Kurt Russell: from cult credibility to blockbuster stardom
If not for Kurt Russell’s mainstream, boyish good looks, the phrase “cult star” would be perfect for this unpredictable actor, whose career includes some of history’s best-loved box-office flops.
Consider the 66-year-old’s performances in comedy crime caper Big Trouble in Little China (1986), sci-fi horror film The Thing (1982) or buddy-cop movie Tango & Cash (1989) and it’s easy to see why he has just about attained “national treasure” status in the United States.
In truth, these movies, like many of his best-known roles, did not make any significant money. Each was panned by the critics before enjoying a second life in the emerging home-video market of the 1980s.
“I’ve done things that I loved that didn’t get a very good release, or were ill-timed, or that people didn’t want to see but then got found and became cult movies,” says Russell.
“The Thing was not, at the time, well-received. Now it’s considered one of the great horror movies. Big Trouble in Little China was a movie that was completely misunderstood by a lot of people, loved by some. It really has a big cult following.”
This month Russell is the common denominator in two of the year’s biggest blockbusters: The Fate of the Furious, the eighth film in the Fast and Furious franchise this week broke through the US$1billion (Dh3.67bn) box-office barrier, and the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, in cinemas from Thursday, is expected to have one of the largest openings of all time.
“When that happens, it’s nice,” says Russell. “It’s just nice to have the moment happen where two of them go ‘boom boom’.”
Firmly to the right of the political spectrum – he calls himself a libertarian – Russell is a passionate supporter of gun-ownership rights and enjoys hunting elk at the Colorado ranch he shares with his partner of 34 years, actress Goldie Hawn.
A Tinseltown outsider in most respects, he has never won a major acting prize, does not attend many showbiz parties and is not even a member of the Academy.
His first film role involved a two-week shoot with Elvis Presley for It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963) when he was 12, but he made his name as a teenager in a series of family-friendly live-action Disney movies.
He became friendly with Walt Disney and has often told how, shortly after the mogul’s death in 1966, he was shown a sheet of paper on which the great man had scrawled his last written words: “Kirt Russell.” Disney took his plans for the young actor – and the reason for the odd spelling – to the grave but it was not the last time that opportunity knocked for Russell before being snatched, or pushed, away.
In 1976, he auditioned for the roles of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in a promising, if far-fetched-sounding, space Western called Star Wars.
He dropped out when filmmaker George Lucas dithered over which part would be most suitable for him, and after NBC came in with the offer of a lead in a Western TV series.
That show, The Quest, was cancelled due to poor ratings after only 11 episodes, while Star Wars became a global phenomenon. Still, Russell is philosophical about his choices.
“If you do movies for 54 years you’re going to get lots of them out there that you could have done, didn’t do, didn’t get, whatever. That’s what an actor does,” he says, with a shrug.
Russell met John Carpenter, then an up-and-coming director, when they made an unlikely success out of the TV movie Elvis (1979). The pair reunited for the dystopian Escape from New York (1981), The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China.
Russell’s half-century career comes full circle, in a way, with the release by Disney of Guardians 2, in which he plays Ego the Living Planet.
“My whole career has been genre jumping, and having the fun of being in all those different genres,” he said.
As it happens, he is not much of a sci-fi or superhero fan – and had not even seen the first Guardians movie when he was being considered for the sequel.
“I know of them, I’ve seen a few Iron Mans, I’ve seen a couple of Spider-Mans, Batmans and Supermans. There’s a portion of it that doesn’t draw me,” he says, tailing off, as if unsure how to pluralise superhero names.
“Guardians of the Galaxy – I was the right audience for that. That one works for me.”
• The Fate of the Furious is in cinemas now. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will be released on May 4
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: July 21, 2017 06:47 PM