Interview with the Star of "Miracle," Kurt Russell

Channeling Herb Brooks on Film

Kurt Russell Miracle
Kurt Russell in a scene from "Miracle.". Walt Disney Pictures
"Miracle" is based on the true story of the 1980 United States Hockey Team, coached by Herb Brooks and made up of college players from throughout America. No one besides Coach Brooks and his hand-picked players suspected the team was capable of pulling off one of the most inspirational victories in Olympic history. When the US team defeated the mighty Russians, the victory on ice united a nation. To this day, Al Michael's refrain of "Do you believe in miracles" still brings up vivid memories from those who watched the games and were totally mesmerized.

Knowing they'd be focusing on Coach Brooks, the producers and director Gavin O'Connor were determined to find the perfect actor to fit the role.

"I wanted Kurt to play Herb from early on in the process. I was very much aware of Kurt's athletic background, his passion and knowledge of sports and, of course, I was a fan of his work as an actor. What he's done in this film is astonishing," says O'Connor.

INTERVIEW WITH KURT RUSSELL ('Herb Brooks'):

You did a really good job in this movie, and sometimes you don't always get good scripts.
Listen, when you're inside my skin and you walk down the street, you'd be surprised at what people like and what people don't like. Movies that I've done which are some of my favorites, sometimes people won't talk about them at all for a long period of time and they'll talk about other movies and vice versa. And movies that I didn't particularly think were great, people will walk up to me and say, "Oh, ‘Captain Ron’ is my favorite movie of all time." I just bought a boat last year, and I was on the boat and I pulled into the first marina and everybody was looking at me.

And I wasn't Kurt. I was Captain Ron. Everybody had that tape on their boat. I very soon discovered that “Captain Ron” and “Overboard” are the two tapes everybody has to have on their boat! Flyers, pilots – “Executive Decision” is one of their favorite movies of all time. They love that movie! Then there are cult movies like “Escape from New York,” “Escape from LA” and “Big Trouble in Little China” - the movies are all different.

Some people are just crazy about “Tombstone,” so everybody has something they like and I understand what you're saying. It's just when you're in my skin, you'd be surprised.

All I ever try to do is something I do think that I'd like to do, that I'd like to do as an actor, and you hope that the movie works out. There's a lot that goes into making a movie and in this one, I think the director did an absolutely terrific job. I'm really glad people are responding to this movie the way they are, because I do like it myself. I love it. I think it's really an emotional movie. And I think that, in my estimation in fact, this is not one of the better screenplays I've worked with. It's one of the better outcomes of a movie that I've worked on. It just is. This movie, more than any movie I can think of that I've been involved in, is emotional. It makes you feel something and I think that translates into looking at it from your point of view and saying that must be a good script. And it is a good script. It's no “Tombstone,” it's no “Silkwood,” it's no “Vanilla Sky,” it's no “Tequila Sunrise.” These are crackerjacks, and over a period of time, those still hold up as good screenplays. But those movies I don't think hold up to this movie in any way in terms of the emotional feeling that you get.

How tough is it to play someone real without mimicking them?
If mimicry is what you're going to do, then the approach is something that I actually don't much understand. I don't understand mimicking that [well]. I don't really know how to do that. What I do know how to do is watch people. I perceive why they are the way they are, why they behave the way they do, and I can do that with anybody. To certain degrees, I have that ability. I know that, I have known that all of my life. I had it when I was five. I'm good at seeing people and getting inside their head and saying, "I know how he feels right now. I know how that person feels and I know why they feel like that."

PAGE 2: Kurt Russell on Research and Work Strategy

ADDITIONAL “MIRACLE” CAST INTERVIEWS:
Nathan West / Eddie Cahill and Jim Craig / Billy and Buzz Schneider

Additional “Miracle” Resources:
“Miracle” Photo Gallery
“Miracle” Trailer, Credits, and Websites

Why did you decide to separate yourself from the ‘team’ during shooting?
That was actually very simple. It had nothing to do with emulating what was going on. Here's the thing: I know when I first started out, one of the things that struck me, and I remembered this, I would get to know the person, the actor, in between takes, off the set, whatever. When I was young, I'd go watch them work and I'd find myself watching them work. I go, "Oh, this is Bob playing the character now." I'd be in the scene and there'd be certain times I'd start watching him be the character, and sometimes I'd kind of giggle - I'd be out of it. I remember some guys had to say, "Pay attention now." And I said, "I just thought it was funny. I was watching you be that guy, you're so not you." And it took me a while to say, "Oh, this is what this business is." It was a kind of surprising thing. That sounds incredibly simple or naïve, but when you first are in front of the camera as a young person, it's what happens to a lot of people.

I realize these guys have never worked before. They've never worked as actors. They've never been in front of a camera, on a set. You'd be surprised at all the insecurities you can get as soon as you realize [and] start to think about things. "Well, this is gonna be on film. This is gonna be there forever, so oh, man, if I f**k this up, oh no." Suddenly you're like a centipede that can't move.

I didn't want to have them ever feel, any of them go through the process of getting to know Kurt and then watching Kurt be Herb and have any sort of confusion there, or any kind of changeover to make. I said it would be dangerous. They're going to have enough to deal with. So I thought the best thing to do would just be stay away from them.

And then backing that up, this is the relationship that they had with Herb, so it can't hurt. Progressively, then I saw how that did very much work for us. So as the movie was shot - because of a lot of the hockey stuff was sort of in order - then I began to spend a little more time with them and be a little more me in between takes. By the end, they understood and so the last, I guess it was about two nights to go, I had them all come into the room and we had some beers and I said, "Yeah, it's good to see you." But they understood. They really did understand by then.

How did you go about your research?
I met Herb a couple of times. I spent really good, full days with him and then I had lots of tape to watch and a lot of people to talk to. I talked to all these guys, and all of them had a different point of view. Jimmy Craig, his take on Herb is completely different from a lot of the other players because he was treated differently by Herb. He's a goaltender, you treat them differently. That's part of the reality of that game. So I had all that information and any time there was a question, it could be answered. I am really am sorry that Herb couldn't see it, but I would love to know what he thinks of it.

I know the other players have been really gracious to me and said in their opinion, that was what Herb was like.

It was very important for me to get to meet Herb and begin to understand who he was and how he was. It's a lot of fun for an actor to have the opportunity to go play someone. It's confining, because the minute you see someone, you have your sort of vision of what they appear to you as. That may not be how they think of themselves. I know I come off differently than I think of myself. I'm always surprised by what people say about me. “What are you talking about? That's nothing like me.” Then my sisters or Goldie or somebody says, "Yeah, it is." And I have to realize that, and I think that's true for everybody.

PAGE 3: Kurt Russell on the Problem with Sports Movies and Being a Grandpa

ADDITIONAL “MIRACLE” CAST INTERVIEWS:
Nathan West / Eddie Cahill and Jim Craig / Billy and Buzz Schneider

Additional “Miracle” Resources:
“Miracle” Photo Gallery
“Miracle” Trailer, Credits, and Websites

What's the problem with most sports movies?
The problem I've generally found with the writing in most sports movies, and it's why I haven't done them, for the great and most part, they are written from the fan's point of view and not written from the player/coach point of view. This is what Ron Shelton and I talked about when we were talking about getting together to do a baseball movie, which he ended up doing called “Bull Durham.” The great thing about baseball, I said to him, is baseball is the only sport played by men for women. All other sports are played by men for men, that I know of. Because [with] baseball players, we'd just as soon have 50,000 women in the stands. We couldn't care less if there was a guy there. But football is a gladiator game, they want men [chanting in the stands]. Baseball players like to look good in their uniforms and run around the bases and say, “How's it going?” They want to be cool. That's what they're about. And Ron wrote it from, which in that regard was the point of view that you really need to understand baseball, the point of view of the woman who is with the ballplayer. That's the point of view to write a baseball story, which is why “Bull Durham,” I think, is one of the best made.

I don't read them often and I don't like doing them often because I know it's #1) written from a fan's point of view, #2) directed from a fan's point of view, and #3) and the most disgusting of all, played from the fan's point of view.

What's good about this movie is that you've got a guy who's directing it, who's a really good football player and is not a fan of hockey. He has a player's understanding. You've got a coach who has a player’s understanding, [who] played baseball professionally, who's not going to look at it as a fan.

And you have the guys playing the parts [who] are not actors that want to be hockey players. They're hockey players that were cast in a role that the director believed he could work with them as actors. So that's why the movie looks credible.

Is hockey an emotional sport for you?
Yes, it's on an emotional level for me. I have been involved deeply in sports for most of my life, either as a player or as a father with a son who's a player. Last year, it was so exciting when we were in the playoffs and we went into double overtime games. When you lose a double overtime game, it hurts. You know the effort they put in and you know how badly they want it. That's what I think is great about sports, it's an unknown outcome, and therefore you get excited. You don't know what the next moment is going to provide. I understand a lot of people don't care for sports that much in that way. But if you can tell a story, any story that shows just how hard somebody is going after something, the whole story can be about a kid building a kite that has to fly for 60 seconds at a certain altitude to win a little pin, but if you love that kid and you see how much…if you surround the story with his efforts, then we all do that thing which is the best in movies, we relate.

I think the reason this movie does have that kind of emotion is that I think we've all tried for something so hard that we can relate to that feeling. That, a lot of screenplays don't have.

Congratulations on becoming a grandfather and having the baby named after you. How do you feel about that?
I was very surprised and by surprised I mean, I had never really thought about that. In never having thought about it, it made me say, "Well, that really does mean a lot to her, that really does mean a lot to me." And it meant a lot for me about Chris, as well. It's one of those things in my life I never said, "Gee, I hope some of my kids put my name with…" I never thought it about. It just was not a thought, so it was a complete surprise and I'm beyond being honored. It means the world to me. I'm just really happy about it.

ADDITIONAL “MIRACLE” CAST INTERVIEWS:
Nathan West / Eddie Cahill and Jim Craig / Billy and Buzz Schneider

Additional “Miracle” Resources:
“Miracle” Photo Gallery
“Miracle” Trailer, Credits, and Websites