In a parallel universe, Kurt Russell the actor doesn’t exist.
His classic movie roles, like John “The Hangman” Ruth in The Hateful Eight and Snake Plissken in Escape From New York, never happened or were played by somebody else. All those awesome eyepatches, mullets, and shaggy mustaches never made it onto celluloid.
Instead, you’d know Kurt Russell as a baseball player. Up until his mid-20s, that’s the career Russell had his sights on. He played on Minor League teams like the Portland Mavericks over four seasons, and was well on his way to a Major League career. The only reason he got into acting at all was, ironically, because of baseball. At 11 years old, he went to his first audition, for a movie called Safe at Home, just for the chance to meet his heroes Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
But fate had other plans for Russell. This month, instead of taking the field for baseball’s opening day, he’ll be out promoting his newest movie, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which hits theaters May 5th. (He plays Ego the Living Planet.) He won’t be catching any fly balls or hitting any homers this spring, like he dreamed of doing when he was a kid. Instead, he went with his plan B: He became a multi-millionaire movie star.
We called Hollywood’s reigning king of cool to find out if the choice is still bittersweet.
Field of (Broken) Dreams
When baseball season starts up again in the spring, do you ever get pangs of regret?
I used to. Up until I was 30 or 31, I had a hankering every spring. When you spend as many thousands of hours fielding ground balls and taking batting practice, it’s how you identify yourself. It informs not just your body, but your mind. I still wanted to play.
Acting wasn’t as fulfilling?
They’re just completely different things. They’re not even like apples and oranges. They’re like… a race car and a TV remote control. There’s no connection.
Do you not get a similar adrenaline rush from making movies?
Sometimes. When you start cranking into a character, and you can feel the other actors go, “Yeeeah, that motherfucker is bringing it, here we go.” That’s when it gets good. You get that same thing in baseball, when the intensity starts heating up, and you and your teammates are really connecting, and you think, “Yeah, bitch, let’s go. Let’s play ball.” It’s a great feeling. It’s the crackle.
Why’d you give up playing pro-ball?
I tore my rotator cuff.
During a game?
Well, no. It was a couple of things. I was using my arm more than I should. I took a hundred ground balls before every game. And then one night I was out celebrating, had a few too many, and blew out my arm playing air hockey.
You can do that?
You can if you play for three hours straight and throw your arm into it way too hard. I found out it was over from a doctor who had a terrible bedside manner. He examined me and said, “Aren’t you an actor too?” I said, “Yeah, yeah.” And he said, “Well, you’re an actor all the time now.