Kurt Russell for “Sky High”

40 years since Kurt Russell first appeared in a Disney movie, and now the venerable actor is back, as a famous, strong superhero whose son may, or not, enter the family business. Always business-like, polite and very serious, Russell talked Disney, superheroes and being a grandfather, to Garth Franklin.

Question: When Disney’s Press Material Talks About Your 40th Anniversary With Them, Does It Make You Feel Ancient?

Kurt Russell: Well, it’s amazing how time flies, you know, and all that. is very true. 1964, I think it was, I went over to Disney to do Follow Me Boys with Fred McMurray and Vera Miles, Charlie Ruggles. I could probably name a bunch of other names from that movie that — a guy said to me at one time: You worked with an actor that was born in 1885 (laughs). At the time I was doing Tombstone, so I guess I was feeling just like Wyatt Earp.

So I sort of am amazed that — I started in ’61, that’s 44 years ago or whatever, and I went over to Disney to do Follow Me Boys, and I was under contract to them for 10 years, seven of which were exclusive, and then… started going to other places to do other things, and doing television shows at the same time, and then I didn’t work at Disney for a long time. I think it was 92 when I did Captain Ron for Disney, which was fun because it was a comedy with Marty Short and we had a great time, and then a couple of years ago I did Miracle. To see it’s some sort of full circle thing I don’t think is quite accurate, but it’s fair. And it has been 40 years.

Question: Was This A Fulfilling Of Childhood Fantasies To Play a superhero?

Kurt Russell: No, I liked the script. I liked Sky High. I it had potential to be a sleeper and I thought it said something. I also thought it was entertaining, funny, could have funny sight gags, could have funny lines, and I thought there could be many more of them. And I thought at the end of the day in the sense that it was like the movies I used to do there when I was a teenager — they were sight gag-oriented, laugh-line-oriented, character laugh-line oriented, with some kind of message. It had something to say, and they weren’t nasty or mean. They weren’t post-modern. When I read this, I recognized that in it, and I thought that it would be fun to play a character in that style of a movie. I also felt that if we did it well, that once again the movie would have lots of laughs for a many different-aged audiences. It was a movie that speaks specifically in different areas to different ages. We all watch the same movie, but if you’re 12, you’ll see a very different movie from what a 42-year-old mother or a 15-year-old kid sees.

Question: Did You Have Costume Approval?

Kurt Russell: Well, as the actor, you always have that. It is after all going to be you up there, so —

Question: Have you ever had a situation like that with your children?

Kurt Russell: Sure. We all have. You just go completely out of bounds and do it. because it’s human nature. And when you can couch it in a laugh in a movie, it’s good because it’s entertaining and allows you to see it, but it allows you to think about. Because in fact, (sounds like: it’s really bad parenting) (laughs). It’s really wrong to do. But there’s the sense that the love for the person takes over the intelligence of the character.

What’s fun about playing Steve Stronghold is that there’s not a lot of intelligence going on there. To me he’s a buffoon who loves his son so much and loves his wife so much and he’s just such a good man, and he’s so proud of himself… that the only difficulty in his life is the constant awareness of trying to remain humble. You know, this whole “son of” thing… I said — I can relate to that, I’ve got 4 kids, to a certain degree, sons and daughters “of” — I’m certainly glad I haven’t handled it the way Steve Stronghold has. I looked at it, and said — well, just like Steve Stronghold, I’m sure I think I handled it, but I’m sure I also haven’t at times handled it any better. And then I also thought about other guys I knew my age that went through stuff, and I said — this applies to everybody. Everybody has parents that they have, to a certain degree, live up to, or — like the position of the kid who throws the fire — they want to get away from.

When you go to high school on your very first day, we all try to do the same thing without knowing it, and that is to hide our weaknesses for as long as we can. And of course that’s not very long. So I liked putting this kid in the position of being the son of the two greatest superheroes on the planet, is the most pressure you could possibly have. In  them being loving and wonderful people, it adds even more pressure, because it becomes impossible.

What’s fun about this character is that he’s real. He’s not a comic book character. Russell:   He’s invincible only because that’s what he is. He doesn’t fly, unfortunately, but he’s worked that out. Better yet, who wouldn’t like a wife that can fly? He’s got it all. Life is perfect. I can’t fly but my wife can so — the world is his oyster, and he’s clueless to his son’s condition…

Question: How’s Kate doing being a mom?

Kurt Russell: Well, she loves it, and she’s very good, and it’s been fun. I’ve been spending a lot of time with Ryder lately, and it’s spectacular, and I must say I’m beginning to understand  why people love being grandparents. It’s just a blast. She’s facing all the realities — all the difficulties, all the fun, everything there is to becoming a parent, and she’s beginning to also understand some of the things that her parents went through. Likewise, she’s going to have a son who is the “son of”.

Question: Is she making mistakes?

Kurt Russell: Oh, thousands of mistakes. That’s the whole point. Absolutely. Thousands, you know. I don’t know what they are. We won’t know that till he’s 40. (laughs) if I knew that, I’d write a book. No, I’m just as clueless, I’m sure. I don’t recognize them… I think at the end of the day — I don’t know if this is true but I know my take on the whole thing — if your children know they come first, t hat you love them that much, that they come before anything else, whatever your problems are, whatever theirs are, they won’t be as bad and they won’t be as life-altering in a bad way as if they get the sense that they don’t mean that much to you. That would be to me a pretty crushing blow.

Question: How’s Goldie doing as a grandmother?

Kurt Russell: Oh, she’s a good grandmother… What’s interesting is that both Goldie and I treat all kids pretty much the same way, whether they’re your kids or my kids. We both sort of look at that whole arena as the same thing. We like kids and we sort of realize that all kids are just that, they’re individuals, and they’re genetically set in kind, but I don’t think — my father was someone who didn’t believe in blood being thicker than water, and I suppose I to a certain degree have grown up with that and feel that way. I certainly think it was a good thing for me that I had two children that I didn’t I father — I parented, they called me Pa. But I parented them and very quickly the fact that they were no different to me from my kids that I had with Goldie, or my son I had with Susan.

Question: How Reluctant Are You To Allow Your Kids Into Showbiz?

Kurt Russell: You know, growing up yourself, at some point develop a desire to do something, to do something that interested you. It might not have set well with your parents, or it may have sat well with your parents, but regardless of how it sat with your parents, you’re going to do it. so I think that all you can do in any endeavour as a parent is — your life is on display, how you live your life is what your kids watch — okay, so we go places, go on vacations, people are nice to you — Hi, loved that — gee, I wouldn’t want to be that person. And it’s ridiculous… what are you going to do? Say: this is not good, don’t do it?  You’d be crazy to say that. What you do is focus on it and say, if this becomes something that is interesting to you, I can give you some advice on why to do it. if you’re doing it for recognition, if you’re doing it because you need to be seen, if you’re doing it because there’s something inside of you that needs to be fulfilled, other than your sense of creativity being explored, other than your need to do something for yourself, to satisfy yourself in a way of productivity, then I would highly recommend that person don’t do that.

Question: What’s next?

Kurt Russell: I’m working on The Poseidon Adventure.

Question: How’s that going?

Kurt Russell: Well, I think, it’s a big, spectacular Hollywood film.