Kurt Russell has reached living legend status. Rather than try to revitalize his 80s films, he’s very comfortable choosing roles that fit him and projects he’s passionate about it. He’s not out there trying to pitch an Escape from New York prequel/sequel or whatever. Instead, he’s starring in an indie western, Bone Tomahawk, and as I learned from our conversation last week, he would prefer if you don’t refer to it as a “horror western.”
For those who unfamiliar with Bone Tomahawk, Russell plays a sheriff who teams up with three other men to rescue a couple of captives from a group of cannibalistic troglodytes. Although it sounds like the set-up for a horror-infused B-movie, it’s largely restrained and features strong performances from the entire lead cast, which also includes Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson, and Matthew Fox.
During the interview, Russell and I also talked about what brought him back to the western 22 years after Tombstone, working with a director (S. Craig Zahler) who’s making a feature debut, the MLB playoffs (bear in mind his predictions were made last week when we did this interview), re-teaming with Quentin Tarantino for The Hateful Eight, the remake of Big Trouble in Little China, and more.
What was it about Bone Tomahawk that drew you back to the western genre?
KURT RUSSELL: It was I liked [S.] Craig [Zahler]’s writing. I mean, I’m just one of those guys that generally reads something and I either kind of respond to it or I don’t, respond to the material or the character to being with. And then you look at it and say “Well, ok. Let’s look at who’s gonna do this and what are all the other particulars. Who else is gonna be in it, all that.” So I started just really enjoying his sparse -He has sparse sort of technique in his writing that I really responded to and I thought that it was an opportunity to do a movie that was in a new category. It’s its own category, I wouldn’t know what to call it. It’s not just a straight western, I’ve heard it referred to as a horror western, it’s not that, that’s kind of a bad call on it, I think. I think it’s a graphic western, I think that’s fair. But we were kidding about it, somebody was talking about it today and were kidding about the fact that if you went to a video store back in the day they had all these different sections; all these different movies and all these different sections that by the time you got over to… [Laughs] there’d be a section with a question mark and an exclamation point and under that would be one movie, Bone Tomahawk [Laughs]. It’s like, to me, a low key western that gets you in a certain rhythm that by the time you get to the last 40min of it, it just comes at you at a whole different way. And I thought it worked, I thought it was interesting. I thought the people were real, I liked the idea of getting to know these people and it was saying something about the kind of people it were, that they were having to go into a place that they don’t know and go to an area that they don’t know, they only have rumors about it and they only know a little bit about it. They think they’re going into one situation and they know it’s gonna be pretty rough but they’re the kind of people –I mean, it fascinates me to see how men have changed so much in say 115-120 years. They’re very different now, and having to go into that situation, those guys didn’t even…they thought this was what needed to be done because they were each in their own way involved and they get into something that they don’t know the concept of what it is and they can’t understand it; and I think that’s what the audience has to do when they see what happens to them. So I think that killing at the end puts the audience in their shoes, you’re staring a horrible death straight in the face. But they sort of knew this was possible, but they went anyway. So I liked the way Craig presented that on paper and I thought it would be a real interesting challenge. Of course with these movies that have no money you gotta shoot them fast, but I looked at that and thought there were ways to make this movie without much money and I just wanted to see it be made. It was just one of those movies that I just thought I would like to see this movie be made, I’d like to play that character, I understood it. And so I was drawn to the way he wrote it and it happened to be a western.
One of the things that surprised me about the film and one of the things I enjoyed most about it were just the number of scenes where it’s just the guys on open plains, just chatting even about little stuff like getting a piano stand, or read books by the tub.
RUSSELL: Yeah. You learn about the people.
Can you talk about shooting those scenes and working with your fellow cast members?
RUSSELL: Oh, I just wish we had more time. I thought what we were able to capture in the short period of time we had was a lot of what he had written. I think the actors were really good and it was fun to do it because we were all very invested in our parts and in the story. For me it was gonna be an opportunity to work with Richard Jenkins a lot and I just had this feeling that he was gonna rip this role up and he did. I thought that Matthew [Fox] was terrific, and Patrick [Wilson] who had one of those very difficult roles to do, you’re constantly walking that line of sheer impotence and sheer frustration. That part of it is kind of what drives you, it’s what makes you wanna go to work every day. I liked it, I really liked what it had to offer and the behavior between the actors. And I liked that it was not willing you to sleep, but willing you into a certain space, and then that last 35-40 minutes of it just goes to a whole different place. That was untapped territory in terms of, “What is this movie? What do you call it? What category do you put this in?” I just don’t know of movies like that, certainly not westerns. I’ve never seen a western that did that.
What I’m thinking is that this is Zahler’s directorial debut and I was wondering, what was it like working with him and did you have any particular pieces of advice?
RUSSELL: Listen, any time a first time guy gets it made it’s a miracle, and it’s a miracle that this one got made, he stuck with it and had tremendous tenacity to do that. Did he learn a lot? I’m sure he did. He had his point of view and, once again, he only had so much money and so much time. He had really good actors to work with which was extremely helpful I think. Any time you do something like this you say, “It’d be nice to do this ten years from now when he’s done 6, 7 movies” [Laughs] see him have that opportunity. They’re two very different jobs, directing is a very different job than writing. I think he’s a brilliant writer, I really do, and I think –as a guy who got to make his movie for the first time, I’m just very proud that he got it made. It wasn’t easy, it never is, and this one in particular many times, very difficult, and we all hung in there, we all hung in there and we all believe in Bone Tomahawk as a really different movie [Laughs]. And we liked what it said, we liked what he’d written and we just wanted to see as much of what he’d written be done as we could get done. That was our daily purpose, to get as much of what Craig had written, as much of that feeling, and as much of what he wrote, on film as we could. And it was challenging.
I think it comes across really well, I think it’s got a lot of interesting things to say about the state of civilization and which society is more civilized, it keeps coming back to that, I think it does it really well.
RUSSELL: Yeah, and the way things look. I remember when we did The Thing and the monster was absolutely horrific, I mean, it was so horrific at that time, and really it was a story not about a horrific monster, a horrific monster was in the tale of paranoia. It was a movie about paranoia. It was a movie about 12 guys who got so paranoid that they don’t know where to turn next. But the monster was so horrific and fantastically done, and it’s taken many, many years to have that movie be appreciated and I’m very grateful that it is appreciated the way it is now. I think this one is in that regard very different, it’s not a horror, I just don’t buy the horror aspect of it. I think it’s graphic, yes, but in that way that I think is quite fascinating. Those guys are like The Thing, yeah I get the comparison, that thing was just trying to survive and that’s all these guys are doing, they’re just trying to survive, they’re just out there living. And these guys because of circumstance have made the mistake of rolling into their hood [Laughs], bad move. And [Laughs] they’re just out there skinning out now, the flute came to them. So I think you’re right, the civilizations class and it’s on a very small, personal level and boy these guys got themselves into something they’re just not ready to handle and I thought that was very interesting to explore.
Something else I wanted to ask you about is, since you are a former ball player, I had to get your thoughts on this years’ post season and who do you think’s gonna win it all and who do you hope wins it all?
RUSSELL: Well, to be honest with you, my opinion is just reckless because I haven’t been following this year or haven’t been following the last couple of years. I’ve been watching though and the only thing that I find fascinating now is that every guy that gets on that mound looks virtually unhittable. I mean, man, these guys are throwing nasty shit, they’re just throwing the most horrible, nasty, crap up there. These hitters are dealing with some guys that have a great arsenal on that hill. So I’m very impressed with the pitching, the Dodgers have pitching that the Mets have. The Cubs kind of look old fashioned sluggers, you know, they’re great to watch and I must say that I’d love to see them pull it out and go all the way. Toronto has come back already and those guys they’re really hungry for this and they’ve been close so it looks like it might be their time. So you got all these different scenarios playing and anytime you can get the Cardinals out you got to be a hell of a baseball club. The winner of the Mets-Dodgers I’m gonna be very impressed with, and the pitching on those two clubs is gonna make it toughg for me to go with anybody else. Do the Cubs have the magic this year? Gee, I don’t know. Toronto looks very ready to win a World Series. It’s funny, just starting getting into this now and those are the teams that they’re making me think about. I don’t know who’s gonna be the team this year with all the pitching, it just could be monster mash time. I’d love to see the Cubs win, I gotta say, I’d love to see them win with this particular ball club and I think for some reason that this manager absolutely has these guys –I feel the best mix between manager and club and sort of what’s in the air, I got a strong feeling about the Cubs. But boy it’s tough not to like either the Mets of the Dodgers with their pitching stats that I’ve seen. And Toronto the just looks very, very ready to win a world series. So mentally, I go with Toronto. Magic would be the Cubs. And if I’m gonna go with baseball, that’s gonna be pitching, and that’s gonna be either the Mets or the Dodgers, and in that regard [Clayton] Kershaw, he’s back and he’s ready to do the Alex Rodriguez thing and just put the Dodgers on his back and haul them all the way.
It’s definitely a very exciting season.
RUSSELL: It really is, it really is. I mean, it’s already been excellent and I’m sorry to see the Angels go so fast but… and the Yankees too. I was ready to watch bit it didn’t happen. But it’s great, it’s gonna be a good, you know, tonight’s gonna be a great game and I can’t wait to see that game tonight.
Me too. Now, we’re gonna see you this year in another western with Hateful Eight. What was it like working with [Quentin] Tarantino on this film compared to Death Proof?
RUSSELL: Even better. I mean, he is a great experience, he’s a terrific person to work with. But as a director he is absolutely at the top of his game, all the actors we were all talking about it. I had a great time with this bunch of actors. It was the greatest experience, I gotta say, it was a fantastic experience. These people, everybody, when they got the ball handed to them, everybody wanted to carry it across the line and nobody wanted to drop the ball. And we loved what it was, we loved what he was going after. He is just a great time and you just feel super charged, you’re just so excited about going to work every day, you just automatically give it your all. But you do feel like you’re playing for the Yankees, and you got everybody who’s swinging the bat is good, everybody is on the mound throwing their best shit. I gotta say, I’m thankful for the opportunity of having been able to work with him twice. I was impressed with him the first time and it was like discovering something, but this was like getting to be a part of working with a guy who was in his prime, a master in his prime, and it was just a blast. I hope what we’ve done is great, I hope it’s really fun to watch, I hope it’s what Quentin wants, I think it is. Because the experience was spectacular, regardless of, you know, you always wish for the best, you never know with movies, you always wish for the best but the experience of working with that director at this particular time of his life, working with those actors, with this material, was a one off for me. It was just spectacular.
I assume you’ve hear by now that Dwayne Johnson wants to remake Big Trouble in Little China and I was wondering if you had any tips for him?
RUSSELL: Yeah, I didn’t know who it was, as a matter of fact, I was just talking to someone for this and he was bringing that up, it’s funny those often get brought up. You know, I heard they were gonna remake Big Trouble in Little China, I heard they were gonna make Overboard, they were gonna remake some Disney stuff. I mean, I don’t know, I guess it’s that time now. Hey, you know, nothing sacred, why not? Go get it, good luck. I always think it’s interesting what’s gonna be done. Dwayne Johnson I don’t know what his take on it is gonna be, I don’t know what they’re gonna do. I always look at those movies when I see a remake and it’s like, “Ok… there’s gotta be a reason” I did ne with John [Carpenter], we did the remake of The Thing. But John didn’t want to remake the original movie, he wanted to remake Who Goes There? He wanted not to remake The Thing, he wanted to do a movie of Who Goes There? Which had never been made, which was the short story. So ours is in fact quite different that the original Thing and it was a horrific monster [Laughs] and it took a long time for that movie to kind of gain it’s appreciation but through the years it’s been nice to watch that happen with that movie, it’s now considered one of the great horror movies ever made and I’m very proud to have been a part of that. So with Big Trouble in Little China John and I, I know we did something that at that time was –The sensibility of that movie was very different, no movie had been made like that, and virtually you flip-flopped the leading man and the psychic, you flip-flopped those roles, that had never been done. And a lot of the humor and the style of that movie was brand new for that time and was very much copied after that, so in its way Big Trouble is definitely a cult film. So I don’t know what their reasons are for remaking the movie but I hope that they have the right reasons and I hope that they do it well and good luck, what can I say? I don’t know, I don’t have thoughts other than that. Hang in there, good luck, go get em’.