‘Guardians of the Galaxy 2’: Kurt Russell on How ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ Paved the Way

As one might expect, Marvel is being super secretive when it comes to Kurt Russell’s character in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but as we inch closer to the film’s May 5th release, little glimpses of Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father are starting to drop. We caught him in a recent trailer and now there are some photos floating around as well. During the April 2016 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 set visit, however, Russell was still in top secret mode but was a total pro when it came to avoiding particular plot details and spoilers while also still making the chat an unforgettable roundtable interview.

Russell spoke about his personal and working relationship with Pratt, his experience working with director James Gunn, what it’s like joining the Marvel Cinematic Universal and also about how back in the day, many folks didn’t “get” the character that he’s most famous for today. You can read about it all in the interview below. 

What’s it like joining the Marvel Cinematic Team?

KURT RUSSELL: Generally when you’re in this business for a long time you get the opportunity to do a number of things and then they sort of always – at the end of the day, acting is acting, and stories are storytelling, and you’re gonna work with people that you hope are really kind of creative and fun, and directors that are on top of their game and know what they want to do. And then, you know, sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn’t, so the great fun is when – for me, I didn’t know anything about this world, the Guardians world. I was doing publicity for Hateful Eight and suddenly people started saying, ‘Is it true? Are you gonna play Peter Quill’s father?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I just wasn’t aware of it. And then all of a sudden, for the first time, this was a character obviously that people really wanted to – they were interested, they were all very positive. It wasn’t like, ‘Seriously? You’re not gonna do that, are you?’ It was like, ‘Whoa, are you gonna do that? That’s perfect! You should do that!’ And I didn’t know what they were talking about so when I had the opportunity to see The Guardians of the Galaxy, I got it. I could see the reasons why people were interested in that and the fun part has been tapping into all of that, bringing the right baggage and having the opportunity to still explore with James Gunn and Chris and the whole gang. And then the fun is that you find that Chris is just a sweet guy, just a great, great, sweet guy. And James is just a load of fun and really knows what he wants to do, and then you’re back to the opportunity to play a character that you hopefully can find things to make it fun and entertaining, and interesting, and memorable, you know?

So what can you tell us about your character?

RUSSELL: Not much. [Laughs] Unfortunately, not much. We were just talking about it; it’s a little hard to bite your tongue and do that, but there’s a lot about the character that we wanna keep under wraps, I guess, for a certain period of time. But the good part is, he’s no letdown. He has a great, adventurous spirit that he shares with his son, and the idea of being able to find someone that you’ve wanted to see for a long time. I think the whole thing being seen through Peter Quill’s eyes, we can all understand how you’d wanna meet your dad if you didn’t know who your dad was and you’ve heard these things about your father. And you’d been told certain things by your mother, and you’re trying to put together a picture. I think when it comes to parents that are missing, we have a tendency to put them on a pedestal, and Peter is living in that world. But to finally have the opportunity to meet that person, and then begin to compare who they had in mind and what they’re really getting is a lot of what we’re doing.

What’s your relationship and rapport with Chris as you develop that father-son relationship?

Image via Marvel

RUSSELL: He says funny things. [Laughs] We were rehearsing one time and he said, ‘No, I want you as my dad. I want you to be my father.’ [Laughs] It’s fun. They’re all very welcoming and very sweet. And the cool thing about it was when I did read it and saw the movie, I said, ‘Yeah, I bring the right notes, the right garbage, the right baggage. All of it. I bring the right things.’ And as I read it, you know, I connected the dots to some of the things I’ve done in the past and it’s fun to be living now in a time when a younger generation understands what I was doing. You guys get it. The older guys, my age, they don’t know what the f*ck I was doing. [Laughs] They really didn’t. You can go back and read about it. It was like, ‘What? What is that?’ I think it’s funny, whatever. I just did it for a lifetime so to be at this point in my life and be able to not only kind of have a generation that accepts you for what you were doing before anyone else was with other people like you, to be able to take that and grow that, it’s nice because it has a lot to do with my personality and the way I look at life and stuff. So it’s a nicer time for me than it was 30 years ago.

You talk about connecting the dots to some of your earlier characters …

RUSSELL: They’re performances, they’re not characters. The characters could have been played many different ways. The fact that I played them the way I played them, that’s what I’m talking about. You could’ve played Jack Burton a thousand ways, but I chose to play him that way. That was the way I saw it.

The way you played him, is that informing what you’re doing here in some sense?

RUSSELL: It informed why they wanted me to be here. Yeah, that’s very fair to say. We do things, we get to work all day long and instead of the director going, ‘[Laughs] Okay, now let’s uh … I actually think that’s the way to do it, I think that’s actually funny, and also kind of pathetic and kind of real and blah, blah, blah.’ ‘Well, yeah.’ Yeah, Quentin Tarantino, John Carpenter, Ron Howard, Bob Zemeckis and Mike Nichols, there’s those great guys, they always made me feel verified in the way I was going about things. And other things, especially when critics at the time look at the movie or not understand why something’s cool or, ‘That’s funny! Don’t you get that?’ It’s hard to keep your own, sometimes it was hard to keep my own course and be criticized for it. Some of those people who work with you, to watch them – I’m talking about agents and things like that – you watch them kinda go, ‘You know, we could go down this other road where you play the same character four or five times and the studio knows how to sell you.’ ‘Yeah, I got that and I don’t wanna do that. I can’t breathe if I do that.’ So now, it’s fun. I’m just in a period of time where I’m getting to play characters that are really fun. And yeah, it’s a bit of an opportunity to take advantage of. The way I created some guys in the past – you guys, people your age are more in tune with, you understood it. I mean, I sat there and listened to studio heads after watching my performance and go, ‘I don’t get it. He’s not that good at what he does. [Laughs] The character’s not really that good at what he does.’ [Laughs] I have no animosity. It’s not that. I guess sometimes it takes a while for it to be seen or something. I don’t know. Feels good though. Feels nice to be here.

Image via Marvel Studios

What do you find most fun about playing this character?

RUSSELL: He’s 360 degrees of a human being. He’s 360 degrees of a human being. We all are capable of many different emotions and behaviors and thoughts and abilities. The way we sometimes respond to something is just very, it can be very, very different. You can one day feel this way, and the next day feel that way. The fun part is that you have a director who really knows what he wants in terms of the storytelling, and not only is he not afraid to play around, he’s encouraging that. He’s encouraging these people to do that. I mean, look at the broad characters they play, and then along comes this character who they’re all gonna be dealing with, especially Peter, and he invites that into the room too. And so when you’re the actor who’s being invited into that sandbox, I’m your guy. Let’s go have fun. Let’s go put a lot of different possibilities in there for you to play with when you get into the editing room.

Is there a character that you don’t cross paths with in the movie that you wish you got to work with?

RUSSELL: Well, I get to work with everybody. There are some that would be fun to be able to work more with. I was talking with Chris the other day and I was saying, ‘You know, the really fun part about this is that you and I really get to work together on this movie.’ A lot of times you’ll be looking forward to the opportunity to work with somebody, actor [or] actress. And sure enough you get that opportunity, and you’re not in the same scenes. The audience I think sometimes thinks, ‘Oh, this is gonna be an opportunity for these two people …’ and you never really see them together. That can be disappointing. That’s not the case here. The case, especially with Chris, we really work a lot together, and we did many different scenes together. And that gives you the opportunity to play them many different ways. And because they both know their universe so well, it was fun for me to be able to sort of come in and go, ‘Okay, well here’s where I’m going on this one,’ and then be able to just turn it around in another take. And never would they go, ‘Whoa, whoa, how does that work?’ That didn’t happen, because I understood it. I understood what James was going for. He’s a really good writer and a really astute audience and director. He doesn’t shy away from all different kinds of true emotions, heavy loading it in terms of real emotions, then coming off of that. And in different scenes we do a lot of that. And so hopefully it’ll be as entertaining as it is fun to do.

Image via Marvel

When we meet your character, where is he at in his life? Is he fighting? Is he hiding?

RUSSELL: Looking for Peter.

So you’re on a quest to find him?

RUSSELL: Looking for him.

Is Peter his only kid?

RUSSELL: I can’t answer that. There may be some Marvel answer to that I don’t know. [Laughs] You’ve gotta understand, you’re talking to someone who’s not – I never was – I just like movies and stories and stuff, and so I don’t happen to be an aficionado.

When you enter the film, you’re with Mantis. Can you tell us about the relationship between your character and Mantis?

RUSSELL: This is so hard. [Laughs] It really is. It’s really weird. It’s great fun to talk about. That’s what’s tough about it. I don’t think I should. She’s an important player and her relationship to me and to the movie is an important one. They’re all important. He knows the rocks he’s lifting, and put that back underneath there, and get back to that in the third act, you know? He’s got a very full painter’s pallet. It’s very intricate, it’s pretty intricate. You’re gonna kinda go go, ‘Wait a minute. If that person’s that, and that person’s over there, that means … too late! Whoops, sh*t!’ He makes you watch and think and kinda points to the future a little bit and says there’s a lot to this story and to these relationships, and unfortunately I can’t answer your question really.

Did James tell you Jack Burton was an inspiration for Peter Quill?

Image via Marvel

RUSSELL: The thing is that when I saw the first movie, I sat down with Goldie and said, ‘Hey honey, I gotta watch this movie to see what this is they’re talking about,’ and I told her, I said, ‘You know, a lot of people are calling me saying are you gonna play this guy? They’re all excited about it.’ She said, ‘Yeah, what’s that about?’ And I said, ‘I haven’t any idea. I don’t know.’ And so she said, ‘Well, did you read the script yet?’ I said, ‘I don’t really want to read it until I see this movie. I wanna see this first.’ I don’t remember if I actually got to do it that way. I think maybe I ended up reading the script first and then saw the movie. But so I sat down with Goldie – yeah, I did read it first, and I thought, ‘Well, if I read this correctly, just the music choices alone tell me something that he writes,’ and so we sat down and within about 3 minutes of watching Chris, as soon as he kicked one of those lemmings I went, ‘[Laughs] Okay. That’s cool. That’s my kinda guy. I know where that kind of goof comes from.’ And then I watched a lot of it, and I’m going, ‘Okay, well there’s three or four references to different things,’ and I went, ‘Yeah. Okay. I’m getting this correctly. I’m reading between the lines right.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, this is really fun.’

When you read this script, there’s a lot to, as an actor, to not understand what it’s gonna look like. So it was also a lot of fun to come here and get in the room with James, and then you walk in the room and you got stuff on the wall and you go, ‘Okay, there we go. There, there, there. Oh, that’s what that is! I was wondered about that. There we go. There’s the spaceship, there’s the thing, there’s the planet.’ And that’s where the – ‘Okay, I got it.’ And once I could do that, then I really started being able to look at what I was thinking – because you gotta get all that out of the way. You gotta get all that stuff out of the way so that you can just, on that day, just go into the room and literally throw everything away and just talk to the person you’re in the scene with, as you should, as the person you are. You’re no longer playing a character; you’re now that person. Audience is never gonna see the character I’m playing, they’re never gonna see another version of it. They’re never gonna see the takes that he chose not to use, let alone the actors he chose not to use. The audience just sees what they see, you know? They see that. That’s why it’s important I think to give him as many opportunities as he can to pick from things that’ll work for him. You have to have a lot of trust to do that because you get burned a lot as an actor. You give some guy real, free reign and he just doesn’t know how to edit it properly. It just comes out messed up.

We saw the concept art you were talking about, the concept art for J’son’s ship. Is there a physical set for that?

RUSSELL: There’s some of it. It’s definitely more fun when you’re able to be there than in a room filled with blue or green screen with orange dots on it. You know what it is and, you know, throughout the years, like back when we did The Thing, we had a lot of puppets on that so there was a lot of live action stuff that you could rely on and you could see, but a lot of it was gobos with X’s, you know? … so you’re dealing with a lot of unknowns in that regard. But when you see some of the drawings here, it’s very helpful and you know where you are.

Image via Marvel Studios

Is this your first space opera?

RUSSELL: You know, it’s funny. I’ve gotten to the point now where my character at one point – it all kind of goes together. I guess. I don’t remember doing one. Well, wait a minute! Hold on. No, no. One time I was in a movie that was really kinda reinventing all this sci-fi stuff, Stargate. It was a long, long space when there was no sci-fi out there as a movie, and Stargate was a real surprise to the audience, and it was really something that was real science-fiction-y.

Is your character a fighter? Do you have weapons?

RUSSELL: He’s a fighter, yeah. He’s probably used just about every weapon you can conceive. He’s an adventurous sort.

We get this brief sketch of who Peter Quill’s father is in the first movie. Do you think that’s an accurate representation of who he is?

RUSSELL: I do, yeah.

For more from my Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 set visit, check out the links below:

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