Role Haunts Russell (The Calgary Sunday Sun/Jul
28/1996/US) By Louis B. Hobson
Someone forgot to tell
about that old Thomas Wolfe saying: You can never go home again.
In 1980, Russell starred as Snake Plisskin in the low-budget science fiction
Escape From New York.
Made for $7 million, Escape went on to gross almost $60
million worldwide and has become a cult favorite on video.
Snake became the prototype of the outcast outlaw hero in dozens of sci-fi films
which followed but, until this summer, Snake seemed condemned to permanent
On Aug. 9, Russell once again dons a black eyepatch, motorcycle boots, a black
leather T-shirt and jeans to bring Snake cross continent to L.A.
This time, Snake is set to
Escape From Los Angeles.
"Deep down, I knew I wasn't finished with Snake," admits Russell.
"I kept the costumes from the film and they're the only costumes I've ever
Russell says whenever his companion Goldie Hawn would ask him why he was so
attached to the costume, he'd suggest "it was because I'd literally helped to
"Just months before we were scheduled to start filming, I was in Paris. I walked
past this guy who was wearing a shiny black shirt. I knew immediately that was
the look Snake's clothes should have."
Russell approached the man and bought the shirt off his back.
"He had no idea who I was or why I wanted the shirt, but he liked the price I
offered," recalls Russell.
Seven years ago, Russell tried to spearhead an Escape
"I wrote an outline and gave it to a screenwriter, but he just didn't have the
Two years ago when he was promoting his sci-fi thriller Stargate
in Europe and Asia, Russell was struck by how many people wanted to know if he'd
ever play Snake again.
"I'm 44 years old. I knew that I still have the physique and the agility to play
the character as an action here. And with that eyepatch on, I don't look too
"But I also knew I'm not going to be able to pull off the trick forever."
With that incentive, Russell approached John Carpenter and
who wrote, produced and directed Escape From New York.
"I said: Guys, it's either us or no one. So we sat down and wrote a screenplay
and brought it to Paramount Studios."
The studio gave the trio a $50-million US budget and Escape From Los
Angeles went into production.
Carpenter feels that Snake is "an extension of the dark side of Kurt Russell."
Russell confides that he "knows instinctively how Snake would react to any given
situation, so maybe he is a part of me.
"I love that Snake is so contrary that if someone calls him by the wrong name,
he'll pull that person's plug."
So does Russell see himself as a rattlesnake?
"Perhaps one with his venom removed. The big difference is that Snake can act on
his brand of negativity. I can't."
Russell also admits "Snake's sense of humor is as dark as mine."
Though he might envy Snake, Russell knows he can never be like his screen alter
ego: "I have Goldie and our children to think of. My actions don't just impact
Russell met Hawn in 1983 on the set of their movie Swing Shift.
He was divorced from actress
Season Hubley (his co-star in
Elvis The Movie)
and Hawn was separated from singer Bill Hudson.
Russell and Hawn became a couple with a ready-made family, including her two
children from Hudson and his son by Hubley.
They have since added a fourth child of their own.
Russell says the older children have no problems with the common-law marriage,
but adds: "If our (nine-year-old) son Wyatt were ever to have a problem with our
current arrangement, that would be a reason for Goldie and I to go down to the
nearest courthouse and formalize things.
"Snake wouldn't do that, so I guess that cinches it. Snake and I are not one and
the same person."