“I have no idea where Wyatt is.” These were the words I was greeted with as I arrived at our predetermined Sunday afternoon interview destination, which wound up being a sports bar on Chambers Street in lower Manhattan. To be honest, I kind of liked hearing that. It just somehow fit Russell’s devil-may-care attitude he radiates in roles like Willoughby in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! and now as Jason Black in Folk Hero & Funny Guy, which premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. (Russell plays a famous musician who takes his childhood friend, a stand-up comedian, out on tour with him.)
So, yeah, I was kind of hoping this would turn into one of those things where, like a week later, I learn that they finally found him sailing off the coast of Bermuda, or something. Instead, here comes Wyatt Russell, sprinting down the sidewalk. We sit at the bar, where I was nursing a “well, it is the weekend and looks like I might not have to work today” beer and kind of, sort of, try to pretend it’s not mine. But then I gave up and started drinking it again anyway.
Russell is at an interesting time in his career. Three years from now, he’s someone I totally expect to be a legitimate famous person — the kind of person who wouldn’t be able to run down Chambers Street in lower Manhattan without making a scene. We discuss that and if he’s ever pulled that stunt where he uses a fake name in auditions so people don’t know he’s the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. He hasn’t, but he did consider using a fake name when he played professional hockey… and it’s a glorious name.
There’s a great Bruce Springsteen discussion in Folk Hero & Funny Guy.
Yeah, it’s good, right? It’s funny.
Do you share Jason Black’s love for him, or is that all character?
I love being able to portray a Springsteen fan, but I was never the biggest The Boss fan. I’m more a The Allman Brothers guy. Like, that type of music. So I wasn’t as big a Springsteen fan as the character, but I still love him. But the honesty of that conversation was real.
In the movie, your character has his stand-up comedian buddy open up for him and it doesn’t go well. Springsteen won’t use an opening act for the same reasons.
Oh really? Why?
He opened for Chicago once in the early ‘70s and it was a disaster.
People were there to see Chicago.
No way! That’s crazy. But it’s kind of great, in a weird way.
You’re in this weird place in your career where you’re about to be famous.
[Laughs.] We’ll find out.
Things seem to be going well for you. People love Everybody Wants Some!!
It’s good, right?
It has no plot.
None. The plot is literally what you make of it.
I was worried there would be a plot.
Your character is the closest to having a plot.
When I read the script, I had hoped there was no plot because when I was playing hockey, that’s what you do. It’s literally a representation of how you spend time when you’re an athlete in college.
But you can tell things are going well, right?
Yeah, yeah, things are going good. I think because, hopefully, I’ve just tried to do good things with good people. There have been things that are tempting…
There are always projects out there.
So a small role in This is 40 is better than a larger role in something not as good?
Oh, I think so. Not all the time, possibly.
You got to play a hockey player.
I got to play a hockey player. But it’s about being yourself, in certain ways – especially at the beginning. So people can sort of get to know you and your acting style.
You seem to play “cool guys.”
I have a couple things coming up where I play not so cool guys.
Like in the Goon sequel?
Yeah, in Goon, I play the bad guy.
The first Goon is great.
I hope this one does the first one justice. I had never seen Goon before I went out for the part.
You played hockey. How is that possible?
You know why? Because I’d seen Slap Shot and that’s the Holy Grail for hockey movies and hockey players. And you know what’s funny about Slap Shot? At that time, it wasn’t that far off. There were literally dudes coming out with crazy shit on their heads. That league was a circus.
So you assumed nothing could compare.
But Jay Baruchel is so smart and so with it, of course I want to work with that guy. Hopefully, in the future, things I’m in are just “good.” At least for me, when I see an actor I really like and everything they are in are good, whether it’s a big part or not, I trust what they are in is going to be good.
Tom Cruise, he’s going to try and give it his all. Jeff Bridges is a good example. He makes fun movies and makes good choices. Not every movie is perfect, but every time I see Jeff Bridges, I’m like, “God, he’s good.”
Your family aside, is that the actor you admire the most?
I don’t want your dad to read this and be upset.
Yeah, no way. But Jeff Bridges is someone you just look at yourself and you’re like, I don’t know, I’m kind of in that category. I have a beard; he has a beard. People joke, “You look like Jeff Bridges more than your actual dad.” I don’t know, Michael Fassbender is a guy I look up to.
What’s your favorite Fassbender movie?
My favorite Fassbender movie? Shame.
Steve McQueen. It’s so good. That movie is amazing. But even in a movie like The Counselor, which is kind of a shiny movie…
And a weird movie…
And a weird movie, his talent cuts through anything that might be construed as cheesy or weird or whatever.
Have you ever done that thing where you use a fake name when you’re auditioning, so people don’t associate you with your parents?
With acting, it’s literally impossible because of the nature of it. But when I was playing hockey, when I went to Germany to play my first year professionally, I wanted to change my name so I could just go be a hockey player.
What was your name?
It was Namco Steinhoff.
That’s probably going to be in my headline. “An interview with Namco Steinhoff.”
[Laughs.] That would be funny! “An interview with Namco Steinhoff.” But just because I wanted to live one year of my young adulthood with complete anonymity. Anonymity is an important part of my life. I don’t do social media because of it.
That’s probably a good idea.
There’s so much of it anyway. And the self-promotion aspect of it is not what I’m good at.
I don’t think everyone realizes who you’re related to. I’ve heard people who like your work be surprised by that. I think that’s a good thing.
Living your life where the expectation is in your mind, people would know that…
It’s not like you’re out making Captain Ron 2.
No, God no. Although that would be an awesome movie.
I spoke to your father for The Hateful Eight and I mentioned Captain Ron and he quickly changed the subject to Sky High.
[Laughing.] Really? That’s funny.
I actually like Captain Ron.
I love Captain Ron.
That movie has probably lived a lot longer than he ever imagined.
He’s a good example of someone who has had a diverse career. And I don’t know if it’s genetically something I’ve wanted to do or if I’ve just looked up to him. I’ve always looked up to him. He’s my hero. He’s my dad.
Is it weird knowing there are so many people who have strong opinions about your father? Not the same way, obviously…
No, not really. He’s such a normal person. He’s a very normal, down to Earth guy. So none of that ever crept into or childhood.
When you were a little kid, you were in Escape From L.A..
I don’t even remember it. It was like, maybe, oh, I remember it now. It was in a hallway. It’s weird, because my life so wasn’t about that. It would be like walking into this bar. It was what he did. It’s hard to explain. And it’s also hard to explain without seeming like an asshole.
It’s just interesting because you have these credits from when you’re a little kid, then you have a really long break.
You should tell people, “I took a break from acting.”
[Laughs.] Yeah, right. It was literally that day they needed “a kid.”
It looks cool on a resumé.
Yeah, I guess, right? I guess it is cool.
Everybody Wants Some!! and Folk Hero & Funny Guy look better, though.
[Laughs.] Thanks. But I hope it keeps going and people keep liking the things I’m in and building that trust. I think a big thing is not taking the opportunity just because it’s an opportunity. Take the thing that’s right and you’re right for.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.