From writer/director Jonathan Sobol, The Art of the Steal tells the story of Crunch Calhoun (Kurt Russell) a motorcycle daredevil and art thief who agrees to pull off one final lucrative art theft with his untrustworthy brother, Nicky (Matt Dillon), which will, of course, lead to nothing but trouble for everyone involved. The film also stars Jay Baruchel, Katheryn Winnick, Chris Diamantopoulos and Terence Stamp.
At the film’s press day, actor Kurt Russell spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what made him what to be a part of this film, what this group of actors was like to work with, how much fun he had bringing this guy to life, and that he’s happy with how the film ultimately turned out. He also talked about the passion he has for making wine, how he’s got both a heavy film called Clang and a Western called Bone Tomahawk on his film schedule, and that he thinks filming for Fast & Furious 7 will resume in April, even though he does not yet know how they’ll be handling the loss of actor Paul Walker. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
KURT RUSSELL: I was just sent the script, and I read it. I don’t know who they’d gone to [before me]. I didn’t know the history of it. I don’t remember if there was a name that didn’t want to do it. But, there was very little about it that I was confused by or questioned. It’s one of those screenplays where it’s the screenplay. If you’re going to strengthen it, you better be very careful. We broke it down a lot. We worked together closely on it, and that was a fun process.
Are you a pretty good judge of when a script will work?
RUSSELL: I can never be a judge of what people want to see. I can be a good judge of what I want to see, and I can be a good judge of why it is that I want to see it. I can look at a movie and tell you why I find it interesting. If that’s not what the director wants to do, then I’m not the right person. If I suspect that I want to see this movie, I want to make sure that that’s what the director wants to do and that we’re in cahoots. Then, we’re gonna have a good time. You do that on pretty much every movie. You have to sit down and talk it out and say, “This is what I see. This is why I like this.” Every once in awhile, you get on different pages, and that’s the time to find that out and say, “Okay, I think that I’m not a very good candidate for what you want to do.” I do believe firmly in the fact that it’s the director’s movie, period. That’s just a given. It’s not the actor’s movie. It’s the director’s vision that we’re trying to get on the screen. I will have a blast, if I know what the director wants and I can be helpful in doing that, because I’m going to have the fun of playing the character. That’s just fun to do. You have to make sure you’re not talking yourself into something because you like what you like about it, even though that’s not what the director is doing. I’ve been in positions where that became problematic, and it’s not fun. At that point, it’s just not fun. You want to do that as little as possible.
What attracted you to this script?
RUSSELL: To me, it’s three genres – it’s con-man, it’s art heist and it’s ultimately sting. I just loved the way [Jonathan Sobol] interwove them in the screenplay. It’s interesting how it speaks to the solemnity of honor amongst thieves. At the end of the day, no matter what your business is, that’s the cornerstone of all activities. Any kind of business, whether it be legal or otherwise, is based on trust. You have to know who you can trust. If you don’t, you’re going down. The problem with those guys is that they have a tendency to trust, and they get burned for it. These guys are ultimately destined for jail. These characters are why prisons exist. It’s just a matter of how long they’re going to be there. They’re absolutely stunned when they don’t succeed and they’re caught. When you’re playing those scenes, everybody has to play that surprise when it goes south. But, I loved the ride there. Every once in awhile, one of them gets the big score and gets it all, and how that happens is often fulfilling.
What was this group of actors like to work with?
RUSSELL: I liked the way that Jonathan Sobol put these guys together. I thought the cast he put together was really good. They were all really right for the roles. They did a great job. I just think Matt Dillon is excellent. To find the things that you have to find in those roles, to make them enjoyable to watch, it’s not that easy. I was really appreciative of everybody’s abilities and talents, in the movie. Jonathan Sobol is a clever guy, and he should make some good movies. I hope he does.
RUSSELL: I think bravado is vulnerability. Anytime you have to show something, that’s the vulnerability. That’s what’s fun for me to find in the person. The truth is, in real life, when you have something, you don’t need to show it and you don’t need to talk about it. It’s just there. You know it, and that makes you satisfied. But when you get so broken down that you can’t do anything but show it, those guys crack me up. They’re funny. They make me feel like they’re human. As an actor, it’s fun to have the opportunity to play that stuff. This guy has got it all over the walls. He’s everywhere. One of my favorite things is a small one, but it’s when they come up to meet the young guy that’s gonna help them, and he recognizing him and says, “Wait a minute, you’re Crunch Calhoun.” The last thing he wanted to do was be recognized, but he’s proud of the fact that the guy recognized him. His cover is blown, but he enjoys it. To me, that’s the funny stuff. When you get the opportunity to play that stuff, it is very real-life stuff.
When you saw the finished product, were you happy with how the film ultimately turned out?
RUSSELL: I really was. I always figure, if a picture gets to 85% or 90% of what you hoped would be there, you’ve done pretty good. Let’s face it, there’s always going to be something different. The editing process is always different. With this one, the screenplay was what it was. It was pretty tight, but there was a lot of room to play around, at the end, and he did some. I could see everybody doing what it was that they were supposed to be doing, and I felt like the story was being well told. I did like it. I do think the end is one of those things where it just drops down and you sit there and go, “I’m not sure I can call this one.”
RUSSELL: Yeah, I actually have a couple of things. There’s this thing called Clang, that’s a real heavy lifter. It’s a Mark Pellington project that is interesting. This will be one that, as an actor, you shut the door, turn the phone off, hunker down and go to work. Also, I have another picture called Bone Tomahawk, which is a Western that I’ve been circling around for a long time. I hope that will get done. And then, there’s another picture called Race to Nome, which I think they may shoot part of this spring, and then next fall. But, I’m spending a great deal of time right now with wine. I love making wine.
What type of wine are you making?
RUSSELL: Gogi wine is the wine that I make. It’s a high-end Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It’s really, really fun. I love being at the vineyard. I love learning about making wine. I love making really good wine. I love drinking it. I love people’s response to it. It’s so much like making a movie, only you’re doing everything. I’ve gotta say, it’s tough to get out of that world. It’s fun and it’s endlessly fascinating. It is a lot like making a movie. There is no part of it that’s formulaic. It doesn’t work that way. Every year, it’s different. I’m just having a great time with that. I still love making movies. I do, and I always have. There’s lots of stuff that I’m looking at, right now, and have been. I read stuff and go through stuff. When they come along and I like them, then it’s time to go to work like that.
Do you still have to go back and finish your work on Fast & Furious 7, when they figure out what they’re going to do with that?
RUSSELL: Yeah. I don’t know what’s going to happen there, but I do have more work to do on that. I think that’s going to take place in April, if I’m not mistaken. I don’t know what they’re going to do. I haven’t spoken to them. I saw Vin [Diesel] at the memorial for Paul [Walker]. He was just a wonderful guy. He was the kind of guy that what you saw was what you got. He was a really good guy. The thing that was rough there was that we had some good conversations, but I sensed from them that this was a guy who enjoyed many things in his life and was very appreciative, but was also getting to a point where he wanted to begin to seriously, in an artistic sense, explore what would excited him and find out where he might go. He was literally just turning that page and just saying that he wanted to peak onto the other side, and then he was out.
RUSSELL: All you can do is try to continue to enjoy life, on a day-to-day basis, knowing that it can be over quickly. And what you do in it, you have to weigh. But when you’re a person who enjoys things that can be inherently risky, even though, most of the time, they’re very well controlled, there will be moments of potential disaster. They’re going to be out there. Hopefully, you escape them. He didn’t escape that one. That’s just the way it goes. So, I don’t know what they’re going to do, or how they’re going to deal with it. I get the feeling that some time in April is when I’m going to go to work.
At least everybody involved seems to care and is taking time to figure out the best way to handle it.
RUSSELL: Oh, very much so. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who didn’t like Paul. I haven’t heard of a person who didn’t. I don’t know who that would be. If you didn’t, I would wonder about that person. It’s just a rough thing, especially for his daughter.
The Art of the Steal opens in theaters on March 14th.