Interview With Kurt
Russell (Starburst/Unknown Year/UK) By Whitney Scott Bain (Unpublished)
Back in the 80s, I had the good fortune to work on three John
Carpenter films; two of
them starred Kurt Russell.
Not only was Kurt a pleasure
to work with, he's a genuinely nice guy.
this rare interview, Kurt talks about working for Disney, his baseball years and
us the inside info on Escape From New York.
You started out working for Walt Disney as a
Mr. Disney was a wonderful man. I was in the Adventures of
McPherson series. When I got the job, I was in Little
League baseball and I was focused
on wanting to become a professional ball player one day. We had a
really good team.
all really good. We went on to the championship. My father and I met with a
man named, Mr. Anderson, who talked and acted like the same
character from the
Matrix. He said it would be impossible for me to play
baseball and act because of the
so I decided that I'd rather play baseball than act. Little did I know that
Mr. Disney had listened to the whole conversation in the other
room on speaker and
quickly had a talk with Mr. Anderson. When my father and I were
walking down the hall
to leave, Mr. Anderson came running up to us and made me a deal where I could
have game days off during filming. Mr. Disney and I would
sometimes have lunch and
he'd ask me what I thought about certain rides and attractions he
had planned for the
park. He'd listen to this nine-year-old
kid to see what worked and what didn't
using me as a sounding board.
You did become a professional baseball player for
I worked my way up through the years and got to play
professionally. I was
baseman. Those days ended when I got hurt at 22. I fell back on
acting because I figured
that I needed another career to earn a living.
Snake Plissken has become an iconic character throughout the
years. He resonates
and echoes with people.
Once in awhile you get the opportunity to play a really great
character where you get
to make it completely yours. Avco Embassy, the studio that
produced Escape originally
wanted Charlie Bronson to pay the part because there were a lot
of action heroes
time like Clint Eastwood and Bronson that were making those types
of films. John fought
for me for that role.
When MGM acquired the rights to Escape they able to find
all the cut
including your back story with Fresno Bob (Taylor) and the master
credit card robbery except for
the scene where you see the Indians roasting the headless cat on
a spit in the World Trade
Center, you tangle with them briefly and make your escape with
after you. I
know it's out there somewhere because I remember seeing it as a
dirty dupe (black and
white 35mm work footage.) on the Moviola at New World. Why do you
think they cut
The studio thought it was too long and cut them, but
in a way it worked to our
advantage. No one had ever done an opening sequence where this
guy gets off a bus in
handcuffs with this bad boy, f-you
attitude. It set the mood for the film right away.
Not too many people know that Tom Atkins' character,
Rehme, was named after the
head of Avco Embassy, Bob Rehme who later on became a very
Warren Oates had originally been selected to play Brain, but had
taken ill and
recommended Harry Dean Stanton for the part. Adrienne Barbeau;,
wife at the time,
always liked to knit during set ups. Most people think it's Jamie
Lee Curtis narrating the
opening sequence and the voice in the security area where we see
Snake walking down
the hall, but in actuality it was the late, Debra Hill. The whole
cast was a great ensemble
of players and such a pleasure to work
Lee Van Cleef, Ernie Borgnine, Harry Dean, Tommy, Adrienne, Isaac
Pleasance, Season Hubley; who I was married to at the time. I
remember when my son
was born and
I had the duties of feeding him at night. Sometimes I'd get home
set too tired to change, still in my wardrobe and here I am
feeding my son with a baby
bottle. Kind of a congruous look for Snake.
Issac Hayes and I would get up early and work out
I'd call him up in the
morning and he already had a deep voice, but answer in the
deepest baritone you'd ever
hear. (imitates Isaac.) "Yeahhh... ohhhhkay..." then hang up. He
was a really great guy.
We were at Roger Corman's New World Pictures hired by Avco to do
the effects. I
was a production assistant at the time, most notably known as a
P.A. or piss ant as they
called us because we did all the dirty jobs and got
pissed on by everyone even when we
did a good job. Still, I got to work on the construction of
Manhattan that consisted of
cardboard shoeboxes and blocks of wood, Xeroxed pictures of
buildings that we pasted
on and shaded them in with pens, pencils and
white tape. All of that was destroyed after
the production was over, but I did manage to save the top of the
which you see for a brief moment when Air Force One is about to
crash. We shot the
effects in 70mm then brought it back down to
35mm, so it had this really great depth of
field look to it. Most people think it was Jim Cameron who did
the mattes. He did do one
where it was a glass matte composite where the prisoners are
flagging down the
helicopters, but it was Jena Holman who was this
incredible matte artist that drew the
background landscape of Manhattan and the World Trade Center when
we had the
miniature Gulfire pushed off the top. Sadly, she passed away a
few years ago. She was a
very nice woman. There were a lot of talented people
there that went on to do exceptional
work in the film business that worked on Escape. It was
like a big family. I remember
when we were shooting inserts on the New World back lot for the
Gulfire cockpit which
was a part of a plastic helicopter windshield
that I pulled out of the junkyard we called
Keltonville because this one guy, Roger Kelton had organized the
mess that was back
there and it was a mess. We covered it with dubatine (black
cloth.), I dug up a helicopter
joystick and Dean Cundey lit it with
a couple of lights with gels over them, Cundey had
the .357 in a May Company department store paper bag that we were
making jokes about
that May Company got into the firearms business. Then there was
the Station 19 block
that was constructed for the close
ups we used. Years later we used that as a paint shed at
Corman's. Afterwards, I remember you went home still in your
wardrobe and John took
Dean and I buying us cheeseburgers at a place called the Oar
House which doesn't exist
anymore. That was the best
shoot I ever worked on. You kept the original wardrobe too.
Yes. John and I figured that we'd make a sequel one day and 17
years later we did. I
could still fit into Snake's wardrobe, but John decided that
since Escape From L.A. was
Snake needed a new outfit. So, I ended up giving away the pants and shirt
to my son's friends, but I kept the jacket.
or original wardrobe, how did that come about?
When John was trying to sell Avco on Escape From New York
we talked about what
Snake would wear. I got some green army fatigues, combat boots, a
took some promotional photos. It didn't look right. Something was
missing. So, I went
got some black and white fatigues, and a pair of motorcycle boots
with golf cleats I
added. I thought Snake would look great with an eye patch, but
the studio didn't want it.
John fought for the idea and we won out.
I remember when we were in St. Louis and
it was in a bad part of town. They had a big
fire there awhile back and it was deserted and desolate looking
especially at night. No
one was down there except the occasional drunk or group of gangs.
It was a rough part of
When we broke one night
set up another scene, I decided to take a walk. I went around
the corner and saw these four rough looking guys staring at me.
Here I am dressed as
Snake, carrying a machine gun, a .357 and a knife looking back at
them when they
quietly walked away. I couldn't
wait to get back to John and tell him; hey, this
character's going to work!
John and Alan Howarth's score added to the film's
It's one of my favorite scores ever.
You and John work seamlessly together the way John Wayne and
John Ford or
Howard Hawks did which John is a big admirer of Hawks and John's
films have this
special rhythm and cadence to them.
John is like a big brother to me. He was always open to making a
film better. When
we did Escape From L.A. there were a
lot of questionable moments in that film that
reflect on today's society. John wanted to point out how we were
slowly losing our
freedoms and that Snake's life is like a loop. Think about it.
Try lighting up a cigarette in
Santa Monica where you live.
That's true. They passed a law where you can't smoke at the
beach, public property
and if you live in an apartment building you can only smoke
inside your home. Then you
had to sign a paper whether-or-not
you smoked. If you said you did, fine, but if you
you didn't and a friend came over and lit up that would be
grounds for eviction driving
up the cost of the rental unit for the next person.
its best. I wonder when we're going to be goosestepping to Falco
music next? On a lighter note, there's been the on again, off
again rumor of remaking
Escape From New York. I mean, why? The movie stands on its
own merit and still holds
only be made if the movie is extremely flawed or originally
miscast. There seems to be no originality anymore. First of all,
the actors they had in
mind were from Scotland, Wales, England and Australia. Snake
needs to be played by a
young man and an
American. He's an American war hero. He gets into a ring to fight
guy twice his size with a baseball bat. How more American can you
Speaking of that; you did your own stunt work
with Ox Baker during that scene.
Dick Warlock, who was my stand
in and stunt coordinator on Escape got a big
baseball knot on his forehead from Ox during rehearsal so it was
impossible for him to do
the scene. Ox was a professional wrestler and he accidentally
killed his best friend in the
ring, so you could say I was
a little apprehensive to do this. Ox and I had rehearsed
several times and he really got into it using his full weight on
the swings and I was taking
everything I got from him. I had to tap him a few times in the
groin with my bat telling
him that this
is pretend. He got the message.
it was my turn to get even in the scene where I drive the nail bat into the back
skull. There was this wooden block placed on the back of his head
with a nail sticking out
of it and I had to hit it just right. I
him not to flinch or I could miss. During the first
few takes, he did flinch. So, I reassured him that I'd get it on
the next take so we could
get the scene over with. He calmed down, I brought the bat down
on the nail perfectly
and John got the shot.
What's the story on Snake's voice?
Ahh, the old wives tale... I was trying to find Snake's voice
before we were filming
and John said to me, we just got Lee Van Cleef to play Bob Hauk.
I thought, hey, since
Clint Eastwood did all those films with
him and made him a star, it could work for me.
So, I worked on Snake's version of Eastwood. He's quieter than
Eastwood, sometimes so
quiet, you barely hear what he says.
originally in the lead role in Ladyhawk.
I thought it would be fun to shoot a film in Italy for a few
weeks and then go home.
Goldie, my wife, said that I'd be there for several months and I
didn't believe her. When I
got there, I see wardrobe and the
character has to wear tights. I don't wear tights. That's
not for me. On top of that, production got held up because of
strikes and political
problems. I went to Dick Donner; the director and told him that
this was a mistake taking
this role and I was sorry,
so I recommended Rutger Hauer and said he'd be perfect for the
part and I could get him. Dick said, "Really? You think?" I
didn't know Rutger. I never
even met him. So, while everything was being negotiated, Goldie
flew over and we spent
two weeks in
the hotel room before we went home.
Who are your favorite actors?
Actors are amazing to me. I really don’t have a favorite one. I'm
amazed at what
they do. I love all movies as an audience. I have a great time
working in this business.