An interview with Kurt Russell

From The Quentin Tarantino Archives

Part of our ongoing Grind House coverage, check out:

By Sebastian Haselbeck, March 26, Four Seasons Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and space constraints. Pieces might have been omitted from the actual conversation, and the sentences altered for readability.

  • The Quentin Tarantino Archvies: How have you been?
  • Kurt Russell: Good! We just finished about two months ago, so it really hasn't been too much time between when we finished and when the movie was shown, so, it's unlike others, it's still very very vivid, in my mind.
  • QTA: Have you seen the completed film?
  • Kurt: Yeah, I've seen, I saw the whole night. Which was, you know, I saw the ads, Planet Terror, Death Proof, everything in between.
  • QTA: Did you see people walking out when it said “Intermission”?
  • Kurt: (laughs) they started to get up and then they see the commercials then they realized “oh oh, this is part of the deal” (laughs)
  • QTA: That was so cool
  • Kurt: Yeah
  • QTA: And people kinda choking on their stuff when Roth's trailer was own
  • Kurt: (chuckles). It's a wild night, isn't it? I mean it's just kinda, like a leap forward in what can be done with a night at the movies.
  • QTA: Yeah, they've put all the stuff in there, just going for the thrills and the fun. You've done some really serious movies before, one of my favorites is actually Breakdown, when your character is really in some deep shit. This time, at least for a while it appears to be that, you're on top of it, putting some real pressure on these girls
  • Kurt (chuckles): Yeah, different characters, different results, different, uhm, endings. I really do welcome all these different opportunities. Obviously, when Quentin Tarantino gives you a call and wants you to work in his movie, your interest is immediately spiked. When he shows you that he knows everything about your career, everything you've ever done, you realize his level of knowledge is extraordinary. And then when you hear about what he wants to do, and his level of expertise and excitement about doing it are equal, you really figure “I have to do this. I have to know what this is like.”
  • QTA: You call him the Professor of...
  • Kurt: Professor of Directology, yeah (laughs)
  • QTA: He is like an encyclopedia
  • Kurt: Yeah, he really is, he is the Professor of Directology, and it's just, it's crazy what he knows.
  • QTA: So did Plisken, or Burton get you that role? Or both?
  • Kurt: Probably. They are two of his favorites, and I think he wanted to carry into this movie the aspect of some of the things that I present by having played Snake Plisken all these years ago, and what it meant to him personally, as well as, for the night, what Escape from New York in specific meant to Robert Rodriguez for his movie Planet Terror. There was a lot nods to John Carpenter and in that movie, Freddy Rodriguez was telling me, you know, he said “I'm kinda basing what I'm doing off of Snake Plisken” and I said, well, welcome to the show, it's been done a lot of times and I said I understand. He asked is it okay, and I said sure it's okay I mean it's all, you know, why not. So, there was a lot of reference to that movie in specific, and I do think that, yeah I think that, having done those movies, that's what, that's where for the kind of detail night, that Robert and Quentin would present here, I mean, it didn't make a lot of sense for Stuntman Mike..
  • QTA: I could imagine you and Quentin clicked a lot, because he is a huge Elvis buff, and you played Elvis-related roles before...
  • Kurt: Well, uh, we didn't – it's funny – because we didn't talk a great deal about Elvis. We just, that was one thing we never got around to. I didn't know that about him, and when I played him, uhm, a lot of people said to me at the time “boy, you must be a great Elvis fan”, I said I worked with him, but I don't know that much about his career or anything, I don't know that much about him. But when I played him, I learned about him. And when I learned about him, I became a pretty decent Elvis fan. But nothing like Quentin, he probably knows everything about him. He knows about his music, he's probably seen all his movies. Yeah, so someday, now that you mention that, someday I'll say hey, tell me some of your feelings about Elvis. And then off you go.
  • QTA: I watched Duel a couple months ago, the Steven Spielberg movie, and I figured, you're kind of like that truck driver, but you have a face, and a back-story, and emotions, so like the truck driver, plus all that. Did you think about that?
  • Kurt: (laughs) Right, right. No. I don't think you're wrong, I think you're right, I think that guy is a classic character in that regard. He's like that guy. The only difference is that you just meet him, and then he turns out to be a pretty nice guy. And then you see what he does, and he is clearly a psycho, and then, the Cowardly Lion gets his hands slapped (laughs) and he just goes the other way, and it's gonna be a lot of fun.
  • QTA: Yeah, oh also, in that movie, the truck is a character, and in Death Proof, at the beginning, the car is a character, too.
  • Kurt: Yeah, I mean the car is him and when he is at that bar you might as well be looking at the grill of the, you know the little duck with the cigar. You know that guy, he's, they are interchangeable.
  • QTA: I talked to Rosario Dawson and I mentioned, that initially Mickey Rourke was considered for the character you're playing. What do you think about that?
  • Kurt: I asked Quentin, you know when... First of all, Mickey was, I know Ving Rhames was a possibility as well. So whenever, you know, I would.... Because this was so known, I said what, uh, I'd like to ask you about Stuntman Mike in terms of Mickey Rourke. What about Mickey Rourke playing the part do you see, because I'd like to know what it is, that's right about that, so that I can put that into my thinking, you know, and uh, Quentin said yeah yeah, absolutely, and we talked about, just, Stuntman Mike a little bit. We also came up with, you know other guys that were helpful in terms of me playing Stuntman Mike, we also in a strange way, even though he's not played at all like this guy, it's not, there is no way a connection in terms of, if you see him play, but there's an actor named William Smith. And William Smith, who I'd worked with, and Quentin knew him, Quentin knew everything he's done of course, we both agreed that William Smith could've been an interesting, what's the word, template for Stuntman Mike. If the actor, at some point in his life got to play or be Stuntman Mike. We'd all agree that he'd be perhaps our best choice. Now, having said that, you can see that, at the end of the movie, we – I – certainly arrive at a place a long way from that. Coz we weren't thinking of William Smith doing that, we weren't thinking of Mickey Rourke doing that, we weren't thinking of Ving Rhames doing that, we weren't thinking of Kurt Russell doing that. It just happened. It just sort of started to happen as we got towards the end of the movie and I felt compelled to play more and more and more of that coward. And I thought that it was just funny, and I thought it'd be surprising for the audience. Ultimately it'll just be really a big surprise. They'll look at that and they'll go “I did not see that coming”. And yet, it makes sense. If you look at what he's done, he kills women with his car. There's two guys are raggin on him that he's listening to in the beginning, at the bar. You think, he's gonna go after them, he just lets that go.
  • QTA: At some point you even feel like “oh this poor guy, the girls are gonna kill him” you feel sympathy.
  • Kurt: I know, hahahaaa! (laughs)
  • QTA: Is this guy crying?
  • Kurt: I know, he's just (whiny voice) oooh. He's such a, you know he's such a cowardly line, I mean, the poor guy. But again, I do think that it's nice to talk about that because it's fun for an audience to hear that there's something at the end of the movie that's strange, but I really think giving it away stops them from enjoying a big part of the grind house night. Coz I don't think they're gonna see that coming. I mean, did you?
  • QTA: No, but, I'd read the script before, so....
  • Kurt: But when you read the script did you see that Stuntman Mike at the end?
  • QTA: No, definitely not.
  • Kurt: No, he's just a guy who's getting beat up. And I look at that and I thought I can't just sit there and, that's not interesting, I mean ultimately it's okay, but it's gotta be a guy to be. There's gotta be a guy to be at the end, that could be extremely fun to watch, so we came up with that, and that was that.
  • QTA: I was wondering about Stuntman Mike's motivation and I thought, he's telling these guys at the bar about all the movie's he's done, but he's killing all these girls with his car, maybe, because he did never get to do that for real, maybe he's just bullshitting everybody and he never got a job as a stuntman...
  • Kurt: That's entirely possible (laughs). Not only entirely possible, but very probably. He could be someone who's just... the guy is a psychotic mess. You know what I mean, he's just a psychotic mess, so we can't believe anything he says, a lot of his behavior... and I think, and that's one of the things the DVD has made possible, and also the release of the picture in Europe, quite a different movie will emerge, you'll know a lot more about him.
  • QTA: Lots of things missing right now.
  • Kurt: Yeah (laughs) it kinda makes you... well what is there? And there's a lot, there's a lot left.
  • QTA: And since there's two parts to Death Proof, you know the first bunch of girls, and then the other bunch, you as an audience feel like you get acquainted with all these girls and then, they're gone. And you saw Stuntman Mike reciting a poem, and, eating nachos, this guy is a human being, and then...
  • Kurt: Wham, yeah.. Boom, takes him out, cold turkey. And on to the next. That's what it is, that's what he does, that's where he is in his life.
  • QTA: Did you specifically prepare for that character, or since you, you've had the grindhouse experience in your youth probably...
  • Kurt: Yeah, I mean, he was written, you read the script, it was written, I knew what to do. I've been to the movies, been to those types of double features that this represents, this harkens back to. I didn't really have, there was no research involved. And all there really is, is working working with Quentin. Just talking about what he wanted to do, and all my work. All the way to the point where, when you're doing a scene, I was talking to Vanessa about her lapdance, you know, as Mike, and it was weird, I started getting bored being mIke and I started doing John Wayne, and (laughs) Quentin, at the end he says, do it again, do it again, he just wants more of it. It was so much fun to just having a good time trying to find crazy stuff for the character. It's crazy stuff, but stuff that fit in, that made him kind of “el creepo”, but... a real person. And also tell you the history, I mean he felt to me like, John Wayne entered his mind at that point and took it over, like he couldn't get it out of his mind, because it made him feel like he'd seen, or maybe doubled him once in a movie or something.....
  • QTA: .. or he wished...
  • Kurt: ... Yeah or he wished he had, you don't know with him, you know what I mean? There was actually some other stuff shot, that shows you the connection there. Why he choses to put that in there.
  • QTA: Since I'm actually from Europe, I'll go back and then actually see all that, I guess.
  • Kurt: You'll see the European version, which will be quite different I think. But also, you got to see the Grindhouse, which is, that's a night, you know what I mean? It's really a night.
  • QTA: You don't necessarily want to go see a zombie movie, or a slasher movie, but you'll wanna go see both...
  • Kurt: Yeah yeah, exactly. You get to see both, I mean you get a long full night of what it was, that's the way it used to be to go to the movies, I mean, so much so, that, when we went to the movies, every weekend when we always watched it like that, it was always double bill. And then, they started disappearing. And pretty soon, it was just one movie. And we as kids, you know, what 22, 23, 24, 25, we began to feel kind of, a little ripped off. Like suddenly there's not 14, 15 songs in the album anymore, but there's seven. And, wait a minute, these seven songs better be good. That's how we felt about the movies, it was like I hope this one movie is really good because it's costing me what normally it had cost me to see two movies. You know what I mean? We were that much used to going to see those movies when they played two of them at a time.
  • QTA: So now when you go to the movies, what was one of the better movies you've seen recently? Something that was good, and fun, like in the old days? The all or nothing days, the... Vanishing Point days? (laughs)
  • Kurt: Yeah right, the Vanishing Point days. Uhm, well let's see, I liked Little Children, with Kate Winslett. And I liked, uh, it was an interesting looking movie that had a lot going for it, Children of Men. That was interesting. But, I go to movies and I enjoy it, but anyways, I'm not good at this.....
  • QTA: Talking to Freddy, we talked about how people are pushing it, and there's more violence and gore, at the expense of everything else, and at some point you end up going to the movies only if you're sick and wanna see gore? Do you feel like, when you look at Grindhouse, I mean there's gore, there's blood, violence, but there's a lot more to it, but these days, that's the exception.
  • Kurt: Yeah I know what you mean, but normally you always try to tell a story. That's what I love about these grindhouse pictures, they all had a morality tale to it. A real simple morality tale to it. Just like this, if you're a girl and you go to a bar, and you get drunk and stoned, and you get a ride home from somebody, look out, look out, it just might be Stuntman Mike you got a ride home with, and that's bad. So those little slithers of morality are what these movies revolved about, they always revolved around something, always something they could hook on to, and I liked that about them, it's fun to watch.
  • QTA: Yeah, and if they had more money, they wouldn't have been grindhouse movies....
  • Kurt: Oh I know, yeah, that's the thing, they wouldn't be grindhouse pictures. I mean, some pictures, I mean just recently somebody was talking to me about Jaws, I mean Jaws is a monster of the deep movie, but they had some money, and a really good story, and it's a really good script, some really good lines, really good people, and he could really do a first rate version of it. That was cool.
  • QTA: And it ended up being the first real blockbuster, kind of killed the exploitation movie.
  • Kurt: Yeah, in a way that was just, in a way, they realized that if they put a really good director on this project, and of course, it came from that very famous book at that time, but you're right, that book could've been done in such a cheap, B fashion, with no money, could've been a movie for 2 million dollars, and a cardboard fin, and a you know, and a washing machine (laughs) with blood (laughs) you see the blood inside the washing machine, that's the way the grindhouse version would've been, the story would've been the same.
  • QTA: Alright, it was nice talking to you. Have a nice day.
  • Kurt: It was nice talking to you. See you later man.
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