Russell's 'Escape From New York' (The Daily Advertiser/Jul 21/1981/US) By Bob Thomas
Twenty years ago,
10-year-old Kurt Russell made his movie debut by kicking Elvis Presley's shins
in It Happened at the World's Fair.
Last year Russell starred in the three-hour television biography, Elvis,
and acquired a whole new career. Also a wife, Season Hubley, who appeared in the
film as Pricilla Presley.
The transformed Kurt Russell can be viewed this summer in the Avco Embassy
release, Escape From New York, John Carpenter's latest and darkest
venture into the realm of fantasy. Russell plays the master criminal, Snake
Plissken, something different from the actor's portrayals during his 10 years at
the Disney studio.
million Escape From New York takes place in 1997, when Manhattan island
is a walled prison from the 3 million criminals who have lost the Civil War
against the U.S. Police Force. Air Force One crashes on the island, and the
President (Donald Pleasence) is captured, along with papers vital to the peace
of the world. Snake Plissken to the rescue.
"It's not a message picture," explains Kurt Russell. "It's pure escapism, an
exercise in 'what if?'"
What if movie audiences don't go along with the exercise? Russell isn't worried.
He has faith in John Carpenter, who directed the low-budget, high-grossing
Halloween and The Fog, as well as Russell's turning point Elvis.
The actor won the role when his career was in doldrums. After leaving Disney in
1974, he had appeared in some television movies and two series, The New Land
and Quest, both prestigious, both short-lived.
"I was typed as the clean-cut nice guy," he recalled, "even though I had played
that kind of role only three times at Disney. Those three pictures happened to
Nobody remembered the seven pictures in which I played the bad guy on the block
or a kid with problems. I decided to stop doing movies-of-the-week and hold out
for feature films. It was demeaning, going around to auditions for pictures,
most of them grade-B disco crap. But I was determined to turn my career around."
Russell was one of four finalists for the Presley role - "I had three weeks to
learn the character and to learn how to play the guitar; Fortunately, Elvis
played simple chords."
Elvis led to another well-received TV movie, Amber Waves, and the
theatrical feature Used Cars.
Then he rejoined Carpenter for Escape From New York. The Snake Plissken
role was extremely physical, and Russell trained for it.
"John wanted me to do as many of the stunts as possible, and I felt that the
character had to be big physically," said Russell. "So I enrolled at Vince's Gym
and lifted weights for four months. There is nothing more boring than lifting
weights, but I stayed with it because I had a goal. I kept it up during the
filming because I panicked by the fear that at the end of the picture I wouldn't
match how I looked at the beginning. The last day of shooting was the last day
of lifting weights. The weights paid off. I've always had to take 20-minute
catnaps to revive my energy while making films. This time I never got tired."
Escape From New York filmed one day at the Stature of Liberty; the rest
of the film was shot in St. Louis and Los Angeles, those cities doubling for the
ruined New York.
"It was a tough picture to make because of all the locations and the physical
stuff," said Russell. "But it was also the most enjoyable picture I've done,
because it was a family affair. My wife plays a role, and John's wife, Adrienne
Barbeau, is the female lead. My brother-in-law, Larry Franco, was co-producer
with Debra Hill, who has worked on all of John's films, as have most of the