Bumpy career for a 'cult star'

Actor Kurt Russell is in Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, where he plays Ego the Living Planet.
Actor Kurt Russell is in Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, where he plays Ego the Living Planet.PHOTO: REUTERS

Kurt Russell has done movies that were box-office flops or ill-timed, but later became cult films

LOS ANGELES • If not for Kurt Russell's mainstream, boyish good looks, the phrase "cult star" would work for this unpredictable actor whose career includes some of history's best-loved box-office flops.

Picture the 66-year-old's performances in comedy crime caper Big Trouble In Little China (1986), sci-fi horror film The Thing (1982) or buddy cop movie Tango And Cash (1989), and it is easy to see why he has just about attained "national treasure" status.

In truth, these movies made no significant money during their theatrical runs and each was panned by critics before enjoying a second lease on life via home video.

"I've done things I loved that didn't get a very good release or were ill-timed or that people didn't want to see, but then got found and became cult movies," Russell said in an interview in Los Angeles.

If you do movies for 54 years, you're going to get lots of them out there that you could have done, didn't do, didn't get, whatever.

KURT RUSSELL on his movie choices

"The Thing was not at the time well received. Now, it's considered one of the great horror movies.

"'Big Trouble In Little China was a movie that was completely misunderstood by a lot of people, loved by some. It really has a big cult following," he noted.

This month sees Russell as the common denominator in two of this year's biggest blockbusters, with The Fate Of The Furious having broken worldwide box- office records and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 expected to be one of the largest domestic openings of all time.

"When that happens, it's nice. It's just nice to have the moment happen where two of them go 'boom boom'," he said.

Sitting firmly to the right of the political spectrum, Russell is a supporter of gun ownership rights and enjoys hunting elk at a Colorado ranch he shares with his partner of 34 years, actress Goldie Hawn.

A Tinseltown outsider, he has never won a major acting prize and does not go to many parties.

His first movie was a two-week shoot with Elvis Presley in It Happened At The World's Fair (1963), but he made his name as a young teen in a series of family-friendly live-action Disney movies.

He became friendly with Walt Disney and has often recounted how, shortly after the mogul's death in 1966, he was shown a sheet of paper on which the great man had scrawled his last written words: "Kirt Russell" .

Disney took his plans for the young actor - and the reason for the odd spelling - to the grave, but it was not the last time opportunity knocked briefly for Russell before being snatched, or pushed, away.

In 1976, he auditioned for the parts of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in a promising, if farfetched- sounding, space western called Star Wars.

He dropped out, though, as film-maker George Lucas dithered over which part would be most suitable and as NBC came in with a rival job offer on a western series.

That NBC show, The Quest, was cancelled amid poor ratings after 11 episodes.

Still, Russell is circumspect about his choices.

"If you do movies for 54 years, you're going to get lots of them out there that you could have done, didn't do, didn't get, whatever," he said with an insouciant shrug.

He met up-and-coming director John Carpenter when they made an unlikely success out of TV movie Elvis (1979).

They reunited for the dystopian Escape From New York (1981), The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China.

Russell's half-century career comes full circle on Friday with Disney's release of Marvel's Guardians 2, in which he plays Ego the Living Planet opposite Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana.

Russell is not much of a sci-fi guy. He had not even seen the original Guardians when he was being talked up for the sequel.

"I know of them, I've seen a few Iron Mans, I've seen a couple of Spider-Mans, Batmans and Supermans. There's a portion of it that doesn't draw me," he said.

But "Guardians Of The Galaxy - I was the right audience for that. That one works for me".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline 'Bumpy career for a 'cult star''. Print Edition | Subscribe