By Lindsey Bahr
AP Film Writer
SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Kurt Russell’s shoulder is giving him massive pain, but you wouldn’t know it from his easy smile and hearty laugh.
It’s a gloomy morning in Santa Monica, and the child star turned cult classic hero/heartthrob is working through the new ache of a very old injury. Russell, now 64, tore his rotator cuff back when he was playing baseball.
“It must be a thousand years ago,” Russell laughed.
Surgery wasn’t an option at the time. Now that it’s calcified, he’s got to figure out what he’s going to do about it.
But he’s got other, more pleasant, things on his mind at the moment: Westerns. Over two decades since he played Wyatt Earp in “Tombstone,” Russell’s suddenly got two coming out back-to-back: First time director S. Craig Zahler’s slow-burning cannibals vs. cowboys cult classic-in-the-making “Bone Tomahawk,” in theaters and on VOD Friday, and Quentin Tarantino’s Christmas present to the world, “The Hateful Eight.”
The remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: “Bone Tomahawk” doesn’t really lend itself to a simple logline. What were your first impressions?
Russell: When I finished reading it I thought, what the hell was that? What did I just read? I don’t know what category it fits into. You think of a video store: There’s science fiction, romance, horror, and then there’s ‘Bone Tomahawk,’ and the category is just a question mark with an exclamation point. I think people are wrong to call it a horror movie. To me, horror is ‘The Thing.’ This is graphic. It’s brutal. But there’s no Freddy Krueger here. This is real. It’s like, ‘yep, that’s how you tear a man apart.’ You’re not going to see another movie like it this year. I’ve never done one like this. I’m really proud of it.
AP: And now you suddenly have two Westerns coming out in a season. Was that just a coincidence?
Russell: That was really strange. This movie had been on and off for two and a half years. And then Quentin’s movie just happened. The only reason I look the way I look in ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is because I was getting ready to do ‘Hateful Eight,’ otherwise I probably would have done this with quite a different look. But there’s nothing you can do about that. So it’s like a halfway house. I’m halfway to where I’m going in ‘Hateful Eight.’ That’s full blown.
AP: It is a pretty formidable mustache.
Russell: This is a mustache wearing a man. In “Hateful Eight,” the look and what he wears, it’s declarative. If you just saw him walking down the road, you’d have a pretty good idea of who you’re about to meet. He’s bombastic, brutal, and uncouth. He’s literally a bull in a china shop. When he gets nasty, it stops the room. He’s that guy. He’s got to be that guy. He’s not just an iconic Western lawman. He doesn’t have any compunction. But it turns out he has a sensitive side.
AP: Does it feel like a play, since it’s confined mainly to that one room?
Russell: The structure is, like you would expect, more like a live play. But as Quentin does, he plays around with time. You go back, forth, sideways.
AP: You’d worked with Tarantino on ‘Death Proof.’ What was it like the second time around?
Russell: He was even better. He was completely on his game. I think one of the great things that I’ll take from that experience is that I got to work with Quentin in his prime. All the actors talked about it. We were so excited. A lot of us had worked with Quentin three, four times. Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Sam (L. Jackson). Everyone was saying he was so focused, so on top of it. He really knew what he wanted to do. You never know what you’re going to come out with when you do a movie. You hope for the best, as always. But when Quentin’s at the helm, you stand the chance of having something that’s going to be very watchable. Quentin’s a savant. He just is. He can’t help it. He was born to do this. He loves that he gets to do it, and he has no intention of disappointing.
AP: Your father was in Westerns. You were in Westerns as a kid. Why do you think the genre endures?
Russell: There’re two genres to me where you can talk about the big things. One of them is science fiction. The other one is the Western. What I find interesting is why Quentin is drawn to the Western. He finds that genre works for the things that he wants to see and say — 25 percent of his work is Westerns. And he talks about doing two more movies at least and he talks about one of those being a Western. He’s significantly invested in that genre.
AP: So what is the ‘big thing’ in ‘Hateful Eight?’
Russell: I asked that question, and the answer was great. (Tarantino) didn’t want to answer it. He said ‘I’m addressing it, but I’m not going to tell you.’ It was great. It was the best answer of all. It was, ‘I’m just going to do it.’ It’s the same thing as actors being questioned about the character they play and how they do it. There’s only one answer: Go see the movie. It took us six months to do the movie and a month of rehearsal. I can’t explain to you in three minutes on a television show what it means or what I did. Go see the movie! Hopefully, if I’ve done my job, it’ll keep you fascinated for the rest of your life.