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Russell does it his way, as he has for 50 years

By McClatchy News Services


LOS ANGELES » Someone once told Kurt Russell that his acting career "looks like it was handled by a drunk driver."

And Russell's reply?

"I said I can't deny that," he said, laughing.

The boyishly handsome 63-year-old stars in the con caper comedy "The Art of the Steal," which is on video on demand and opens in theaters Friday. The film also stars Matt Dillon and Jay Baruchel.

Russell, whom most baby boomers first saw as Jungle Boy on a 1965 episode of "Gilligan's Island," may not have made movie choices that fit the straight and narrow, but many of his parts have been memorable.

He was a heartthrob star at Disney in such films as 1969's "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes," earned an Emmy nomination for "Elvis," received a Golden Globe nomination for "Silkwood," achieved cult status for his role as Snake Plissken in "Escape From New York" and "Escape From L.A.," and proved to be a first-rate comedic actor in "Used Cars" and "Overboard," in which he appeared with Goldie Hawn, whom he had been with since they met on 1984's "Swing Shift."

But he's played by his own rules. When he was at Disney, Russell decided to pursue his dream of playing minor league baseball and act in the offseason. He played second base for a few minor league teams, including one owned by his father, actor Bing Russell's Portland Mavericks, until an injury ended his career in 1973.

After the cancellation of his 1976 NBC Western series, "The Quest," Russell bought property outside of Aspen, Colo., and he looks back at that as a pivotal decision.

"I said I am either going to live the lifestyle that I want to live or I am going to talk about it," Russell said recently at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "It was a very important lesson for me because it informed the rest of my life.

"I knew at the time I could guide hunting or teach skiing or raise Appaloosas, and whatever acting jobs I got would be gravy," said Russell, who still has a home with Hawn in the Colorado resort town. "After that, ‘Elvis' came along and redirected my life. But I didn't let the love of doing movies get in the way of trying new things."

And Russell has stuck to his convictions.

Since making the Quentin Tarantino "Death Proof" segment of "Grind House" in 2007, Russell has turned much of his attention to making wine.

"I have loved wine all my life, especially pinot noir and chardonnay, and I have always thought about making it," he said.

His Gogi brand — Gogi is Russell's nickname — of high-end pinots and chardonnays sells at the Wine Saloon at the 1880 Union Hotel in Los Alamos, Calif. His stepdaughter, Kate Hudson, and her fiance, Muse lead singer Matt Bellamy, also sell their rose wine there.

But Russell has been stepping away from the vineyards to make a few movies, including "The Art of the Steal." Writer-director Jonathan Sobol always had Russell at the "top of the list" of actors to play Crunch Calhoun, a world-weary attraction at third-rate motorcycle daredevil shows. Though he despises his slick brother (Dillon), who made him the fall guy on a heist gone wrong in Poland, Crunch is forced to join him and the old gang of thieves.

"He just seemed like the perfect fit for the role and embodied a lot of the same characteristics I had envisioned for Crunch Calhoun," Sobol said. "I think there is a certain swagger and bravado that the character has I always found Kurt hit in a lot of his roles."

So did Russell.

"I looked (at the script) and said, ‘This is a reason to get out of the vineyard and go to work. It looks like he is putting together a pretty cool crew,' and he did. It was a fun thing to do."

Russell is also prominently featured in "The Battered Bastards of Baseball," a documentary about his father's colorful baseball team directed by his nephews Chapman and Maclain Way, which received good reviews at Sundance in January.

And he also has a part in "Fast & Furious 7."

Susan King, Los Angeles Times

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