Russell Shines Through Numerous Movie Roles (The Daily Oklahoman/Aug 09/1996/US) By Bobby Rockel



There's something about that face. That grin. That hair. The hurried swagger. It's unmistakable.

There's something about Kurt Russell that makes him, well... Kurt Russell.

He's a contemporary John Wayne. His screen credits may say Wyatt Earp (Tombstone, 1993), Captain Ron, 1992), or Snake Plissken (Escape From New York, 1981, Escape From L.A., 1996). But through it all, like Wayne, you see Russell.

He's become a bankable star. His name previously associated with comedy and Disney, is synonymous with action and guns - very big guns.

That's good for Russell's bank account, maybe not so good for his chances at an Oscar.

Still, that hardly matters to the once child star. At an ageless 45 with more than 30 movies to his credit (his debut was in 1961 with The Absent Minded Professor). Russell's at a period of life where fun's the name of the game. Life isn't defined by Oscars or what the stuffy, synthetic Academy thinks. He looks for characters that are extensions of himself: i.e., Snake Plissken.

Plissken, like Russell is a product of his environment. It's a role the actor has wanted to reprise for some time, the finished product being Escape From L.A.

Escape From New York
, the first film, is a cult favorite.

Now, almost 16 years later, Russell slips into Snake's leather again in the hard-driving special-effects extravaganza.

Paramount Pictures paid for reporters to fly to Los Angeles, see the movie and interview the stars.

"It's a role that really brings out the fantasy in me," said Russell, dressed appropriately in snakeskin boots and taking long drags from an overworked cigarette.

"I think there's a little Snake in everyone. He's a rebel. A tough SOB that balks at his circumstances and makes a stand. You can see he's had an extremely difficult life: He's lost an eye and his voice is gristled. He's seen it all and doesn't like much of it.

"I wanted the sequel because John (Carpenter, director) wanted to do it. We didn't plan on waiting 16 years; the time was just never right for both of us. But we felt like Snake had enough of a following that it was time people discovered what's happened to the character."

Russell and Carpenter collaborated on the script.

"We wanted Snake to go out an anti-hero somehow," Carpenter said. "We wanted to show that despite his past crimes and his tough-guy demeanor, he still has an innate decency about him.

"You can't be successful in this business with a closed mind. Kurt and I are good friends. I don't think you do as many projects as we have (5) and not be able to bounce ideas off one another."

Russell agreed.

"I love working with John," he said. "The problem was the ending just wasn't simple enough. People, studio executives, just didn't get it. John and I realized science fiction works best when you keep it simple, and that's what we did."

Simply, however, hardly describes Russell's current rise. Discouraged and disgruntled with his always wholesome typecasting, Russell was close to leaving the glitz and glamour behind in the late 1970s.

An exceptional athlete, Russell played a few years of minor league baseball before Carpenter lured him back to the loop. Bent on an Elvis TV biopic, Carpenter recruited Russell to play the King in 1979.

"I think that role changed my life," he said. "It regenerated my interest in acting. I didn't want to be sitting in a rocking chair one day thinking, 'What if?'