This 'Snake's' Not Trying To Be A Charmer (New York Daily News/Aug 07/1996/US) By Lewis Beale


DO NOT GET KURT RUSsell started on the media. The star of Escape From L.A.," opening Friday, cannot understand the obsession with dysfunctional celebrities.

" 'Kill It, F... It, Burn It' is a lot better headline than 'Snuggle Your Kids, Go to the School Plays and Treat Your Wife with Some Respect and Dignity'," says the 45-year-old film actor. The media "don't find actors who have normal lives interesting. So you zero in on people who've had problems."

Sounds like the kind of harsh comment that might come from Snake Plissken the charismatic, motorcycle-riding outlaw Russell plays in "L.A." and its classic 1981 precursor, Escape From New York. Plissken is a character Russell describes as "completely socially unredeemed; a bad, bad boy."

On the level of political incorrectness, that could describe Russell himself: unrepentant smoker, red meat eater, bow hunter and Libertarian. But Russell is also a devoted family man who has lived in harmonious bliss with Goldie Hawn and a mixed bag of four kids his, hers and theirs for more than 10 years.

The son of an actor, and a former child star and pro baseball player who saw his athletic career lost to injury, Russell is opinionated, bright and outgoing the kind of guy you'd like to argue politics with while downing a few brews.

But some people see Russell's "don't tread on me" beliefs as anathema.

"I (once) had full-page ads taken out against me in Variety and the (Hollywood) Reporter 'Anyone involved in Kurt Russell's Celebrity Hunt (an annual event held in Hawaii to benefit the Salvation Army) should not work in this town,' " says Russell. "Hunting a legal thing to do. That's the town I live and work in. They call themselves liberal; I call them completely confined human beings."

Russell has been thinking a lot about the concept of liberty lately, if only because Escape is a not-so-thinly disguised slam at society's censors. The film is set in the early 21st century, when a massive earthquake has turned L.A. into an island and the U.S. is run by a born-again President (Cliff Robertson) who has banned smoking, fur coats and pleasure of all sorts. People who violate these puritanical laws are sent to L.A., which has become a prison.

"What's fun about this movie is John (Carpenter, the director) and I set up two worlds one is very controlled, the other is anarchistic. You take those worlds, and you throw in a guy like Snake Plissken who doesn't give a s... for anybody or anything. That's the guy I can have fun with."

Plissken is probably the actor's most famous role. But over the years Russell has quietly turned in a number of indelible performances, from Elvis (in a 1979 TV movie directed by Carpenter) to Wyatt Earp (1993's Tombstone). Along the way, with pictures like Stargate and Executive Decision, he's also managed to establish himself as a global superstar. Which is why he recently copped $15 million to headline a film for Warner Bros.

It's a real simple game," says Russell, who does not dress like a millionaire in his moccasins, jeans and cotton shirt. "The American media tend to think in terms of American box office. But they're beginning to see salaries now that are derived from world box office. To pay someone 10%-15% of that (amount) in any business venture is not really a lot."

In other words: It's the media, stupid. They're the ones interested in these large salaries, and Russell can't see why. He also doesn't appreciate frequent references to himself and Ron Howard as the only child actors who became normal adults.

"There are lots of child actors from when I worked who chose to be done with the business," he says. "(Some) continued in the industry in other forms. Some wanted to continue and the audience (only saw them) as a child actor. There's a thousand reasons. To make a lump consideration that only Kurt Russell and Ron

Russell isn't angry, just fed up. In a world of rules and regs, he's a guy who wants to do his thing, without the spotlight on him. But you can feel him reveling in contrarian ways and when he returns to the subject of Snake Plissken, it's as if he's discussing himself.

"He's a force of nature," says Russell, "and basically (that's) who we all are to some degree."

Smoke it, hunt it, eat it. Snake Plissken would approve.