One of the best films I saw at this year’s Toronto International Film festival was director Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon. Scripted by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, the film stars Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell and recounts the story of the brave men and women whose heroism saved many lives in the midst of the world’s largest man-made disaster. The film also stars Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, and Dylan O’Brien.
While the film is loaded with great performances and a smart script, what really impressed me about Berg’s take on the material is the way he kept everything grounded and real. At times I felt like I was watching a documentary of what happened and not a movie. Trust me, this is an exceptionally well-made film that you should see this weekend. For more on why you should see Deepwater Horizon, read Matt’s review.
Shortly after seeing the film, I sat down with Kurt Russell for an exclusive interview. He talked about why he wanted to make the film, the way he likes to work on set, what he collects, what fans can look forward to in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2., and so much more. Check out what he had to say below.
Collider: I know you’re selective with projects and I know you like to dig and figure out if I’m going to do this. So talk a little bit about how you got approached for the material and was it an immediate yes?
KURT RUSSELL: I was working on Hateful Eight and for the last couple years I’ve been working I started by taking the advice of my manager and sort of started going to work on Fast and Furious. I didn’t like the part and they let me change it to where I thought it would be fun to do so we did that, it was a good time and I started feeling like yeah it worked, it worked OK. I was spending a lot of time in the vineyard and I was enjoying myself, I was enjoying myself not working very much and every once in awhile something would come along that I’d want to do or something that was kinda fun. But in all honestly I was reading things and I was like that again, that again, that again. Then there was this project called Bone Tomahawk that I read that I wished we could get done even though we would do it for ten cents because I felt it was a movie that would never get made. You couldn’t put it in a box. It was a western but it was very different type of western, I thought it was extremely well written. That came about just about the same time that Quentin called up to do Hateful Eight so all of a sudden I was working again.
I finished Hateful Eight and right on the heels of that came Deepwater Horizon. I don’t know the history of it and what the real history of it, I know there was a director change but I only knew that Peter Berg was involved and Mark Wahlberg. I’ve heard about it because my daughter Kate (Hudson) was talking about this movie she may or may not do with Mark Wahlberg and I said well this is Mark Wahlberg so she must be the wife. When I read it I was struck by a number of things. First of all, I liked the character Mr. Jimmy a lot. I really liked him, but secondly I was kind of stunned because I was like this is that oil disaster thing where the oil line bust and it was just pouring out lots of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and I thought to myself that’s really interesting. I didn’t know eleven people died. I didn’t know that many people had been injured and that many people have survived and it was a harrowing night and the rig was on fire. I didn’t know any of that. I only knew what the media was focusing on which was this oil going into the water. It kind of got me. I thought, “That’s interesting that we’ve gotten to a point where the media thinks it’s more important that we have an ecological disaster happening than eleven people being killed and many others being maimed and hurt, etc.” I thought, “Yeah I’d like to be a part of telling that story especially playing that part, Mr. Jimmy,” I thought his part was integral to the story and again it was an opportunity as an actor to do something different.
I was disappointed that I never got to meet him and so I had to do it just through research and stuff in terms of play him which there was plenty of to work with but it’s always better to meet the person. That was my experience with it; that is how and why I got involved.
I really like Peter as a director and after talking with him….he was explaining that he comes in with nothing really prepared. He wants the actors to sort of work on set and figure it out. To be a little more nimble, to improvise a little bit and be in the moment. Do you particularly prefer things sort of locked down before walking on set or do you enjoy the process of finding it in the moment?
RUSSELL: All movies are different, all movies have their own life. If Quentin Tarantino is your writer-director then you’re going to learn the words and your gonna learn why they’re the words. You’re gonna learn why they’re the best words to say. On other movies it could run the gamut from the screenplay as a template for the director to work with the actors, or to improvise and find new things. Then there are some that you hold pretty close to the vest; pretty close to what you knew you were going to do working with the produces the writers and the director to alter things to hopefully work best for going down the same track to get the best result. They’re all different; every one of them is different. This is the first I’ve worked with Peter, and on this I was kind of surprised because of all the dialogue about BP lawyers and Transocean lawyers. I was kind of surprised and Pete would come in willy nilly and just change it, throw things out, bring things in and literally throw lines out and I’m thinking to myself, “So he ran that by the lawyers? [laughing] I guess so.”
Ultimately your job as an actor is to perform however you’re being asked to perform and there’s many different procedures as an actor that you’re going to run into that you should be prepared for and be ready to go to work and do the best you can and give the director the best thing you can to hopefully give him things on that day that could be shot preserved and out into a canned, then when they go into the editing room that’s where a movie’s made.
I have spoken to a lot of actors that love the Clint Eastwood method of shooting the rehearsal, maybe two takes and moving on and I know many actors love the Fincher method of fifty takes or whatever it takes to get to that thing. Where do you like to typically work in that range?
RUSSELL: The honest answer is if you’re working with Fincher you like the fifty. If you’re working with Clint you better be ready on take one. Now if you’re working with Quentin you better be ready by the first rehearsal, bring your shit and you’re going to work with that director. That’s why it’s important for an actor to be very prepared and ready to dance, if he wants to change the rhythm, change the sound, change the speed, you need have the ability to keep the dance routine the same but speed it up, change it, take it off the walls, take it through the window. Now there’s a cat screaming all of a sudden, and I want to have a dog jump on you in the middle of the thing. You gotta be ready to do that and if you’re not ready and anything throws you off then you can’t play in the sand box, and you’re gonna be in trouble you’re not going to be much help.
Every director works differently but one thing’s important: they must have a vision. If they don’t have a vision I don’t care how they work, and there’s an extreme difference between not having a vision and being a traffic cop–they’re both useless as tits on a boar hog so a director who can’t have a vision. If they don’t know their vision, that’s just a traffic cop and by the third week you’re like “Ok, where do you want me to stand and what am I doing?” Now if you have a vision or if you believe the director has a vision, then at least you’ve got something to talk about, something to try and head to and I think that’s mandatory for every director to have to do a good job
I’ve been asking this to everyone, is there anything you collect?
So you’re not materialistic at all?
RUSSELL: Oh I’m materialistic.
But nothing you collect?
RUSSELL: I’m not a good collector. I wish I would have, [because having] fifty five years to collect stuff on a movie set, I realize now would have value. But it’s funny, I realized that about thirty years ago and I still didn’t feel the need to start collecting [laughing]. If I hold onto something it’s because I want it not because I want to display it or show it to somebody else. I’ve got some cool stuff, I’ve got some cool things.
I loved Guardian of the Galaxy. I think James Gunn might have made the best Marvel movie.
RUSSELL: He’s really sharp; he’s really smart he knows what he’s doing. Chris (Pratt) is a great guy but James, yeah when you come to make the movie James is really on top of it.
I saw the footage at Comic-Con and it looks fantastic. I was a bit surprised that they revealed everything so soon. Were you a little surprised that they revealed it and what was your take away for the sequel? What do you think fans can look forward to?
RUSSELL: Well, you know I’m doing the number two, so I was very impressed that everyone on the set was really excited because they felt it was so much stronger than the first one. They really knew what they were doing and the story itself was strong. James and everyone else felt that we got our sea legs on the first one and now we can really go. I was impressed with the stuff that I saw at Comic-Con. They didn’t show you everything [laughing]. It’s a very complex story. It’s more connected to human issues; family issues, parental issues and issues that sons and daughters have with their moms and dads and their family tree; where they come from. I just think it’s going to be interesting. Peter’s character in this one, he’s got dilemmas, he’s got decisions to make that are not just about whether to save that thing or that person. This is about finding out who you are, where you come from and where you’re going.
I’ll leave it there and say the footage really did look great.
RUSSELL: I thought it looked great too! I was really impressed with it. But believe me, I know the script right? To see what he did with that sequence [in comparison to the script], I’m excited to see the movie [laughing]. I think it’s going to be really good.