Role Recall: Kurt Russell Looks Back at Snake Plissken, Cash in Drag, and More
Kurt Russell doesn't need no stinkin' Oscars. The never-nominated actor, who prefers living outside of Los Angeles and has called the industry's self-congratulatory season "a joke," has had one heckuva career without them, thank you.
He survived the aftermath of child stardom after making his first film appearance at age 11 in the Elvis Presley vehicle "It Happened at the World's Fair," and becoming one of Disney's top young stars of the '70s.
He transitioned to one of the most popular action heroes ever, with a string of favorites throughout the '80s like "Escape From New York," "The Thing," and "Big Trouble in Little China."
He fell in love with one of the most popular and beautiful actresses in Hollywood, and more than 30 years later he and Goldie Hawn are still living happily ever after.
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These days the 62-year-old actor can pick and choose the roles the get him out of the house, like the new caper "The Art of the Steal," which marks Russell's first film since 2011's "Touchback" (which itself followed a four-year hiatus after Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof"). In "Art of the Steal" (now streaming via video on demand,), Russell plays Crunch Calhoun, an aging daredevil who moonlights an art thief.
Snake Plissken, R.J MacReady, Gabriel Cash, and now Crunch Calhoun? Is it just us or does Russell contractually insist on kickass names for his characters?
In our new episode of Role Recall, which you can watch in the video above, the congenial Russell shares colorful stories from the sets of our favorite films of his. The highlights:
"Escape From New York" (1981) A "bombed-out" inner-city St. Louis stood in for the Big Apple during the making of this classic post-apocalyptic action flick, which marked Russell's first collaboration with director John Carpenter. Russell recalls a night he found himself alone, far from the crew, in the desolate downtown, when he encountered four men on a corner. He looked up at them, and one pleaded with him, "Easy man, easy, easy, easy," before they turned around and walked the other way. Russell continues, "I was like, 'What was that all about?'" It was then that he looked down and realized he was Snake Plissken — carrying a machine gun, wearing an eye patch, tank top, and camouflage pants. In other words, he looked like a lunatic.
"The Thing" (1982) The second Carpenter-Russell collaboration is considered one of the best action/sci-fi films of all time, but shooting it was no day at the beach: "The set had to be kept below freezing," Russell said of the six-week British Columbia shooting location that doubled for Antarctica. "So when you were outside, and it was [freezing], and when you came inside, it was nice and toasty at 29 or 30 degrees," he laughs. The suffering for his craft paid off: "That's my favorite John Carpenter movie. I just think he was masterful on that."
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"Big Trouble in Little China" (1986) Speaking of suffering, Russell came down with a bad flu during the making of this fan favorite. "I really got sick on that one … you can hear it in the movie, you can hear me working on it," says Russell, adding that his body temperature was around 105. "But we had to get it shot, get it done." Russell also wasn't feeling great about the title: "I remember thinking that the title 'Big Trouble in Little China' was going to be rough on us. I thought it was too many words, people weren't going to hold onto that." In the end, of course, it was little trouble.
"Overboard" (1987) Russell calls the making of his third, most popular, and final pairing with longtime partner Goldie Hawn "a little slice of heaven." They had their kids on set, their trailers backed up to each other with an AstroTurf lawn in between them, and knew it was "a special time that they'd never forget." As for while he Hawn never worked together again? "I'd love to work with her again … we never read anything that we really loved that much after that."
"Tango & Cash" (1989) Russell does a mean impression of his co-star Sylvester Stallone in this movie he calls "fantasy time because you're making a movie for 15-year-old boys." But it's the movie's most infamous scene, the one that required Russell to dress in drag, that has the best story around it: "That was one of the few things that I'd never want to do again," he says. Russell told his makeup artist to transform him into a woman while he took a nap. He woke up two hours later, went to check himself out, and "I was looking in the mirror at a really ugly version of my mother."
"Captain Ron" (1992) "I wore a skirt in that, but that was a man's skirt!" Russell laughs of his Tahitian wear in this cult classic (fun fact: fans held a "Ron Con" to celebrate the comedy's 15th anniversary in 2007). But this one, for Russell, was all about his co-star Martin Short: "He was just a terrific person," he says. "We had our kids down there, they became friends, Goldie came down … We just had this great time together, these two families."
"The Art of the Steal" is now streaming on VOD and opens in theaters on March 14.
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