Kurt Russell On Change, Video And His Role As 'Snake' (USA Today/Aug 07/1996/US) By Jack Garner


Kurt Russell wanted to star in another Escape film as early as 1983, two years after Escape From New York was released. And he knew the city to escape from would be Los Angeles.

"We took a stab at it a couple of times," the actor says, "But we didn't have the time to commit to it."

But then two things happened that convinced the 45-year-old actor and his director, John Carpenter, that it was time to get serious.

First, Escape From New York just kept growing as a cult favorite.

"Whenever I went to Europe, for example, people kept wanting to talk about that character and that movie," Russell says. "I've done three movies that have a real hard-core following - The Thing, Tombstone and Escape From New York.

"My character in Escape From New York (the one-eyed Snake Plissken) somehow hit a nerve with audiences," Russell says. "I think people identify with his attitude, and his need for total freedom."

But it was the most recent L.A. earthquake that kicked Escape From L.A. into gear. Russell, Carpenter and producer Debra Hill met in the days following the quake and began hammering out a script. A big factor became a quake that dumps the ocean around Los Angeles, making it an island, just like Manhattan is in the first Escape film.

Russell is the first to admit that some things haven't changed in 15 years, particularly the character of Snake Plisskin.

"That's the key to the movie. The rest of the world has changed, but Snake has not. His agenda is not going to change. He's incorruptible. He has no agenda. He doesn't want anything from anybody."

That even explains why Snake seldom speaks - and when he does, it's in a hoarse whisper.

"Snake doesn't talk to people," Russell says. "Snake speaks to hear himself."

The actor says he got the idea from Clint Eastwood's old spaghetti Westerns, especially because his co-star in the first Escape film was Eastwood's old nemesis, Lee Van Cleef.

Escape From L.A. marks Russell's fifth film with writer-director Carpenter, in a line that began with Elvis for television in 1979, and also has included The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China. The filmmaker is certainly the most important collaboration in Russell's life, next to the life he shares with his longtime love and occasional co-star, Goldie Hawn.

"John and I request each other, and we both have a don't-tread-on-me and I-won't-tread-on you philosophy of life. It's fun to share that with John," Russell says.

Russell also has noticed a peculiar thing about Carpenter-Russell movies.

"John and I have a tendency to make movies that aren't appreciated when we make 'em, but they are 10 or 15 years later."

Accordingly, Russell believes he's fortunate to live in the age of home video. "Without that, my career would have been very different.

"Video was coming into popularity when we did Escape From New York, and it was video that caused the cult following for that film to grow. Then it happened with Big Trouble in Little China, and now it's happening again with Tombstone.

"It's fun to see an audience come to a film later," Russell says. But he adds with a knowing laugh, "It's also fun to see an audience come to the theater right away.