Rene Russo Interview

The actress talks about working with Al and Matthew, getting into character and her next film

In a day and age when everyone seems to want "youth oriented" movies, Rene Russo has been able to create a career that would make some "younger" stars envious. Keenly able to do comedy (Major League), action (Lethal Weapon 3 and Lethal Weapon 4) and with her newest role in Director D.J. Caruso's Two For the Money, drama. This tale of high stakes gambling is a character study of the types of people that inhabit this world.

In role that was created for her by her husband, screenwriter Dan Gilroy, Russo plays the street wizened Toni Morrow. A women, who not unlike Russo herself, has overcome many hard times to get to where she is in life. Married to the wealthy, but highly troubled Walter Abrams (Al Pacino), she spends more time taking care of him than she does herself. In Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey), she seems to see the one person who can help her save her husband. Playing opposite Pacino and McConaughey, Russo compliments this trifecta with an easy blend of savvy, style and smarts. All of which were on display when she sat down and spoke with us.

How much of an enabler were you in this role?

Rene Russo: A total enabler, in a lot of ways. She just traded heroin for controlling her life..., keeping the demons at bay. Yeah, I would say a complete enabler. In some ways and in others no. I think she was keeping the abyss from just sucking them all in, yeah know? But ultimately, you can't do that and she realized that. She's not as in control as she would like to be.

You think she knew all along that he was gambling?

Rene Russo: I don't think she could look at it. I think she had compartmentalized it to keep herself alive. I think if she stopped long enough from her list making then she would have known, but she didn't want to know. And then I think she knew. Then it was too late when she did. I'm always drawn to melancholy personalities. I can spot you a mile away!

Why is that you think?

Rene Russo: Because I think that you sense a kindred spirit. That life is really, really hard, ultimately, and it kicks your ass. I sense it in all people that we're broken. Some of us more than others, you know? It might be a nurturing, mothering thing in me, there is that. Just like, "Oh my God, you're hurting, I know what it feels like and I'd like to be there and support you in that." There is kind of a sexy attraction to it I think. A real sexual attraction because it's like, "Whoa, you know where I am." And that's always attractive.

Look, it can be a blessing in a way to have that darkside, because it gives you compassion. You can experience things that maybe other people can't. But you also have to realize that it will stay with you forever. It doesn't go away. You have to get grace day by day. That's what I feel and that's where I think Toni is living. Until it was like, "Holy hell, now everything's crumbling around me and I'm completely out of control here."

What was it like working Al Pacino?

Rene Russo: I was really intimidated. I was intimidated until I looked across the table and said, "Uhhh, I know you." Then the acting kicks in and you go, "I can do this because I've lived where you've lived all your life. And I know where you live, so I can play with you." We have sort of a similar... fire, so he doesn't intimidate me in that way. I grew up sort of angry so I can get in your face. I can say, "Okay, it's Al, but I've got to get over that part and play the part with you."

Was that part written for you?

Rene Russo: Yeah. Being married, I would say most relationships are pretty codependent in some ways. I've been in therapy for a thousand years trying to deal with those issues, and it came very easy for Dan to write it. I've never done a drug in my life but you know, I know about addiction so it's kind of an easy character to play. The darkside of me.

Did you talk with any gamblers for research for your role? Did you meet the real life Walter and Toni?

Rene Russo: No, I didn't because I think whatever kind of addiction you have, the bottom line is you want to lose. Because you're not good enough to win and by the way if you do win, it's like, "Hell man, if things are good then things are gonna get really bad, and let me just keep things really bad to begin with and then I don't have to be there for the fall." So if you get that then you just get it. So I understood Walter.

Not to be so morbid about life because the truth is, the miraculous is everywhere, but you have got to, everyday, fight for that and keep your eyes open and look at it because this world will drag your ass down every chance it gets. So that's the struggle and that's the struggle with these characters.

Are you a sports fan?

Rene Russo: I'm not a sports fan. I love the Red Sox. I don't know much about sports.

What was it like working with an all male cast?

Rene Russo: I'm kinda used to working with the boys, you know. I'm used to that. These boys are great.

What was the atmosphere like on the set?

Rene Russo: Everybody was really focused on the work. Al had pages and pages of dialogue to do. And scenes back to back that were overwhelming, so he was just running lines all day long. And Matthew was so into his character and he had to be in these really dark places. It wasn't time for all of us to have a good time, really. It was very serious. It was a pretty fast shoot. There wasn't a lot of money. We had a certain time when we had to be out of there, and scenes were being cut and we were like, "Holy Hell."

What's it like living with the writer of the script you're making?

Rene Russo: I think all writers are different. I've been with a few writers, they're all different. They do stay in a room all day long, so they like to get out at the end of the day. Usually, I'm out all day long so I just want to be in at the end of the day. They live in a fantasy world, a lot of the time. My husband lives in a fantasy world. It's really hard for them to be in the world, because if his head isn't in a script, I guess to write what he does... he has to sort of twist the world a little bit and live in a fantasy. I think he really doesn't live in reality... in my reality, lets put it that way.

You help Brandon throughout the movie... do you think that that is to help Walter or to help Brandon get out of the situation?

Rene Russo: I think it's to get Brandon out of the situation. I think once this thing gets rolling I'm like, "Whoa!!! I thought I could control this... but this thing is out of my control." I see it's going down but then I've got a kid and I've got a business, and I've got my life and I've got a way of not looking at reality so by the time it hit me it was sort of out of control.

What's next for you?

Rene Russo: I did a movie called Yours, Mine & Ours, it was a remake of a Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda film. I did that one and I'm not in any hurry to go back to work unless it's a really good role.

What was it like working with Matthew McConaughey?

Rene Russo: Well, you know, he had to go to a really dark place. He's a really sweet guy. A real sweetheart. He had to go to a dark place here, that's what I saw a lot of. Some of the stuff where he was more "up", I wasn't on the set. So I got to see a lot of it when he was turning into John Anthony. He put so many walls around him and had to be so tough and be so cool. And then as he was descending, what that was like. When you're working all day on set, you kind of have to stay there because you do the scene 15 zillion times. That's more of what I saw. He is "up" and seems like a positive guy, but he's got a lot going on underneath that too.

In Yours, Mine & Ours, how many kids do you have in that film?

Rene Russo: Eighteen. I adopted a lot of them. I said look come on, do I look like I've had eighteen kids? People are gonna laugh me off the screen. So I adopted. I have four biological children and five I adopted... I don't know. Ten or eight kids. We had a lot between us.

What was it like working with all the kids? Was it like a classroom?

Rene Russo: It was a classroom. They were great kids. They were really sweet kids. And the older ones kind of took care of the younger ones. The younger kids would knock on my door and give me pictures.

Two For the Money places it's bets in theaters on October 7th, 2005.