Kurt Russell: Major Player

Kurt Russell discusses hunting, where the NRA gets it wrong, what it's like to earn eight figures a picture, and who would make for the best-ever Hollywood fantasy baseball team. And what Goldie is like in bed.

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It's early Thursday morning and Kurt Russell is looking forward to a four-day weekend off from the filming of Executive Decision. He's been on the Warner Bros. lot for months now, playing a think-tank guy who finds himself trying to disarm terrorists who are threatening to blow up a jet. The 44-year-old actor, who's been acting professionally for 35 years, has decided to drive himself to work this day, but when he pulls into Warners' Burbank lot, the guard won't let him through. "I'm Kurt Russell," the actor says. "I'm doing a movie on Stage 15." "I know who you are," the guard replies. "But you don't have a pass."

There's a phone nearby reserved for people who don't have passes, but the guard won't even let Russell on the lot to use it. This is no way to treat a movie star whose last seven pictures have grossed over a billion dollars worldwide, but at this particular studio kiosk, the Guardian of the Sacred Movie Gate is the great equalizer, Russell thinks of just turning around and making it a five-day weekend, hut he finally drives across the street to use a public phone. When he eventually gets to the set, a producer wants to know why he's so late. "They wouldn't let me in," Russell says. What happened to that particular studio guard is uncertain, but by the end of the day Russell gets a movie-style apology: a cap with the initials FBI sewn on the front--compliments of the studio's security department.

Once he's on a set, Russell treats acting as a job. His father, Bing, became an actor after a head injury curtailed his career as a pro ballplayer, and Kurt got into it when he was nine because there was an audition for a baseball movie and he wanted to meet one of his heroes, Mickey Mantle. He didn't get the part, but by 12 he was starring in his own TV series, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters. For Walt Disney, Russell made such movies as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, where he first saw Goldie Hawn, a dancer in that 1968 film.

Russell then set out for a career in pro baseball, but that dream was cut short by a shoulder injury. Back to acting, he won acclaim portraying Elvis Presley in the 1979 TV movie Elvis. In the '80s Russell appeared in a dozen films ranging from Used Cars and Silkwood to Tequila Sunrise and Tango & Cash. The most important for him personally was Swing Shift in 1983, where he fell in love with Goldie Hawn. Both had been in failed marriages, both were parents (Russell had a son, Boston, with actress Season Hubley; Hawn had Oliver and Kate with performer Bill Hudson), and soon they were living together and having a child, Wyatt.

Lately, Russell's been in the entertainment news because of the large salaries he's being paid: $7 million for StarGate, $7.5 million for Executive Decision and $10 million for Escape From LA.

LAWRENCE GROBEL: What was it about Executive Decision that attracted you to it?

KURT RUSSELL: When I read Executive Decision, it was a real page-turner. I read scripts for the movies more than I do for the characters. I've read lots of characters I'd like to play, but I didn't enjoy the movie itself that much. I liked the fun of Executive Decision, You know, I feel when an audience sees my name attached to a film, they think it'll probably be a pretty good movie. The movies I do, if we make them well, will be fun to watch. They may not be the best movie of the year, and I may not be your favorite actor, but people come up to me all the time and say, "I like the movies you do."

Q: Your father once told you, "If you're getting paid a man's salary, do a man's job," What would he say to the $7 million to 10 million you're now getting for a film?

A: I had an interesting moment with my father two years ago, a strange conversation over the phone where at the end he was saying, "They're going to pay you all this money, what's the catch?" I said. "There is no catch, dad. They've finally realized that the movies I'm in make money. That's the catch." I realized that I was on a new level he didn't know about; and neither did I, until recently. So he could no longer advise me. That kind of thing is strange, because many years ago I used to be an actor whose movies didn't make that much money.

Q: How do you feel about the salaries you're earning?

A: If they're willing to pay me that, I must be worth it.

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