first place.
“When you’re creating a character, I think it’s fun to take somebody that you’ve seen and if it fits, you say, I know what this character is like. A lot of the characters after all those years are just in your imagination, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t bring them to life for different characters in movies. But when you’re doing something that exists, you’re obligated to that person. I wouldn’t want someone to play me and not get it right. The obvious truth is that when you see anybody doing you, they’re not going to do you, because what they’re going to do and I’m guilty of this, they’re going to do what they see you as. If I was to direct someone doing me, I would tell them, that’s not what I’m like! They would say: ‘No, that is.’ Well that’s not what everybody sees! Everybody sees this, this is what they see.”
It is clear why Russell was so drawn to this subject matter: The actor is a huge fan of the sport. “I was a good baseball player and I know baseball, but I don’t know hockey. I’m just the average fan who loves to go and put my nose to the glass and scream and holler and have a good time watching how good these guys are.” Russell says that it’s actually a disadvantage to be a fan of a sport and play a coach. “Coaches are not fans, but direct the game. They’re producers and conductors who are not fans and don’t cheer. That’s the problem I’ve generally found with the writing in most sports movies which is why I haven’t done them. They are written from the fan’s point of view and not written from the understood player/coach point of view. Football is a gladiator game; they want men chanting in the stands. Whereas baseball players couldn’t care if there are all women in the stands. I like to chant ‘OGAR. OGAR,’ when a fight breaks out in hockey. Baseball players don’t have that ogar, ogaring, they just like to look good in their uniform and run around the bases and say: ‘How’s it going?’ They want to be cool. That’s what they’re about. This is why Bull Durham is one of the best baseball movies made. I don’t read them often, because I know it’s written from a fan’s point of view, directed by a fan and the most disgusting reason of all, played from the fan’s point of view. Actors who want to be. What’s good about this movie is that you’ve got a guy who’s directing it, who’s a really good football player and is not a fan of hockey. He has a player’s understanding.”
Kurt Russell is a true Hollywood survivor, in every sense of the word and his acting career has been sustained for close to four decades. Star of many a cult classic, Russell laughs when asked whether he can look at back at his diverse career when any degree of objectivity, a career that includes clunkers such as Captain Ron, The Strongest Man in the World, and Tango & Cash to the more seminal likes of Elvis, Silkwood, The Mean Season, Tequila Sunrise, Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China. “Someone said to me recently: ‘Your career looks like it was picked by a drunken driver!’ That was the best thing I’ve ever heard about my career. After 43 years, that statement is pretty much true about anybody. She said, if you connect the dots and put it on a road map, it looks like drunken driver. I said: ‘You’re right. I can’t deny that. It’s just all over the map!’ It’s good, bad, and indifferent. I have the opportunity to play all kinds of different characters. Comedy, drama, action pictures and sporting movies,” Russell says, smilingly. “Listen when you’re inside my skin and you walk down the street, you’d be surprised at what people like and what people don’t like. Movies that I’ve done which are some of my favourites, sometimes people won’t talk about them for a long period of time and they’ll talk about other movies and vice versa. And movies that I didn’t particularly think were great, people will walk up to me and rave over them. I just bought a boat for instance last year, and I was on the boat and I pulled into the first marina and everybody was looking at me. Everybody had the tapes of Captain Ron and Overboard on their boats. I very soon discovered that Captain Ron and Overboard, are the two tapes everybody has to have on their boat! Flyers, pilots – Executive Decision is one of their favourite movies of all time. They love that movie! Then there are cult movies like Escape from New York, Escape from LA and Big Trouble in Little China, which are all different. Some people are just crazy about Tombstone, so everybody has something they look. When you’re in my skin, you’d be surprised at people’s reactions to my movies.”
Russell says that he is pleased people are responding to Miracle the way they are, “because I do like it myself. I think it’s really an emotional movie. In fact, this is not one of the better screenplays I’ve worked with, but is one of the better outcomes of a movie that I’ve worked on. This movie is emotional, it makes you feel something and that must mean it’s a good script and it is, it’s not Tombstone, it’s no Silkwood, it’s no Vanilla Sky, it’s no Tequila Sunrise. These are crackerjacks, and even after all this time, still hold up as good screenplays. But those movies do not hold up to this one in terms of the emotional feeling that you get.”