The actor celebrates 40 years with Disney with his latest role in Sky High
After 50 years in movies and television, Kurt Russell is still going strong. And in his newest movie Sky High, he's really strong; he plays the greatest superhero on the planet - Captain Stronghold, the strongest man in the world. He, along with Kelly Preston, play the parents of a boy who doesn't think he's inherited any of his their super powers.
But, it's Kurt who really has power; this film makes it 40 years with the Disney company. Kurt was a protege under Walt Disney himself when he was only 9 years old. He talked about his amazing career and life with Goldie Hawn when we had a chance to speak with him.
This is how the conversation went:
You must have been in heaven with a director who's such a big fan of yours?
Kurt Russell: Oh, he's just really fun. We actually had a very lengthy discussion at one point before we started the movie. I saw this script and I was doing 'Dreamer' or I was set to do 'Dreamer,' and this was going up at the same time. But I wasn't in the movie all that much and I said, 'Well, maybe there's a way to work the schedule out.' But I said, 'More importantly let's talk about the script. Here's what I see.' I saw a lot of laughs, visually a lot of laughs, a lot of laugh lines. I thought that it could be a fun character to play and I think that the movie had something to say at the end of the day and so in that vein I believe that it's a classic approach to a Disney movie, the kind that I used to do there. He said, 'Well, yeah. That's what I wanted to do.' I got this rewrite that I hated. It was suddenly I felt because of the way that it had been tweaked it was nasty, it had a meanness to it that no one else was seeing. I said, 'I don't want to do that.' I talked to him for a long time and I gave him the pages that I had written out and I said, 'I would like to do this.' And they said, 'Yes. This is what we want to do. This is the road that we want to go down.' I said, 'Okay. Count me in. Let's go.' And then working with Mike Mitchell was really fun because he did want to go down that road and we had a lot of fun.
This is a nice return to Disney for you. How do you see those two movies (Follow me Boys! And Sky High)? Are they bookends in a sense?
Kurt Russell: I mean, I've done I don't know how many movies for how many studios. There's no question that forty years is a long time. I did my first movie there in '64 and the last one that I've done now was last year in '04. Forty years. That's hard for me to put a perspective on it with all of the movies in between at other studios, other parts, other characters, and entirely different lives, right? I don't know how to say it except that I know 40 years is a long time. It's like yesterday to me though. Every movie is a different movie and you go to work and you find what you're supposed to do. You try and make the movie as good as you can make it and whether it's at Disney or 20th Century or Warner's or wherever it is, that's what you try and do. For me personally I have to say that whenever I go do a movie at Disney, and I did 'Miracle' there two years ago, I did 'Captain Ron' there in '92, and so there've been ones in between, but when I walk on that lot I'm flooded with memories, flooded with memories because I'll walk around the corner and see two people that I've known for forty years. So we'll talk. 'How is so and so?' 'Oh. He died two years ago.' I have a lot of friends who died there. It's been forty years. Walt Disney was my friend. He spent a tremendous amount of time talking to me about movies, how to make them and so on. He asked me, he said, 'Are you interested in this business.' I said, 'Well, I'm playing baseball and that's what I'm going to do, but I am interested in this business.' He said, 'Do you want to learn about it?' I said, 'Yeah.' That was the first time I said that. He said, 'Tomorrow then come up to my office at about three o'clock and I want to show you some things.' That started a process that was about two years, two and a half years long. Whenever I worked there and that was quite often, we'd play ping pong together at lunch and then when I had an afternoon off he'd say, 'Do you want to go to the animation department and learn some of that?' And he'd take me down there and show me the process. We had great times. I'd say, 'How did you decide make that person look like that?' He'd say, 'Well, I was thinking that so and so does this.' And at the beginning of these conversations I'd watch 'Mary Poppins' with him before that film was even finished or had any of the animation in it. Half of it wasn't even scripted yet. I went and sat down in the theater and watched 'Mary Poppins' with my mom and some other people and at the end of the movie he said, 'What do you think?' I said, 'That's good. It's really fun.' He said, 'But you wouldn't tell your friends to see it?' I looked at him, and I kind of looked at my mom and she said, 'Tell the truth. He's asking a question.' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Yeah. Neither would I.' Then I watched him invent some things right then and there. He talked to me about story arch, character arch, the laughs down before the laughs up, specifics, movies, '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,' 'Snow White,' all these movies, and creating them and inventing them and always seeing it from the point of view of the audience. Don't look at it from the point of view of can you make your character better if that doesn't make the better. Make the movie better and that will make your character better. If you create something that's better for your character in a movie and it helps the movie you've done a good thing and I didn't realize that at the time. I was a guy who was going to play baseball and make money doing movies. Now years later of course it's like ding, 'Let him have the information.' So that was just him, and then there were all these other people there. So do I have a connection? Yeah. I really do.
In real life, who is your superhero and what's the biggest sacrifice that this person has made for you?
Kurt Russell: It's funny. When you're a young kid and you're doing movies and you have a father and a mother who are clearly only interested in your family and that so vastly outweighs anything that you're doing you don't have superheroes. You don't have a need for them. You just see your family. You just see your mom and dad and your grandmother and grandfather. I had a great heroic figure in my life and that was my grandfather who was really a great person. My dad was a tremendous mentor. I learned so much from them. But as everyone they had tremendous foibles, things that you don't want to be. Things that you can't avoid being later in life that you don't like, like everyone. I had baseball men who I liked the way that they played a game and wished that I could do certain things like them and wanted to work at that so maybe I could achieve personality ability. Before any of that, I was about six and it was 'Mighty Mouse.' It wasn't Mighty Mouse that I wanted to be. I wanted to be Mighty Mouse because he had that great girlfriend. He had that girl who just looked up to him and adored him and was always like that. Clearly if you wanted that you had to be Mighty Mouse. So if there was any cartoon or heroic figure that I wanted to relate to, I wanted to relate to her. So in order to do that you had to be him and so I was kind of frustrated that I wasn't a cartoon figure at that point. But it was my first sort of, I guess, very Freudian sexual awakening in a very weird way [Laughs]. And I never knew her name. It wasn't Minnie.
You've had such a great relationship with Goldie [Hawn] for a long time -
Kurt Russell: How do you know? How do you know what my relationship is with Goldie?
But you're still with her.
Kurt Russell: Yes. And that is amazing that she's still with me.
What's the secret?
Kurt Russell: There isn't any that I know of. I know that I was lucky that I met someone who after all these years, twenty two years and I know that's a while although it doesn't feel like it, I was just lucky that it was her. For some reason I still feel the way about her that I did maybe an hour after I met her. Not only do I feel that way, but it's stronger. She responds to me in kind. I don't know why that is. I think that it's luck. I look upon it as luck. I can't break it down and understand it. What's dangerous about that is, is that the minute you say that, I'm going to go out and do something so bad that she'll say, 'That's it. I'm done.' And then everyone gets to go, 'Ha, ha. See. He's an asshole too.' I am. I know that about me. I know that about her. We're not any different than any other couple. We just aren't. But we are so far and fortunate enough that we haven't lost a need to want to be with each other. That's all I know. I like every other husband I have to try and pay attention at times when I'm dropping the ball. She like any other wife has to pay attention when she's dropping the ball. You have to talk to each other and say, 'Hey, you know what, that's not that much fun. That bugs me, whatever. It's a daily thing. But I know that our life together has been spectacular because of who she is, for me. There were times when I didn't like it or when we didn't agree especially when it came to the kids. We could really disagree on money issues, we run the gamut. It is amazing because it still takes place and what's amazing I suppose is true, and that's that I can honestly sit here and say that in every way I'm still attracted to her as I was. But I'm not worried about, between she and I, any kind of attractions disappearing because I'll be able to find ways for those attractions, I think, to be strengthened because I can do it with her. I have a great friend, a great partner to be able to say, 'Okay. I have f*cked bad. But I don't want to be that and I don't want to do that. I want to be with you and get rid of that and go forward so that we can have more great fun.' Other than that I don't know.
Would you say that you're larger than life as Captain Stronghold?
Kurt Russell: No. I'm not larger than life.
So how much of this did you take from your own experiences as a super-dad for this role?
Kurt Russell: No, this is just a script that I read and I thought that, number one: it could have some terrific site gags, really funny, funny lines and I also thought that the pressures of a 15-year-old kid going through high school we can all relate to. It's a good one cause he's been elevated to this superhero status, having to live up to incredible expectations, and then I thought about how that applies to everybody and ultimately, I thought with some work, that character I was playing could really be a fun part of that whole process and experience.
In this film, the father is more lenient with the child and the mother is more the disciplinarian. How are you two in real life?
Kurt Russell: We kind of go back and forth with it or we went back and forth. We're done with our kids. Most of the time she was more lenient, but at times there were things that seemed critical, really critical and she would be stunned at how lenient I was. She would go, 'How can you let that go?! And this little thing over here you just go nuts about?' I'd say, 'Well, I think that that little thing is ultimately more important than that big thing that happened. The big thing that happened, he already knows all about that. He gets it. He knows he's messed up there. I don't need to say anything. This little thing over here is going to fester and wound and grow. I'm going to hit that now really hard so that they know that I really don't like that.' So we would have differences there.
Was that suit really uncomfortable?
Kurt Russell: It wasn't that bad. It was alright. I saw a drawing of it and I said, 'Yeah. That looks right.' We tweaked it a little bit. It wasn't particularly comfortable, but it wasn't that bad. I had a cooling vest underneath it and then that broke down. You can't sweat. Once you start sweating you don't match, number one, but number two heroes don't sweat.
Did you take anything from anyone because I could see a little Adam West in there?
Kurt Russell: Well, you never really take something and do it. Even when you're going to play Elvis Presley you don't take Elvis Presley and do Elvis Presley. What do you do is try and understand why Elvis Presley appears to you that way. What's the illusion that you have to create to make other people see what you see? If you do that and succeed at it then at least you know when you're doing it and why and what the audience is getting. I thought that there were all kinds of people that have a nice, in a comical sense, overblown personality. I think that Adam West does that. I think that [William] Shatner does that with Captain Kirk. I never thought about William Shatner or Adam West. But I know that when I was doing him I could feel like that sometimes and I can say that that's not a bad rhythm. That fit my guy, so to that extent. But you know what you do when you create your characters is that you have the great fun of acting. You have the ability and the freedom and the right, the job, the duty to come up with something and you start thinking about what worked. Mainly what I like to do is get the feeling of the person on paper so that everyone knows who you are and then you can also be treated that way, and that's awesome. What I'll say to the actors and actresses, 'Look, tell me if I'm wrong, but I'm this person, right? Great! Then I needed to be treated that way.' I'm treated that way, and then that's a load off of me and I can now just be someone. I don't have to show you someone and that's always true of acting.
How were you and Goldie able to raise your kids so right and have a career and a strong family?
Kurt Russell: Well, we did as good as we could. We're not perfect and my kids will have their failings in the future as everyone does, and they'll have things that will make them sad. They will do things wrong. But I don't think that they're very afraid of it and I like that. Goldie and I are very much in cahoots in one aspect and that is that by nature, by how we were both brought up - in separate places, but not in dissimilar situations in a sort of, what's the word, lower middle class, middle class life for the most part – in families where the world of the family was what life was about. So automatically we were on the same page there. Automatically our children were in a sense all that mattered to us and I do think that you can probably say that our kids were never in doubt of one thing and that was that they were more important to us than acting. They were more important to us than friends. They were more important to us than anything. Very clearly and very simply they were what mattered to us. That makes parenting understandable for children. You can really scold someone if they know it's because they want what's best for you. They don't want you to just drift along. I used to tell my kids sometimes, 'Look, I'm not interested in being a cop. I don't want to be a cop. I don't want to catch at things. That's not who I am. I don't want to be that person for myself let alone be that person for you. I refuse to be that person. You're not going to make me that person either. So hear what I'm saying to you because I'm saying it to you for your own benefit, so you can be better so that I don't have to be a cop.' And they get that. They get that real solidly. I know that my kids still are what I care about. That's just it. I always have and always will. That's just the way that I was brought up, to a fault I suppose, but being able to provide for your family comes right behind that and it's easier for a guy to work than it is for a girl to work in this business even if you are Goldie Hawn. So it was always easy for me to say, 'It looks like she's going to go to work from July to September.' And whatever would come up during that time period I could say no to.
Have you or Goldie ever thought about writing a book about your life's story?
Kurt Russell: Goldie is special. She's been an icon, she is an icon. I understand that. I watch the way women respond to Goldie and she's meant something to society. She's been a factor. I've been an actor for a lot of years, but I don't think that anyone needs anything of what I have to offer in that regard. It's just my life story and my kids know my life. I've thought about it at times, putting down pieces of information so that the information for my kids could be true, correct and honest and they would know what it was. They might go back sometime thirty years from now and say, 'I was reading last night this old thing that Pa left and I always thought that was one thing, but I was wrong. He wrote that out for me and I got that.' I have a lot of stories. I have a lot of them, but for some reason in my eyes I'm not at a point in my life yet where I think that anyone should be interested in that. I've never been able to understand that. Why anyone would care about my life I would never know and I don't think that they do. I just go do this stuff for the movies and I don't do publicity outside of this because in my eyes it's like, 'What is that? What are you going to do? Sit on the toilet, take a sh*t and read this?' I don't need to be that.
Sky High is a great kids movie that adults will enjoy as well. It flies into theaters July 29th, it's rated 'PG.'