From Disney Moppet To High-Paid Leading Man (San Pedro News-Pilot/Aug 09/1996/US) By Jeff Shore



One of the most politically incorrect movie stars, Kurt Russell is equally happy to talk about his career or his unique perspective on the world around him.

He has been giving interviews almost all his life, starting as one of Walt Disney's favorite child actors, before almost reaching the major leagues as a hard-hitting infielder. After a shoulder injury ended his baseball career, Russell returned to acting and now ranks among Hollywood's highest paid leading men.

He has come to a posh Los Angeles hotel to plug his new movie, John Carpenter's Escape From L.A. (opening today at area theaters), but first he lights a cigarette and mocks the recent Olympic Games in Atlanta.

"We had paper doves flying into the Olympic flame," says Russell with a smirk. "I think that says it all.

"I get it, yeah, but if you were a dove and you were the grandson of that dove, wouldn't you like to be able to say, 'Hey, my granddad dove into the Olympic flame and died.'"

It's this unsentimental sense of sarcasm that serves Russell so well in Escape From L.A. Like his 1980 hit, Escape From New York, the sequel again casts Russell as anti-social anti-hero Snake Plissken. This time he has to rescue a weapons trigger device in less than 10 hours on the island of Los Angeles. You see, following a gigantic earthquake, L.A. separated from the mainland and was turned into a penal colony for the "morally depraved."

Skewing everything from Hollywood agents to plastic surgery junkies, Escape From L.A. sends up almost every Southern California cliche. Russell doesn't worry too much about people missing some of the inside jokes. He remembers screening Escape From New York for several different audiences, most of which weren't sure whether they should laugh at the funnier moments in the sci-fi action film.

"But finally, I watched it at a theater on 42nd Street in Manhattan at 1 o'clock in the morning, and everybody yelled, 'Yeahhhh!'" Russell recalled. "Then there was that graphic of the fence going around the city and they went 'Yeahhhh!' again."

As far as Russell is concerned, much of the humor isn't designed to be caught the first time around anyway.

"It's meant to be done so that the fifth or sixth time you see it on video many years from now, you'll still find something new. The staging is such that many of the jokes are not upfront."

Looking at the rugged Russell, with his trademark golden mane, it is surprising to think that this is the same Kurt Russell who began his career starring in such Disney classics as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. For some in Hollywood, it's more surprising that he has emerged as one of the highest-paid actors in the business, having recently signed for a
$15 million to star in a sci-fi action movie called A Soldier.

It was the surprise blockbuster Stargate (from the director and writer of Independence Day) that promoted Russell to the "A" list of actors. The success of last winter's Executive Decision and the continuing popularity of Russell's movies overseas also have helped. Now he can be selective about the roles he accepts and spend more time with his longtime companion Goldie Hawn and their children.

"Just because we do an action film doesn't mean I can't do a really good one," Russell said. "Just because I do a comedy doesn't mean I can't do one that is really good and has a chance of being seen and enjoyed by a lot of people."

Russell won't take roles that involve sex on screen, but he is unconcerned about movie violence. "My children are fully aware that if I shoot someone or someone shoots me on film it's fake," he said. "It's the same as taking a toy gun or a water gun in your back jard and shooting someone. You've got to explain to your children that this business is about trying to create the illusion of reality."