Kurt Russell has a catchphrase he just made up about New Orleans: “You just sort of embrace the alligator of it all,” he says. It’s a phrase this writer has never heard before, probably because no one’s ever said it. (We Googled it.) But Russell is coining it. “I don’t know if it makes any sense at all,” Russell tells us. “But it sums up New Orleans for me: You just have to embrace the alligator of it all. Then you’re OK with New Orleans.”
The legendary actor, 65, is down there to promote “Deepwater Horizon,” near where the incident in the film — the 2010 BP oil rig explosion and subsequent polluting of the Gulf — took place. In the movie, by “Lone Survivor” director Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg, he plays Mr. Jimmy, the rig manager who attempts to avert the disaster before it happens, then tries to survive as he and his crew are engulfed in flames.
We chatted with Russell about finally getting to act (for about five seconds) with his step-daughter Kate Hudson, not condescending to the working class and, of course, mustaches. (He has a fine one in “Deepwater Horizon.”)
I spent most of the movie expecting you and your daughter wouldn’t get to share a scene, because she plays Mark Wahlberg’s at-home wife and you’re mostly on the rig. But you get to hug at the end. You almost got her a role in “Escape from L.A.,” I heard.
That was her first opportunity. Because we’d been very careful, Goldie and I, about holding her back. We didn’t want her to get going at 14, 15. Then she was closing in on 17. And John Carpenter wanted her to play this part. She read it and she was great. She was right for it. But then after discussing it more, she decided maybe that was not the way to begin — in a movie I was starring in. So she turned down her first role. [Laughs]
I feel like, while you have a certain persona, within that you’ve had a broad range of characters that really defies limitations. Mr. Jimmy in “Deepwater Horizon” is one of your more noble characters.
Yeah, this guy’s one of those quiet, noble types. Recently I’ve had the fun of doing “Fast and Furious.” The character I get to play is slicked-back hair, cool guy, wears a suit, maybe CIA, maybe on his own, maybe he’s a good guy, maybe he’s not. And then there’s “Hateful Eight,” where the guy’s just a bombast thrown into a room. And this guy is the opposite. He’s a real person. Kind of quiet, has that easy sense of authority, real authority. And when the s—t hits the fan, he’s just got to deal. He becomes a centerpiece of emotionality. Like, ‘Jesus, is this guy even going to make it?’ As an actor you get to play all these different things. Like they say, it’s great work if you can get it.
I like movies about salt-of-the-earth types, because I don’t really know many of them.
Me too. I know what you mean. Especially when they don’t talk down to them. I don’t like it when they talk down to them. I’ve sometimes started to be involved in projects where they did that, and I said, “I’m out. I don’t want to be part of your inherent need to talk down to the rest of the country. If [the characters] aren’t from New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco or Chicago, you have an inherent need to talk down to them. And I can’t be a part of that.”
That seems to happen a lot in Hollywood.
As much as I enjoy their company, in terms of working with them as actors and directors, so many people in Hollywood do that in conversation. They talk about people as if they’re country bumpkins and don’t know a f—king thing. They can’t appreciate a more humble sophistication. It’s just impossible.
Peter Berg seems to be the rare Hollywood director who doesn’t do that.
I know that when I was working with Mike Nichols on “Silkwood,” that was one of his big things, too. The biggest thing for us was to just be those people, don’t condescend. At the time I was so naturally not concerned with that that I didn’t realize what Mike was talking about. Then I realized later on in life that that’s the tendency of a lot of people he was around: They would condescend. He looked at me and said, “You’re not going to have a problem with that.” [Laughs]
You’re also playing a real person, which adds a whole other dimension.
I always look at it from the point of view of if someone was going to play me. I’d want them to be me. I wouldn’t want them to do their own version of what they thought I was, just off the script, going, “Oh yeah, he’s kind of a loose and crazy guy!”
Who on earth could play you in “The Kurt Russell Story?” Chris Pratt, maybe?