Kurt Russell's Entire Life Has Been Leading Up to 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2'
By John Boone
Photo: Marvel Studios
"And who the hell are you?" Peter Quill asks the bearded stranger descending from the spaceship.
"I'm your dad, Peter."
In the final seconds of the latest Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailer, a major piece of the puzzle regarding Quill's true parentage was put into place: Kurt Russell plays Star-Lord's long-lost father, Ego the Living Planet, a character teased in the first movie as "something very ancient we've never seen here before." Any other particulars about Ego, though, are rumor, gossip, or well-intentioned but misguided excitement.
"I was doing publicity for Hateful Eight and suddenly, people started saying, 'Is it true? Are you going to play Peter Quill’s father?'" Russell recalls during a visit to Guardians' Atlanta, Georgia, set last year. "I'm like, 'I don’t know what you’re talking about.' I just wasn’t aware of it. And for the first time, this was a character, obviously, that people really wanted. They were interested. They were all very positive. It was nothing, like, 'Seriously? You’re not going to do that, are you?' It was like, 'Whoa, are you going to do that? That's perfect!'"
In the comics, Peter Quill's father is the Spartoi alien, J'son. However, director James Gunn previously revealed he was taking some creative liberties by making Chris Pratt's onscreen dad a sentient planet able to control the molecules around him to shapeshift into whatever he wants to be. Including Kurt Russell, who on this day, lumbers through craft service wearing a leather jacket and some sort of infinity scarf-type situation, a scruffy white beard surrounding the smile plastered on his face. "There’s a lot about the character that we want to keep under wraps," Russell admits. "But the good part is, he’s no letdown! He has a great, adventurous spirit that he shares with his son."
"He's a lot like Kurt Russell," Gunn adds of Ego. "He really is a lot like Kurt Russell. He's a very interesting guy and he's a very thoughtful guy and he's a very gregarious guy. And I think we get to see Kurt Russell in his full glory."
Instead of specific character details, both director and star reference Russell's past work while discussing his involvement in Vol. 2. Not so much the space opera he's already starred in ("I was in a movie that really kind of reinvented all the sci-fi stuff, Stargate. That was a long, long time ago," he points out) but his iconic turns in movies like Big Trouble in Little China and Escape From New York. "Escape From New York, to me, is like one of those Bible movies as a kid," Gunn says. "It's one of the core experience films. So, working with Snake Plisskin has been quite an experience."
"I connected the dots from some of the things I've done in the past. And it's fun to be living now in a time when a younger generation understands what I was doing," Russell reveals, recalling that he's often struggled with feeling misunderstood in his career decisions. "I sat there [30 years ago] and listened to studio heads after watching a performance go, 'I don’t get it. He’s not that good at what he does. Kurt is not really that good at what he does.'" But instead of conforming, he sought out auteurs like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Zemeckis and John Carpenter. "Some of those people that work with you, to watch them go, 'We could go down this other road, where you play this same character four or five times and the studio knows how to sell you...' I don’t want to do that. I can’t breathe if I do that. So now? It's fun. I'm in a period of time where I'm getting to play characters that are really fun."
"When I saw the first movie, I sat down with Goldie and I said, 'Hey honey, I’ve got to watch this movie to see what this is they’re talking about,'" he remembers of eventually screening Guardians of the Galaxy with longtime partner Goldie Hawn. While watching, Russell began to see the influence he unwittingly already had on the franchise. "We sat down and within three minutes of watching Chris, as soon as he kicked one of those lemmings, I went, 'Okay. That's cool. That's my kinda guy. I know where that kind of goof comes from,'" he says with a laugh. "Then I watched a lot of it, and I was like, 'That's three or four references to different things. OK, I'm getting this correctly. I'm reading between the lines right.'"
Playing in Marvel's sandbox has granted Russell access to spaceships and strange alien sidekicks, not to mention an essential role in one of Marvel's top-grossing franchises, but the most rewarding aspect of it all, he says, has been bonding with his onscreen son. "Chris is just a sweet guy. Just a great, sweet guy," Russell chuckles. "He says funny things. We were rehearsing one time and he said, “No, I want you as my dad. I want you to be my father."
Pratt picks up that thread when we sit down with him later in the day. Did he actually ask Russell to-- "Be my dad in real life? Yup, I'm still waiting to hear on that," he affably quips. "'Cause he's got other children, so I think he's going to have to check with them and see if they want a brother. But I'm hoping they all say yes!"
"For me, there are actors that I loved growing up, there's a handful of them, and he is absolutely right at the top of that list and has not once done anything to disappoint the inner child in me who was so excited when he got cast," Pratt adds. "We’re really kindred spirits, I think. Me and Anna [Faris] and Kurt and Goldie, I feel like we are the same in some parallel universe. Our favorite movie is Overboard and Anna's often times been compared to Goldie Hawn, like in The House Bunny. I guess some people have made that comparison with me and Kurt, kind of, like, a blue-collar type of dude. He loves to hunt and be outdoors and he's-- I don’t know. I just really, really love him." Pratt laughs and leans back in his chair. "I'm in love with Kurt Russell!"
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opens May 5. Advance tickets are on sale now.