With supporting turns in two of summer’s biggest movies — including box office juggernaut “The Fate of the Furious” and the upcoming and much-hyped “Guardians of the Galaxy” sequel — Kurt Russell is back in a very big way. But despite reentering the cultural consciousness with a slew of splashy roles over the past couple of years, Russell never really went away. He just got choosier. That kind of freedom has always marked Russell’s five-decade-long career, one that includes a childhood spent in literal contractual service to Walt Disney; an action-heavy ’80s that saw him star in such classics as “The Thing,” “Escape From New York” and “Big Trouble in Little China”; and a critically acclaimed third act that’s rife with unique choices.
It’s in this third act that Russell has snared roles in the record-busting “Fast and Furious” franchise, Quentin Tarantino’s blood-soaked universe and a handful of indie features that reinvigorated his love for the cinema. In James Gunn’s “The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” no one is bigger than Russell — literally. He plays Ego the Living Planet, father to Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, creator of his own destiny and kind of a complicated figure.
IndieWire spoke with Russell in the middle of this summer’s whirlwind world tour some serious franchise pressures, the indie movies that brought him back to Hollywood and always doing what he wants to do.
After “Fast and the Furious,” did you have any reservations about joining another huge franchise?
With “Fast and Furious,” I had the opportunity to really be a big, big part of creating a character. In this one, the character was very distinguished in the Marvel lore. I did feel like it was a pretty strong challenge, because once you get excited about doing it, it’s followed immediately by the feeling of, “Well, the first one was very successful and if you’re going to become a part of it, you want to make the second one better.”
How did you overcome those nerves?
You want to construct, not destruct. And that is pressure, so I did think about that.
I told James Gunn, “I just wanted to make sure what I’m doing is going to be something that’s going to work, it’s going to resonate and it’s going to make the audience feel entertained in a positive way.” I just wanted to be part of something that was going to work better than the original, and that’s a pressure, that’s a challenge. I’ve never really done that before, so that was kind of new.
Over the past few years, you’ve had something of a comeback, but you were actually working steadily before this latest resurgence. You even did another superhero movie with “Sky High”—
I love “Sky High.” I love to hear you say that. I love “Sky High.” It’s really funny. It’s a great premise, a great idea for a story for a movie. A very visual thing, too.
I think that it’s very relatable, anybody who’s gone to high school, your freshman year, there’s a lot of things that you want to try and hide, and of course you’re not going to hide them for very long. People are increasingly finding that movie now. I’ve done a lot of movies that’s been the case, and it’s fun to see that happen with “Sky High.”
What made you want to get back into movies over the past few years? Was it a question of personal interest or simply getting better offers?
I did “Death Proof” with Quentin [Tarantino], and after that I did get very interested in something that I had been wanting to do for a long, long time, and that was make wine. I wanted to learn to make a specific wine and I wanted to learn how to make pinot noir and chardonnay.
I’ve got to be honest with you, the things that I was feeling in terms of what I was spending my time doing in the vineyard was more interesting to me than the screenplays I was reading. I just wasn’t reading things that I had been wanting to do, so it was kind of an easy to just say, “I’d rather do this for a while.”
What project changed that?
The next thing I came along was “Bone Tomahawk,” and I really wanted to do that movie. I knew it was going to be not a lot of money, not a lot of marketing was going to be put into it. It was a very, very different movie, but it solidified my sort of whole feeling about the way I’ve gone on about my career in this business, which is doing things you want to do. Working with people you want to work with, whatever the reason is you want to do a movie.
For a couple of years, I had any reason to come out of the vineyard as far as I was concerned. Then the next thing was “Hateful Eight” and then it was “Furious 7” and “Deepwater Horizon” and then “Fast and Furious 8” and then “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and suddenly I was doing things that are highly visible and no complaints. I’m playing parts that I’m enjoying playing, and when you do that, you don’t run dry.
When you have a long career, it’s going to have periods of time where you’re gonna say, “I’ve done that, I’ve done that, done that” or “not that good” or you’ve got something else that you’re perhaps more interested in.
I played professional baseball [when I was younger], and I put movies to a great and large degree to the side, certainly during the season, because that was something I was serious about. All my life, I’ve done things I’ve wanted to do. Fortunately for me, I’ve been able to continue to find roles that were interesting to me and fun to play, and I just try to create memorable characters.
We’re entering this weird period of time where many of your well-known films are getting the remake treatment, from “The Thing” to “Overboard” and “Escape From New York.” How do you feel about remakes?
They’re also talking about doing “Big Trouble in Little China.”
Disney has already remade a few of the early Disney movies I did. Nothing’s sacred. You go make it, you’re going to have the challenge of creating something for an audience that makes it different. To be honest with you, I don’t really think about it. I think about what I’m doing, you know?
It’s funny that, just as you’re in the middle of this big comeback, your longtime partner Goldie Hawn is also gearing up to get back on the big screen with “Snatched.” Do you two talk about that?
While I never left, Goldie’s actually coming back to the movie business, she hasn’t done anything for 14 years. It was also, for her, out of choice, because she wasn’t particularly drawn to things that were coming her way. But when Amy came with this project, she was at a time where she said, “You know, it would be kind of fun to make people laugh again, and I miss that.”
I’m really glad that she did that, and I’ve seen the movie and it’s very, very funny. The fact that it’s coming out all during this period when I’m doing movies, there’s nothing to say other than, wow. It’s serendipitous that it’s happening at the same time and we’re enjoying it.
Will it mean that we do more pictures in the future? I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see what comes our way, and hopefully we’ll find things that we want to do. Maybe we’ll even find things that we want to do together, it’s a business where you just don’t know till the phone rings.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” opens on Friday, May 5.