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February 2004
Miracle : An Interview with Kurt Russell

By Todd Gilchrist

Miracle: An Interview with Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell has been known for a lot of memorable roles during his thirty year stint in Hollywood- Snake Plissken (Escape From New York), Jack Burton (Big Trouble In Little China), Wyatt Earp (Tombstone), Captain Ron's namesake, hell, even Elvis Presley (twice!)- and has endured about as many ups and downs as one actor possibly can while still retaining a successful career. With Miracle, Russell gets the opportunity to play another role bound indelibly to American history: Herb Brooks, who with a gruff determination led the 1980 Olympic hockey team to victory over the seemingly undefeatable Soviet team. Russell spoke to blackfilm.com about inhabiting Brooks for this terrific new film, his rewarding- but often arduous- career path, and the prospect of being a new grandfather.

TG: Reaction to your films is frequently mixed. How do you deal with that?

KR: "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 favorites, sometimes people won't talk about them at all 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 say, oh, Captain Ron is my favorite movie of all time." 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. And I wasn't Kurt. I was Captain Ron. Everybody had that tape on their boat. 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 favorite 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", the movies are all different. Some people are just crazy about "Tombstone", so everybody has something they like and I understand what you're saying. It's just when you're in my skin, you'd be surprised. Everybody has their thinking. All I ever try to do is something I think that I'd like to do as an actor, and you hope that the movie works out. There's a lot that goes into making a movie and in this one, I think the director did an absolutely terrific job. I'm really glad people are responding to this movie the way they are, because I do like it myself. I love it. I think it's really an emotional movie. And I think that in my estimation, what I'm taking from what you're saying, in fact, this is not one of the better screenplays I've worked with. It's one of the better outcomes of a movie that I've worked on. It just is. But I think what you're saying is this movie, more than any movie I can think of that I've been involved in, is emotional, it makes you feel something and I think that translates into looking at it from your point of view and saying that must be a good script. And it is a good script. It's no "Tombstone", it's no "Silkwood", it's no "Vanilla Sky", it's no "Tequila Sunrise". These are crackerjacks, and over a period of time, those still hold up as good screenplays. But those movies I don't think hold up to this movie in any way in terms of the emotional feeling that you get."

TG: Does this film play on an emotional level for you?

KR: "Yes, it's on an emotional level for me. I have been involved deeply in sports for most of my life either as a player or as a father with a son who's a player. Last year, it was so exciting when we were in the playoffs and we went into double overtime games. When you lose a double overtime game, it hurts. You know the effort they put in and you know how badly they want it. That's what I think is great about sports, it's an unknown outcome, and therefore you get excited. You don't know what the next moment is going to provide. I understand a lot of people don't care for sports that much in that way, but if you can tell a story, any story that shows just how hard somebody is going after something. The whole story can be about a kid building a kite that has to fly for 60 seconds at a certain altitude to win a little pin, but if you love that kid and you see how much this isn't a bad idea (laughs). If you surround the story with his efforts, then we all do that thing which is the best in movies, we relate. I think the reason this movie does have that kind of emotion is that I think we've all tried for something so hard that we can relate to that feeling. That is what a lot of screenplays don't have."

TG: How close did you get to Herb?

KR: "I met Herb twice, but it was two really full days and by that I mean we talked about everything under the sun. On a personal level it was interesting because when I met Herb, the first thing he said was: 'Do you have a son who's a goal tender?' I said: 'Yeah.' He said, "His name's Wyatt?" I said, "Yeah." He said: 'Jesus Christ, I'm coming to see him this year. I've heard he can play and I'm coming to scout him.' So, the point being, we sat down to have this conversation about "Miracle", the first two hours was about Wyatt. So he was already interested in something else in his world, which was still the real world of hockey. So, two hours later we got to the real world of making a movie that was going to be centered around that experience in his life. So, I guess you could say we got off to a very unique start. It was very personal. He was really talking to the father of a potential player, which is a very different conversation obviously. So I got to see him in an interesting mode, which was a questioning mode. He asked me lots of questions. And then I got to turn the tables and ask him a lot of questions. So it was a very good time, it was very important for me to get to meet Herb and begin to understand who he was and how he was. It's a lot of fun for an actor to have the opportunity to go play someone. It's confining, because the minute you see someone, you have your sort of vision of what they appear to you as. That may not be how they think of themselves as. I know I come off differently than I think of myself. I'm always surprised by what people say about me. What are you talking about? That's nothing like me. Then my sisters or Goldie or somebody says, yeah, it is." And I have to realize that and I think that's true for everybody."

TG: What are those qualities about yourself that surprise you?

KR: "Oh, people think, because of the movies I've done, a lot of the movies I've done that a lot of people have seen. That is to say that I've done movies that a lot of people haven't seen, so they don't think of you from that. They think of you from this other thing. A lot of people certainly think that I'm a lot more- - the phrase macho was always something that I've always detested because I always thought that's just so not me. But a lot of people, friends of mine, said, well, I think it is." And I say, well, I just don't see it that way." Just because I do certain things or I have a certain outlook- I think it's just because of some of the roles I've done. I just don't see myself that way. That's one thing, but I think I'm sort of happy go-lucky."

TG: How much of an understanding of hockey did you have prior to the movie? How much did you know about the games?

KR: "I have a lot of understanding because that's one thing that was easy for Herb and I to talk about because we didn't disagree. As a coach, as a player, as an athletic endeavor person, we see that world the same way, very similarly. Now, he had unique talents at being able to evaluate a hockey talent, evaluate a player physically, mentally. Hockey's not my game. I do that for baseball, I can. I can evaluate a player in a very short period of time because I'm very close to that game, very educated in that game and played the game for a long, long time. I wasn't just a guy with talent. I was a guy who learned a lot about the game. I was taught a lot about the game, so it's like a music critic. How many music critics do you know that know anything about music? Really know about music, breaking it down. Probably not very many, but they have their personal opinions. I wasn't like that as a ball player. I know how to break that game down. I was taught that. Herb was taught that in hockey. He learned that in hockey, so all those things always apply no matter what sport you're talking about. You can talk about golf, pool, basketball, hockey, baseball, doesn't matter. A locker room is a locker room, egos are egos, how you feel about- - the main thing is he said, yeah, okay, you're going to get this right." When I said, I think it's impossible to separate the player from the person," he said absolutely. And that's the whole point of it. If you can get the player to understand that it isn't his playing that matters, it's his person that matters, he will play as the person he is. You will play to the level of who you think you are in every endeavor, every sport. When you think you're good, you will play at that level. If you doubt yourself, you will play like crap. So, some basic understanding is needed.

TG: What was the purpose of separating yourself from the team, even when off-camera?

KR: "That was actually very simple. It had nothing to do with emulating what was going on. Here's the thing. I know when I first started out, one of the things that struck me, and I remembered this, I would get to know the person, the actor, in between takes, off the set, whatever. And when I was young, then I'd go watch them work and I'd find myself watching them work. I go, oh, this is Bob playing the character now." And I'd be in the scene, and there'd be certain times I'd start watching him be the character and sometimes I'd kind of giggle, I'd be out of it. And I'd remember some guys had to say, pay attention now." And I said, I just thought it was funny. I was watching you be that guy, you're so not you." And it took me a while to say, oh, this is what this business is. It was a kind of surprising thing. That sounds incredibly simple or naive, but when you first are in front of the camera as a young person, it's what happens to a lot of people. I realize these guys have never worked before. They've never worked as actors. They've never been in front of a camera, on a set. You'd be surprised at all the insecurities you can get as soon as you realize, start to think about things, well, this is gonna be on film. This is gonna be there forever, so oh, man, if I fuck this up, oh no."; suddenly you're like a centipede that can't move. And so I didn't want to have them ever feel, any of them go through the process of getting to know Kurt and then watching Kurt be Herb. And have any sort of confusion there, or any kind of changeover to make. I said it would be dangerous. They're going to have enough to deal with. So I thought the best thing to do would just be stay away from them. And then backing that up, this is the relationship that they had with Herb, so it can't hurt. Progressively, then I saw how that did very much work for us so as the movie was shot, because of a lot of the hockey stuff, it was sort of in order. Then I began to spend a little more time with them and be a little more me in between takes. By the end, they understood and so the last, I guess it was about two nights to go, I had them all come into the room and we had some beers and I said, yeah, it's good to see you." But they understood. They really did understand by then.

TG: Congratulations on becoming a grandfather and have the baby named after you. How do you feel about it?

KR: "I was very surprised and by surprised I mean, I had never really thought about that. In never having thought about it, it made me say, well, that really does mean a lot to her (Kate Hudson), and that really does mean a lot to me." And it meant a lot for me about Chris as well. It's one of those things in my life I never said, gee, I hope some of my kids put my name withÖ" I never thought it about. It just was not a thought, so it was a complete surprise and I'm beyond being honored. It means the world to me. I'm just really happy about it.

TG: Have you seen the baby?

KR: "Sure, I'm going there tonight. He's 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, but it's one of those jokes that's beginning to grab on, they're starting to say that the baby is going to refer to Goldie as Glam-ma, and they said what are you going to be called?" I began to realize that as a grandparent, they call you all kinds of names. So, I said, I think I'll just teach him to call me Mr. President!" (Laughs) There's no doubt at all what I want to be to my grandkids. It's pretty great. It's a lot of fun.


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