Kurt Russell talks 'Deepwater Horizon', 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' and being a designated hitter
Kurt Russell at the TIFF premiere of 'Deepwater Horizon.' (WENN.com)
On April 20, 2010, Jimmy Harrell – installation manager of the Gulf Coast offshore drilling ship Deepwater Horizon – was showering as a methane-fueled hell broke loose.
The opening blast of what would be the oil industry’s worst ecological disaster blew Harrell through the air, bleeding, naked and blinded.
I suggest to Kurt Russell, who plays “Mr. Jimmy” in the real-life disaster film Deepwater Horizon, that it’s a particularly memorable action scene in his career.
“I guess it kind of belongs on the highlight reel,” Russell agrees.
“That’s (Russell’s stunt double) John Casino flying through the air. And there was a series of (CGI) shots. I tell you, it’s a lot easier today than it used to be. CGI does make a difference. You can do some things without having to physically do what you used to.”
As we speak prior to the film’s debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, Russell is suffering from a cold that’s stayed with him from the U.K. (where his latest action turn, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was filmed). He apologizes for coughing, but even sick, he’s a pretty impressive 65.
Add him to the list of sexagenarian action stars like Liam Neeson and Bruce Willis. Russell also recently wrapped a second go-round for his character “Mr. Nobody” in the Fast & Furious sequel Fast 8. He likens himself to a designated hitter.
“Guardians of the Galaxy, I actually did a lot of wire stuff that was kind of fun. But yeah, it is kind of like the designated hitter, isn’t it?” he says with a laugh. “I mean, all I’ve got to do is go up to the plate and swing away. I’m not so great at flagging down line drives anymore, but I can still hit the ball.
“In terms of filming it, CGI makes for an easier day. But Guardians was pretty physical. There’s athleticism on a wire, so you have to learn how to move.”
Directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), Deepwater Horizon takes an event that most people know from video of oil-covered pelicans and reminds us that 11 people lost their lives in an inferno on a high-tech behemoth that drilled five miles down for oil.
Mark Wahlberg stars as technician Mike Williams, who along with Mr. Jimmy, tried to dissuade BP execs not to hurriedly start up the well (the execs were charged with manslaughter and later acquitted).
“It’s an event, and what people do in the event can be heroism,” Russell says.
Someone at a table of press asks if it’s “too soon” to be making a movie about an event where 11 people died.
“What would be the proper time?” he says. “When I played Elvis Presley he had died 17 months earlier.
“The question being asked is, ‘Are the people who are making this movie capitalizing on this event? You can be naive and say no. But we capitalize on every story in the world.
“What’s important is the story you tell. After doing it for 55 years, I’ve found if you do it well, they’re glad you did it. If you did it s---ily, they’re going to get on you. So try to do your best to do it well.”
Deepwater Horizon was shot in Louisiana, where the oil industry looms large, and where feelings about the project were mixed (director Berg accuses BP of trying to coerce vendors against cooperating with the production).
“A lot of people live in Louisiana,” Russell says. “I didn’t talk to any shrimpers. I did run into a guy who works at BP, he knew what I was there for. Seemed like a nice guy. I think it’s fair to say the truth is that there was a lot of confusion on that day.
“Overall, the movie lets you know this business of getting gas in your car is not as simple as you think it is, or as safe. It’s inherently a dangerous thing to do, to tap into these magnificent areas of pressure.
“Between movies like There Will Be Blood and The Beverly Hillbillies, I think we sort of have this impression that ‘up through the ground comes a bubblin’ crude,’” he says, singing part of the Beverly Hillbillies theme.
The movie also has a brief scene with Russell’s stepdaughter Kate Hudson, who plays Williams’ wife. “I thought they might have taken the chance to get more out of us,” he says. In fact, the two are still putatively lined up as leads to be directed by Mel Gibson in a TV series based on the book Barbary Coast by Herbert Asbury (Gangs of New York).
Basically, he says, all his decisions fall into a few categories. “You do movies because you want to tell that story or you want to play the character.
“And sometimes you’re doing it because they’re paying you more money than you ever dreamed.” He talks about how much he hated the script for the hit movie Stargate. “I just couldn’t get it. I read the script twice and threw it away. And the producer kept upping the ante. And I said, ‘Okay, I’ll read it again.’ And I threw it against the wall and said, ‘Don’t come back, this is horrible!’
“And they came back with just a ton of money (a reported $7 mil, the most of his career to that point), and I said to my agent, ‘This is so much money, I think I would be stupid not to take the part.’
“And an interesting thing happened. I met them and was shocked and impressed by how much they DIDN’T feel that way. They thought it had all kinds of merit.
“And the producer, Mario Kassar, said, ‘What bugs you about this?’ And I said, ‘I don’t get it.’
“And he said, ‘It doesn’t matter. This movie is no different from any other movie. They don’t make it until they make it.’”