Kurt Russell seemed in a somber mood. Perhaps it was because we met on the day of the space shuttle disaster, or perhaps because the 52-year old actor has had to wait for over a year to finally promote "Dark Blue", in which the actor plays a corrupt Los Angeles cop.
I remember him first discussing the film when he was promoting Vanilla Sky. The delay in bringing the gritty Dark Blue to theatres is enough to make anyone feel a tad cynical about the business of Hollywood. “I do get cynical but what can you do?” he says with a faint tone of bitterness. “It doesn’t make any difference or maybe it does, I don’t know. I don’t concern myself with that stuff, I just sit around and get the news every three months while they are looking for this time span or thinking that’s right all the while they change their minds. You know, it’s a very difficult business and marketing movies is not part of my world and I don’t understand it. My job is to make the movie and then if they ask me I throw my two cents worth in but there’s no reason to consult ME.”
Yet Dark Blue is finally getting a release and the actor is full of genuine pride when it comes to talking about the film, agreeing that “in terms of PERFORMANCE, this is by far the picture I’m the most proud of and I’m extremely proud of the film itself. I think it’s a good movie with a very interesting character and I had a great time working with everybody on the movie and playing the character.”
Set in April 1992, Dark Blue is a dramatic thriller that takes place just days before the acquittal of four white officers in the beating of Rodney King and the subsequent L.A. riots. In this racially-charged climate, the LAPD’s elite Special Investigations Squad (SIS) is assigned a high-profile quadruple homicide. As they work the case, veteran detective Eldon Perry, [Russell] known for his tough street tactics and fiery temper, tutors SIS rookie Bobby Keough [Scott Speedman] in the grim realities of police intimidation and corruption. Meanwhile, Assistant Chief Holland, [Ving Rhames] the only man in the department willing to stand up to the SIS, threatens to end Perry’s brand of single-handed "justice" on the Los Angeles streets.
Russell was immediately intrigued by Perry, a character we have never seen the actor portray throughout his long career. “He’s someone who I think is very real, who suffers through a lot of emotions and, in his world, experiences a lot of highs and lows,” Russell explains. “I think it’s interesting to examine someone’s life who is taking a step into hell and is either going to continue to descend or somehow try to realize it and begin to walk out of it if he can. I like the specifics of what the screenplay had to offer and I like the complexity of the person. It reminds me of a line that was in a different movie that I did concerning going into a dangerous situation and how you’re going to perform in it and whether or not your techniques are good, bad or indifferent and that’s being called into question. So who’s going to do it, you? I don’t think so. What’s fun is it’s easy for us to imagine criticizing that person. What I like to do is present that person so that you CAN criticize them and say: That’s our job. We’re a democracy. We are in a democratic society. It’s our job to question you and I think it’s easy for a person like that to say, ‘Tell you what, I’m going to make it easy on you. I’ll take this badge off put it there and one of you pick it up and go do it. We’ll see where you are in 20 years.’ I find that to be worthy of making a movie about,” Russell says with intense passion.
As to the challenges of tapping into a darker persona to play this character, Russell says that it was important to present a balanced picture of the character. “At the beginning of the process, I didn’t think Eldon Perry was really working. It was just too one sided, and didn’t have much humanity to it. When Ronny Shelton came on and when we talked about it, we realized that we both wanted to do the same thing.” The trick was turning this corrupt cop into a sympathetic character and Russell worked at hard at understanding where Perry came from that led him to the dark place in his life about which he speaks. “I think that human beings, from their own point of view, are very different than what sometimes people see. I know from my experience in my life, I know what I feel like and what I think I look like, but it’s not what people see and I think that’s true for everybody and I know that’s true for someone like Eldon Perry,. So in that regard I don’t think it’s fair to the audience, let alone Eldon Perry, a fictitious character, to just see one side of the person. If I see one side of somebody, I want to see the other side to ask: How did you get there? Or what makes you feel that way or why do you feel that way and that’s what I find interesting.”
Though Dark Blue is set during a most tumultuous and violent period in recent Los Angeles history, Russell doesn’t see the film as being overtly political with its setting being specifically relevant. “I think it’s about people, and that’s always timely if it’s done in a way whereby you enjoy the story. I remember when we did Silkwood one of the things that we didn’t want to do was make a political movie, but we had this enormously political background. I think the same argument applies to this film.”
It’s hard to believe looking at the energetic taut and denim-clad actor, that Kurt Russell has been a working actor for four decades, having made an auspicious debut kicking Elvis Presley in 1963’s It Happened at the World’s Fair. As a child actor, Russell was memorable in the likes of Guns of Diablo, Follow me Boys and The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band. He left Disney childhood comedies behind and was critically lauded for the likes of Elvis, Silkwood, the seminal Escape from New York and Swing Shift, during which he met his partner, Goldie Hawn. Though Russell was featured in many high-profile projects, his career has had its share of slumps, and one wonders why the actor has never been elevated into that rare world of the A-list star. On that score, Russell remains quietly philosophical. “I felt many, many, years ago, if you looked at things like that, you get locked into focusing in on the wrong things. In my life, I was brought up by two people who just said: Whatever it is you’re interested in, go do it as there is no winning or losing. You find out when you do it what the experience is and if it turns out to be a winning one, fine and if it turns out to be a losing one, experience it and don’t miss it,” says Russell. The actor happily admits that he hasn’t missed his career. “I didn’t think of it in terms of it being long lasting, in that I was playing baseball, and I was going to play ball. I no longer look at my life and times in the motion picture industry as my career. I just look at it now as something I like and something I want to do. There is something here that I think could be kind of interesting to try to bring to the screen and make people have a good time with it, or experience with.”
Russell and Hawn now call Vancouver home describing it “as fabulous and the very antithesis of Hollywood.” The actor will next be working in his adopted city on a new Disney film called Miracle. “It’s really about the 1980 Hockey Team and how it came about and Herb Brooks and what his method was.” And as to whether he hopes to work with Goldie again, the actor is keeping that option open. “I always look forward to working with Goldie because she’s a great person to work with.”
– PAUL FISCHER