SKY HIGH - Q&A with KURT RUSSELL
Movie Interview by Elaine Lipworth
Kurt Russell learns that there's more to being a 'super-dad' than super-strength in the new Disney drama, SKY HIGH. He plays the world's greatest superhero, 'The Commander ' who saves the world for a living. But he is also the father of a teenage boy who discovers that being a parent is the toughest job of all.
SKY HIGH is an exciting and vibrant action adventure film, with a compelling story and great special effects. It examines the struggles facing every teenager who is starting high school. But life for Will Stronghold holds an extra challenge - his parents are celebrated superheroes, and he doesn't appear to have inherited any superpowers of his own. He is attending 'Sky High', an elite, prestigious school for tomorrow's superheroes that is hidden in the clouds. "It is basically as though the child of Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf went to tennis camp and couldn't hit a ball,' laughs Russell. "The Commander is like a great athlete who wants his son to follow in his footsteps and then finds out that he is not even going to make the team. It is a big shock."
As the Commander, Kurt Russell is hilarious, creating a fascinating character who is pompous but basically generous and loving. Russell brings a warmth and humanity to his part. "The Commander loves being a superhero, just loves it," says the actor. "He loves his son but he is a very unaware father." Convincing and charismatic as the muscle bound superhero, he is a tower of strength, using his power to defend innocent citizens from evil villains. His wife, Jetstream, played by actress Kelly Preston, has the power to fly.
And when they are not saving the world, The Commander and Jetstream lead a normal family life as Josie and Steve Stronghold, two realtors who have a teenage son, Will. The film is full of action, comedy and drama, but it is also a poignant family story about the problems facing parents and children. Directed by Mike Mitchell, the film also stars up and coming actor Michael Angarano as Will and Lynda Carter (TV's Wonder Woman) as Sky High's Principal Powers.
Kurt Russell has spent most of his life in front of the cameras. He began his career appearing in Disney films and becoming a child star. He went onto enjoy a highly successful career as an adult. It is now 30 years since he starred in the Disney family comedy, THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD. The 54 year-old actor has made countless movies including DARK BLUE, VANILLA SKY, BREAKDOWN, 3000 MILES TO GRACELAND, BACKDRAFT, TANGO AND CASH and MIRACLE. His other upcoming films are POSEIDON and DREAMER.
Russell has lived with actress Goldie Hawn for over 20 years and they have raised four children together. They have a teenage son together; Wyatt who is a talented hockey player and Russell has another grown up son Boston, from an earlier marriage. He is a stepfather to Goldie Hawn's two children, Kate and Oliver Hudson, both actors. Kurt and Goldie are also enjoying being grandparents to Ryder Russell, Kate and Chris Robinson's two year-old son.
The following interview was conducted in Los Angeles where Russell, looking fit and remarkably youthful, in an open necked grey striped shirt, talked candidly about SKY HIGH, his career, family life and his own philosophy on parenting.
What was the appeal of this role?
When I read the script I thought it was really funny and I felt that the story was great. It focuses on a teenager who is dealing with the pressures of going through high school and we can all relate to that. I thought it was a good premise. But I find it interesting because the story is about superheroes, which brings in an added dimension and elevates the film. The teenager, Will is having to live up to incredible expectations from his parents. This applies to every child. Ultimately I felt that my character could really be fun to play.
But what I really like about this movie is that you can watch it as parents, and say 'hmm, I forgot about what it was like when I experienced something like that'. You can think to yourself: 'maybe I have not been aware of what my child has been going through'. And maybe you will start to look at things from your son or daughter's point of view.
How much fun was it making the movie?
I really enjoyed the everyday happenings on the set. It's always fun to do a comedy in which you are looking for the laughs and looking for the foibles of the characters. And this guy, Steve Stronghold, was fun in that regard because he is incredibly larger than life and arrogant in a sweet way. He means well and he loves his son but he is not the greatest parent. He has unreasonable expectations for his son. He wants Will to have the same experience in life that he has enjoyed as a superhero.
Did you have to live up to high expectations as a child growing up as the son of a famous actor?
Well I suppose we all have our emotional baggage. When I went to start at high school my dad was a star - he was an actor who played the sheriff on BONANZA. Everybody knew that at school. I was already starring in Disney movies by then, so everyone knew that too. As a father myself I try not to put pressure on my kids, but I did look at this character and say to myself 'maybe I am a little more like this guy than I know'. I think I have done things as well as I could as a father, to help my children have a healthy perspective on life. But maybe there have also been times where I was blind to things that were going on for them, like the Commander. He is just blind to what's going on in his son's life. And there is a lack of communication on both sides because Will is hiding his problems from his father. He is pretending that he does have a superpower because he is so scared of what his dad's reaction will be when he finds out that his son does not have exceptional, super human talents. That kind of thing does not happen in our family. We talk to each other.
What is it like to be married to Kelly Preston in this film? She plays your highflying wife, Jetstream?
She is fabulous, she has a great energy. I have always admired her. She is unique, terrific and I think she is one of the major reasons why this movie works so well, on a lot of different levels. It is fun and entertaining to watch her.
What kind of man is The Commander?
He's a boy at heart. He's a fun-loving goofy man - a good guy, but he does not live in the real world at all. He loves being a superhero, just loves it although he is not a great parent. He is endlessly enthusiastic about his own abilities. There is a ridiculous side to him that is great fun, because he has a major grandiose aspect to his character. I just wanted to show a parent who was as loving as he was unaware, because I think that is what we can relate to in him. If you portray a character who is just arrogant and selfish, then he would never become aware of his own failings and he would simply be a nasty person. His saving grace is that he loves his kids so much. Then you can relate to him.
What do you think it is that makes SKY HIGH such a good all round family film?
I love the way this film turned out because a six year old will see one movie, a fifteen year-old will see another movie, a twenty year-old will see another movie and a parent or grandparent can enjoy it too. It works on many different levels and ultimately it is goofy fun and that's classic Disney.
As a parent yourself, what are your beliefs and values?
I believe very much in allowing my children to be who they are and that is how I was brought up. My mom and dad provided me with a lot of opportunities and they believed that I could pursue any of them. They felt that whenever you pursue something, you should go after it wholeheartedly and have fun doing it. Goldie and I both believe that, so we have tried to infuse that kind of life and philosophy into our children. All four of them are doing what they want to do with their lives and having a lot of fun.
As a parent, what do you teach them?
We are like anybody else, sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed. I think we have been really fortunate with all our children. Katie and Oliver (Hudson) are great people, they always have been. They needed some guidance, and we did the best we could to provide that. Wyatt and Boston, my two sons, have always been great people too. I don't feel we did a great deal of parenting. We did have discipline, if they did something bad we would say 'no that's out of the question'. But they always knew that it was coming from love. I didn't ever want to be a cop. I used to say that to them. I don't want to ever 'catch you at something'. I would say to them 'if you believe in me and you believe that I want what is best for you then you will listen to me.'
Is there any pressure for them because you and Goldie are so successful?
Sure, but we all have that pressure, it is greater in some families and less in others. There are some kids who are incredibly ashamed of their parents and they have a different kind of pressure. There are kids like ours' who are expected to do as well as their parents. Maybe one of the things that my kids saw in me, was someone who very definitely said 'I will follow my own path, sorry but the rest of the world does not matter.' I tell my kids: 'you know yourself when you've done a good job and you know when you have let yourself down. We all know all these things inherently so look to yourself and don't blame other people or let them give you a sense of your value. That is a lie. It is false.'
You and Goldie have been together for so long. Do you think you will ever get married?
It is not something that is of great importance to us. I understand the question and I guess it is a fascination to people. Marriage is an institution that has been around a long time. But we have found no need to involve ourselves in that symbol. It is a good symbol; there is nothing wrong with it. And at some time in the future maybe we will have a need or a desire to say 'I feel like doing that now'. And if we do, we won't make any fanfare because we will be doing it for each other.
Are you still passionate about acting after all these years in the business?
Yes I am. I think it must be arrested development', to remain as enthusiastic as I am and perhaps a doctor will tell me that. (He laughs). I like going to work. I am interested in the job. Film audiences are paying to see a movie and I love the idea of giving them as a good a show as I can. That fascinates me. I have done it for so long. I guess some people are meant to do something with their lives and they are fortunate enough to be able to do it and I feel grateful.
Did you always love acting?
As a kid I was acting but I was also playing baseball and that was what I was going to do with my life. After I got hurt in baseball and couldn't pursue it as a profession, I wondered if acting could become important to me in terms of my life and career, and mean as much to me as baseball. It did, I loved it and I am thankful for that. It just took time to get over baseball.
What is it about the job that is still so enjoyable?
I get in the room and I work with the director and the other actors and I collaborate. I believe in that. There is one captain of the ship and that is the director but as an actor, you must bring everything you can to the film. I do the best I can. I am thrilled when I come up with an idea and everybody says 'that works'. I also love it when another actor comes up with a good idea. There is a sense inside you when you realize that something will be good and will 'play well'. And I believe a film has to play well 20 years later. You cannot just make a film that is commercial and will do well 'now'. But this is what I do to make my living. I am 54 years old; I have done it for 44 years. And I love it.
How have you dealt with the ups and downs in your own career?
Somebody once said to me 'I look at your career and it looks like it was controlled by a drunk driver.' (He laughs). And I said that is actually true. I can't deny it.
Is there any role you would still love to do that you haven't tackled so far?
I have done a thousand different roles and the one thing I can say in defense of my career, my 'drunken driving career' is that I have had great opportunities and I have taken them. I want to be the kind of actor who people think is versatile. Like all actors, when I have done one kind of role I want to try another. I know one thing. I don't need to make a great deal of money now, and I want to do things for different reasons and challenges. I have a job to do, which I love and that is trying to make a film work, trying to make it 'pop'. Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you fail. But you just get up and go.
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