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July 2005
Sky High : An Interview with Kurt Russell

Sky High: An Interview with Kurt Russell

By Fred Topel

Kurt Russell has been for over two decades it's hard to keep track of what film genre he hasn't covered. From his role as "Snake Plisken" in Escape from New York" to his role as Coach Herb Brooks in "Mirale", he's pretty much touched the hearts of many. Now, he's taking on a role that should many young fans, and that is the role of a superhero. In "Sky High", Russell plays Captain Stringhold, who tries to tell his son that having super abilities is not a terrible thing. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Russell goes his character and discusses the importance of family.

You must have been in heaven with a director who was such a fan of yours?

KR: He's sweet. He's just really fun. Actually, we had a very lengthy discussion at one point before we started the movie. I saw this script and I was doing Dreamer. I was set to do Dreamer. This was going to be at the same time, but I wasn't in the movie all that much so I said maybe there's a way to work the schedule out. But I said, "More importantly, let's talk about the script. Here's what I see." I saw lots of laughs, visually lots of laugh lines, could be a fun character to play and I think the movie has something to say at the end of the day. In that vein, I believe it's the classic approach to a Disney movie, the kind I used to do there. And he said, "Well, yeah, that's what I want to do." I got this rewrite that I hated. It was suddenly, I felt, because of the way it had been tweaked, it was nasty, it had a meanness to it that nobody else was seeing. I said I don't want to do that. I talked to him for a long time and I gave him the pages that I had written out, and I said, "I would like to do this." And they said, "Yes, this is what we want to do. This is the road we want to go down." I said, "Okay, count me in, let's go." And in working with Mike Mitchell, it was really fun because he did want to go down that road and we had a lot of fun.

Is it a continuation of Strongest Man in the World, are they bookends?

KR: No. I mean, I've done I don't know how many movies at how many studios. There's no question that in the history- - 40 years is a long time. I did my first movie there in '64 and the last one I've done now was last year in '04. 40 years, it's hard for me to put a perspective on it with all the movies in between at other studios and other parts, other characters, an entirely different life. I don't know how to say it except that I know 40 years is a long time. It's like yesterday. Every movie's a different movie. You go to work. You find what you're supposed to do to try to make the movie as good as you can make it and whether it's at Disney or 20th or Warners, whatever. Wherever it is, you do that. For me personally, I have to say that whenever I go do a movie at Disney - - I did Miracle there two years ago, I did Captain Ron there in '92 so there've been ones in between- -when I walk on that lot, I'm flooded with memories. Flooded with memories because I'll walk around the corner and see two people that I've known for 40 years. "Hey," so we're talking, "Hey, how's so and so?" "Oh, he died two years ago." I have lots of friends who have died there. That's 40 years. Walt Disney was my friend. He spent a tremendous amount of time talking to me about movies: how to make them. He asked me, he said, "Are you interested in this business?" I said, "Well, no, I'm playing baseball and that's what I'm going to do but I am interested in this business." He said, "Do you want to learn about it?" I said, "Yeah." The first time I said that, he said, "All right, so tomorrow, you're off at about 3 o'clock. Come up to my office and I want to show you some things." And that started a process that was about two years, two and a half years long. Whenever I worked there and it was quite often, we'd play ping pong together at lunch. And then when I had an afternoon off, he'd say, "Do you want to go to the animation department, learn some of that?" Yeah. And he'd go show me the process. And we had great times. I'd say, "How did you decide to make that person look like that?" And he said, "Well, I was thinking and so and so did thisŠ" and we'd get into these conversations. I watched Mary Poppins with him before Mary Poppins was finished, before it had any of the animation in it. I don't think half of it was scripted. I sat down in the theater and watched Mary Poppins with my mom and some other people. At the end of the movie, he said, "So, what do you think?" I said, "That's good, it's really fun." "But you wouldn't tell your friends to see it?" Then I looked at my mom and she said, "Tell him the truth. He's asking a question." I said no. He said, "Yeah, neither would I." And I watched him invent some things then and there. And he'd talk to me about story arc, character arc, the last down before the last up, specifics, movies, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Snow White, all these movies. And creating and inventing and always seeing it from the point of view of the audience. Don't look at it from the point of view of can you make your character better if it doesn't make the movie better. Make the movie better. That'll make your character better. If you create something that's better for your character in a movie and it helps the movie, you've done a good thing. And 1000s of other things. And I didn't realize it at the time. I was the guy that was going to play baseball, make money doing movies and now years later obviously I realize I was just- - somebody went ding, let him have the information. That was him and there was all these other people there. So do I have a connection? Wow, yeah, I really do.

Who is your superhero in real life? What is the best advice you've been given by him?

KR: It's funny, when you're a young kid and you're doing movies, and you have a father and a mother who are clearly only interested in your family, and that so vastly outweighs anything you're doing, you don't have superheroes. You don't have a need for them. You just see your family. You see your mom and dad and your grandmother and grandpa. I had a great heroic figure in my life and that was my grandfather. He was truly a heroic type person. My dad was a tremendous mentor. Osmotically I learned from them. But as with everybody, they have tremendous foibles, things you don't want to be. Things you can't avoid being later in life that you don't like, like everybody. I had baseball figures, baseball men who I liked the way they play the game, wished I could do certain things like them, wanted to work at that so maybe I could achieve personal ability. But I didn't have- - I only had one before any of that when I was about six, and it was Mighty Mouse. But it wasn't Mighty Mouse that I wanted to be. I wanted to be Mighty Mouse because he had that great girlfriend. He had that girl who just looked up to him and adored him and clearly, if you want that, you have to be Mighty Mouse. So if there was any cartoon or heroic figure that I wanted to relate to, I wanted to relate to her. So in order to do that, you had to be him so I was kind of frustrated that I wasn't a cartoon figure at that point. But it was my first sort of I guess very Freudian sexual awakening in a very weird way. And I never knew her name. everybody wants to call her Minnie but it wasn't Minnie.

Your amazing relationship- -

KR: How do you know? How do you know how my relationship is with Goldie? Yeah, everyone assumes.

You're still with her.

KR: Yes, and that is amazing, that she's still with me.

What's the key?

KR: There isn't any that I know of. I know that I was lucky that I met someone who after all these years, 22 years, I know that's a while, it doesn't feel like it, I was just lucky that it was her. For some reason, I still feel the way about her that I did maybe an hour after I met her. Not only do I feel that way but it's stronger. She responds to me in kind. I don't know why that is. I think it's luck. I look upon it as luck. I can't break it down and understand it or try to- - what's dangerous about that is the minute you say that, I'm going to go out and do something so bad she'll say, "That's it, I'm done." And then everybody gets to go, "Ha ha, see. He's an asshole too." I am. I know that about me. I know that about her. We're not any different than any other couple. We just aren't. But we are so far fortunate enough that we haven't lost a need to want to be with each other. That's all I know. That's all I know and so I, like every other husband, I have to try to pay attention at times when I'm dropping the ball. She, like any other wife, has to pay attention when she's dropping the ball and you have to talk to each other and say, "Hey, you know, that's not that much fun or that bugs me" as a daily thing. I know that our life together has been spectacular because of who she is for me. There have been times that I didn't like it or we didn't agree. Especially when it came to the kids, we could really disagree. Money issues, disagree. We run the gamut. It is amazing because it still takes place and what's amazing, I suppose is true, is I can honestly sit here and say I find her in every way as attractive as I did. But I'm not worried about between she and I any kind of attractions disappearing because I'll be able to find ways for those attractions I think to be strengthened because I can do it with her. I have a great friend and a great partner to be able to say, "Yeah, okay, I fucked up bad. But I don't want to be that, I don't want to do that but I want to be with you and get rid of that so we can go forward and have more great fun." Other than that, I don't know.

Are you larger than life?

KR: No, I'm not larger than life. I'm just a regular guy.

Who is the disciplinarian?

KR: We kind of go back and forth. We went back and forth with it. We're done with our kids, you know. Most of the time, she was more lenient. But at times, with things that would seem critical, really critical, she would be stunned at how lenient I was. She would just go, "How can you let that go and this little thing over here, you just go nuts about?" I said, "Well, I think that little thing is ultimately more important than that big thing that happened. The big thing that happened, he already knows all about that. He gets it. He knows he's messed up there. I don't need to say anything. This little thing over here is going to fester and wound and grow. I'm going to hit that not really hard so they know all right, he really doesn't like that." So we would have differences there.

Talk about the comfortable suit?

KR: It was all right. It wasn't that bad. I saw a drawing of it. I said, "Yeah, it looks right." We tweaked it a little bit. It wasn't particularly comfortable but it wasn't that bad. I had a cooling vest underneath it but that broke down. You know, you can't sweat. Once you start sweating, you don't match number one. But number two, heroes don't sweat.

Did you base the character on anyone like Adam West?

KR: Well, you never really take something and do it. Even when you're going to play Elvis Pressley, you don't take Elvis Pressley and do Elvis Pressley. What you do is you try and understand why Elvis Pressley appears to you that way? What's the illusion you've got to create to make other people see what you see? And if you do that and you succeed at it, when you're doing it you know why and what the audience is getting. So, yeah, I thought there's all kinds of people that have a nice, in a comical sense, an overblown personality. I think Adam West as Batman, Shatner does that with Captain Kirk. I can't find specifics. I never thought about William Shatner as Captain Kirk, I never thought of Adam West as Batman, but I know that when I was doing him, I could feel like that sometimes and say that that's not a bad rhythm. It fits my guy. To that extentŠ what you do when you create characters is you have the great fun of acting. You have the ability and the freedom and the right, the job, the duty to come up with something. And you start thinking about what works. Mainly, what I like to do is get the feeling of the person on paper so that everybody knows who you are. And then you can also be treated that way. And that's often what I'll say to directors and actors is, "Look, tell me if I'm wrong, but I'm this person, right? Then I need to be treated that way. If I'm treated that way, it's a lot of load off of me. I can now just be somebody. I don't have to show you somebody." And that's always true of acting a part.

Kate Hudson said you and Goldie were her heroes for raising the kids so right. How did you do it?

KR: Well, we did as good as we could. We aren't perfect and my kids will have their failings in the future as everybody does. They'll have things that will make them sad and they'll do things wrong. But I don't think they're very afraid of it and I like that. Goldie and I are very much in cahoots in one aspect and that is by nature, by how we were both brought up, separate places but not in dissimilar situations in a sort of lower middle class/middle class life for the most part. We were both brought up in families where clearly the world of the family was what life was about. So automatically, we're on the same page now. Automatically, our children were in a sense all that mattered to us. And I do think you can probably say that our kids were never in doubt of one thing. They were more important to us than acting. They were more important to us than friends. That very clearly, very simply, they were what mattered to us. That makes parenting understandable to children. You can really scold someone if they know it's because they want what's best for you. They don't want you to just drift along and fail. I used to tell my kids sometimes, "Look, I'm not interested in being a cop. I don't want to be a cop. I don't want to catch you at things. That's not who I am. I don't want to be that person myself, let alone be that person for you. I refuse to be that person. You're not going to make me that person either. So hear what I'm saying to you because I'm saying it to you for your own benefit for you to be better so I don't have to be a cop." And they get that. They get that real solidly. And I know that my kids still are what I care about. That's just it. I just always have, always will. That's just the way I was brought up, to a fault I suppose. But being able to provide for your family comes right behind that. And it's easier for a guy to work than it is a girl to work in this business, even if you're Goldie Hawn. So it was always easy for me to say, "It looks like she's going to go to work from July to September," and whatever would come up in that time period, I'd just say no.

Write a book like Goldie?

KR: Nah, she's- - Goldie is special. She's been an icon. She's an icon to us. I understand that. I watch the way women especially respond to Goldie. She's meant something to society. She's been a factor. I've been an actor for a lot of years. I don't think anybody needs anything of what I have to offer in that regard. It's just my life story, my kids know my life. I've thought about at times putting down pieces of information so that the information for my kids can be true, correct and honest and they would know what it was. They might go back sometime 30 years from now and say, "You know, I was reading last night this little thing Pa left and I always thought that was one thing, but I was wrong because he wrote that out and I got that." So at the moment, I have lots of stories but for some reason, in my eyes, I'm not at a point yet in my life where I think anybody should be interested in it. I've never been able to understand that. Why anybody cares about my life, I would never know, and I don't think they do. I go do this stuff for the movies and I don't do publicity outside of this because in my eyes, it's like what is it, you're going to sit on the toilet, take a shit, read this? I don't need to be that.

Best piece of advice?

KR: Don't walk in any door you can't walk out.

What was high school like for you?

KR: It was kind of a drag. It wasn't that great, not that cool.


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