Russell's In A Venomous
Mood (The Windsor Star/Aug 09/1996/CA) By Jamie Portman
Kurt Russell sits hunched over the interview table, defiantly
brandishing a cigarette and denouncing a system that he says is taking away his
He feels his diatribe is relevant to the reason he's here this morning - to
discus the return to the big screen of Snake Plissken, the scowling, anti-social
desperado he first portrayed 15 years ago in the futuristic adventure, Escape
From New York.
Escape From L.A. which opens today at the Devonshire cinema in Windsor,
marks Russell's latest collaboration with his favorite director, John Carpenter
who directed the earlier film as well. But Russell is also reprising his
favorite character, complete with black eye-patch, grungy wardrobe and
rottweiler disposition. And he says that if Snake really existed, he would hate
the America today.
He'd be infuriated by society's gang-up on tobacco, which is certainly kindling
Russell's fury as he talks to the press this morning.
"I can't smoke in a Los Angeles bar," he complains and then adds that Toronto
has instituted a similar ban. To him, that means one of his favorite cities is
"now on the way down."
"So I'm going to kill myself with #!*#%*!# things!" He jabs his cigarette into
the ashtray. "But in the constitution where does it talk about a safety net?
Where is the minister of fun in this country? It's all about living longer and
safer - and yes, there's a value to that and I certainly understand that. But
there's also a greater value - to me, it's getting something out of life and at
least making it my choice. I thought that's what this country is about. How far
are we from where you can't smoke - period?"
Carpenter's longtime producing partner, Debra Hill, says Snake is "the meanest, baddest, anti-hero on the screen today." But Russell says that if Snake has an
attitude problem, it's because the system is trying to push him around and tell
him what to do.
"Nobody is as socially unredeemable as Snake Plissken," the 45-year-old actor
In the 1981 Escape From New York, this surly character - a condemned
criminal and war hero - is offered his freedom if he can rescue the kidnapped
U.S. president from the island of Manhattan, which has turned into a walled
In Escape From L.A., another president is in power and he represents
everything Snake hates. As portrayed by Cliff Robertson, the current incumbent
is a tight-lipped fanatic who has declared the United States a land of "moral
superiority" and has banned red meat, religious freedom, unapproved marriages -
and, naturally, smoking.
These laws apply everywhere except Los Angeles. A massive earthquake has
destroyed this city and left it completely surrounded by water, so the president
deports all immoral citizens to this foreboding place which has become a hotbed
In the new movie - co-scripted by Russell, Carpenter and Hill - Snake is once
more in captivity and is again offered his freedom if he is able to penetrate
this hellhole and track down the president's rebellious daughter. She has
vanished into L.A. along with the key to a Doomsday device capable of destroying
the modern world.
Russell and Carpenter keep insisting that Escape From L.A. is escapist
fantasy. But they also concede it's a cautionary tale about the legacy of
Carpenter, a director whose liberal leanings have surfaced in several of his
films, cheerfully says he'll have no quarrel with the moviegoers who see his new
film as an assault on the right wing of the Republican party and such
conservative icons as Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan.
Russell's attitude is more complicated because he can't stand either the
Republicans or the Democrats. He's a proud member of the fringe Libertarian
party which may not even have a presidential candidate in this year's election.
Russell is wary of anyone in a position of power. "Any political dealings in the
script have to do with the ridiculousness we have arrived at on both the
conservative and liberal side of the scale," he says. In other words, a U.S.
president who's both pro-family and anti-red meat and tobacco represents the
worst of both extremes.
Russell loves Snake not only because he's an untamed rebel but also because the
character helped him dump his previous image as a popular Disney child actor and
achieve credibility as an adult action hero.
The character means so much to him that when sequel time came along, he
retrieved Snake's original 1981 costume from his closet and lost the necessary
pounds to wear it again.
But he would never have won the role of Snake if John Carpenter, who had earlier
directed him in a television biography of Elvis Presley, hadn't believed in him.
In fact, Carpenter had to fight hard 16 years ago to get approval to cast
Russell as Snake and buck a studio that was demanding the 60-year-old Charles
Bronson play the role.
"So John is absolutely the most important director in my career," says Russell,
who was 30 when he did the first film. "He fought for me to do Escape From
New York and then The Thing. If I hadn't done those, I don't think I
ever would have been able to establish myself as a person who could do action