THE RESURGENCE OF KURT RUSSELL

Written By: Daniel Kinsley

Nearly everything about Kurt Russell is unique when placed alongside his fellow veteran action stars. For one thing, Russell began as a childhood actor, starring in a successful string of Disney films throughout the 1960s and 70s. In 1971, Russell stepped away from acting full-time after deciding to pursue professional baseball. He was scouted by several Major League teams, though there was some hesitation to sign him due to the belief that he would only be a part-time player. Russell made it as far as AA ball until 1973 when on an-field collision tore his rotator cuff, effectively ending his baseball career.

Several years later, Russell embarked on his first collaboration with living legend John Carpenter. Elvis (1979) was a made-for-television movie produced shortly after the musician’s death. Russell’s first onscreen film role was in the Presley fronted It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963), so it was more than a little fitting that he would play The King in his final television role. The boy had become a man.

Russell would go on to work with John Carpenter four more times, on Escape From New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Big Trouble In Little China (1986), and Escape From L.A. (1996). While the quality of Escape From L.A. is disputed among fans, the former films are all undisputed genre classics, and that is in no small part to Russell’s excellent performances. Snake Plissken is grizzly and stoic, a vision of The Man With No Name if he lived long enough to see the future, R.J. MacReady is the most rugged hero in a film stacked with them, and Ol’ Jack Burton proved that Russell was game enough to be in on the joke, playing second fiddle to the real star.

It would have been easy for Russell to make a career out of playing the cocksure hero (and make no mistake, few have ever done it better) but he’s often excelled at having far more dimensions that contemporaries like Sly, Arnold, and even Eastwood have. He made successful forays into comedy (notably in Swing Shift [1984] and Overboard [1987] with longtime partner Goldie Hawn) and spent considerable time successfully playing as part of an ensemble in films like Backdraft (1991), Tombstone (1993), and Stargate (1994).

In the early 2000s, Russell seemed content to show up in mostly smaller films and supporting roles. When Quentin Tarantino cast him as Stuntman Mike in Death Proof (2007), it seemed that a renaissance (the very kind Tarantino seems to specialize in) might be in store. He would not show up in a major theatrical film again until 2015 when he showed up (clearly having a ball) in Furious Seven as Mr. Nobody, a high-level government operative who crosses paths with Dom and the crew.

In a recent interview with Indiewire, Russell details how after playing Stuntman Mike, he became interested in learning to make wine. The project that brought him back out of his shell was a smaller film, the horror-western Bone Tomahawk (2015) and suddenly, as abruptly as he had dropped out of the limelight, he was back. Russell collaborated with Tarantino for a second time in The Hateful Eight (2015) as John “The Hangman” Ruth, a subversive take on his idol John Wayne, followed by a turn in the true-life inspired Deepwater Horizon (2016), and a second bow as Mr. Nobody in The Fate of The Furious (2017). In the brand new opener, Guardians of The Galaxy Vol 2. (2017) he plays Ego, The Living Planet, father to Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, a role which feels particularly inspired as Pratt’s cocky charm channeled nothing if not the likes of Russell (and fellow 80s rogue Harrison Ford, of course).

The actor’s pointed lack of interest in the trappings of Hollywood and the press rounds are not entirely unusual; undoubtedly, though, these qualities have made things easy to work only when he is interested. If anything, the willingness to step away has only added to his legend, as it truly feels like an event to have the man step back in front of the cameras.

There is no telling when or if Russell will be back after his latest stint, but while he is here, we are all the better for having him around.

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