New Role Gives Kurt Russell New Look (Newport Daily Press/Jun 14/1981/US) By Henry Edgar



You might remember Kurt Russell as that nice young actor from all those Walt Disney films several years ago.

But if you go to see the new Avco-Embassy film, Escape From New York, don't expect to see that nice young man again.

Kurt Russell has grown up.

And with Escape From New York, he's come full circle, with character totally unlike any he's played in the past.

In Escape From New York, Russell stars as Snake Plissken, a master criminal who is released from prison for an impossible one-man mission - to rescue the President of the United States who id being held hostage inside the massive, savage prison that the city of New York has become in 1997.

And if Snake bears any resemblance to the Clint Eastwood characters in the "spaghetti westerns," it's not merely a coincidence, Russell explains with a big grin. "For those who get it, that's what I'm doing. For those who don't, that choice and that character belong to Snake."

Describing Escape From New York as a spaghetti western that happens to take place in New York, Russell quickly admits to being an Eastwood fan and a true afficiondo of the spaghetti western.

"John Carpenter, the director of Escape From New York, and I talked about it, and we agreed the idea fits my character. John knows I'm a big fan of spaghetti westerns, and for me to play a character like Snake is a real kick in the ass, I just have fun with Snake, I take it to the hilt.

"I like Snake, his character really excites me. He's very animalistic, with futuristic overtones. He might seem like a one-dimensional, anti-hero type, but I think under the surface he's much more than that. He has a sense of values and a sense of humor and I think the audience will end up caring for him."

Comparing the film in many ways to the hit Warriors, Russell says the idea of his character rescuing the president is something like the Americans behind the German lines in the World War
II movies.

He acknowledges the violence in the film, and has no qualms about violence in movies.

"The whole thing about movies like this is playing cowboys and Indians. You have to be able to tell the difference between make believe and the real world, and I have no truck with people who don't realize this difference. If they can't deal with this difference, I'm sorry, but I just don't accept the notion that seeing something violent in a movie will make somebody go out and do something crazy.

"If you accept that theory and stop making movies with violence, you also have to stop writing books, you have to stop art, you have to stop radio, television, the stage, anything that might come up with anything that might give any jerk an idea.

"Hey, I've got a 15-month-old baby boy, and I'm going to teach him the difference. If somebody doesn't know the difference in make believe and reality, that's something people who are in the business of make believe shouldn't have to deal with.

"I think Escape From New York is a great film," he adds. "It's ridiculous in a way and it's horrible in a way, but overall, it's wonderful. There are a lot of laughs, but the underlying theme is realistic. And the country's crime rate IS rising - if you project it to 1990, we might not be that far out of line."

Russell has always been athletic, and once considered switching careers from acting to playing baseball. He's always done as many of his own stunts as possible, but Escape From New York offered a new physical challenge.

To get in shape for the film, Russell worked out lifting weights for about four months before shooting began. "It was terrible," he says with another smile. "But I knew the character would be much believable if he were in good shape physically. I didn't want to look like Superman, but I had to be believable. My weight stayed about the same - I just redistributed it."

Just as Snake offers Russell a chance to play a character unlike any he's ever attempted before, it was in another film directed by John Carpenter that he had his first opportunity to make his mark as a serious actor, in the TV movie Elvis.

After the praise for his stunning performance in Elvis, he went on to more acclaim for another exceptional movie, Amber Waves, and continued his growth as an actor with last summer's comedy, Used Cars. Still, despite the glowing praise for his recent performances, Russell insist the only reason he was ever considered for the role of Snake was that John Carpenter was directing Escape.

"He could se me playing the role, and he knew I was interested in trying something like this. When we were making Elvis, John and I became good pals and he got to know me better than any other director I've ever worked with. The thing I like most about working with John is that he's a nice man. Working with him is fun, really, you keep thinking any day, they're gonna catch up with us, we're having too much fun."

So far, he hasn't experience any reaction from other film-makers to his performance in Escape From New York. The film is being shown in Newport News prior to national later this summer.

"The reaction won't happen until the picture comes out everywhere," Russell explains. "The way my career has gone the last six years - whatever I did in my last film is what I'm supposed to do for the next 20 years."