Up Now

My Kurt Russell Meltdown

Mike Pohorly witnesses the controlled rage of an on-screen master.

LATE in the fall of 2002 with the potential of the second invasion of Iraq looming and with 9-11 still fresh in everyone’s minds, I was working my way up the ranks in the Director’s Guild, taking a position as a trainee assistant director on a Martin Short movie, Jiminy Glick Goes To Lalawood.

It was just another day and another 6am start as I arrived for work at our Base Camp – the parking lot circus where all the hair, make-up, wardrobe and cast trailers are parked and the illusions begin. Martin Short had already been there an hour getting on his prosthetic make-up for the role. Jiminy Glick had evolved from Short’s TV show which involved him disguising himself in a 300-pound fat suit and interviewing celebrities. For this film everyone from his Second City “Ed Grimley” days to Steve Martin, Sharon Stone and Forest Whitaker showed up for cameos.

I took the Teamster shuttle to set, which this particular day was the 8th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver. Today’s first scene was going to be Short with New York comedienne Jeanne Garfolo and then interviewing Kurt Russell. Garfolo had been quite vocal about being anti-war in the last few months and she had added peace buttons and peace pins to her wardrobe.

I brought Garfolo up to set, showed her the location of the craft service so she could help herself to a tea or coffee, which she declined, and then took her to the Green Room. She eagerly asked me if I had seen Kurt yet, and when I said no she mentioned to let her know when he arrived. I then heard over my ear piece that Martin Short had “travelled”. He was on his way from base.

I went down to the first floor to “meet and greet” Martin at this new location. After the usual short morning pleasantries we literally squeezed in the elevator together, my not inconsiderable frame wedged alongside his prosthetic girth. I didn’t have much to say, already having used my one “try to relate to the actor” story a previous week about how my high school geography teacher had been a friend of Martin’s at university and had crazy hair like his famous Ed Grimley character and he used to claim in class that the character was based on him. My teacher’s name was Ed Grimwood. At least Martin remembered him.

Martin then repeated what Jeanne had told me: “When Kurt arrives can you let him know that Jeanne is really eager to meet him and just make sure there’s a bit of time where they can say hello.”

The day was underway, and we were onto our last setup of the first scene, and then we were moving on to Kurt’s bit. I took the elevator down to meet Kurt and saw him sitting in the distance at the Four Seasons café with Goldie Hawn who he had been together with for two decades.

I walked over, wearing my headset and with extra walkie-talkie batteries on my belt and carrying production notes – unmistakably a trainee AD. As I approached, Kurt remarked enthusiastically, “Oh look Goldie! Our first autograph seeker of the day!”

My look may have said, “Ha, ha, nice one,” or it may have said, “You really need some better material,” but either way I introduced myself and let the talent know we were ready for him. Goldie said goodbye and went to wander around the hotel shops with the same kind of ditzy loveable zeal of her onscreen characters.

As we walked towards the elevator, Martin appeared from out of the doors and then went directly to Kurt to thank him for coming to the film, and the three of us squeezed in the elevator. Kurt’s no small man himself and the whole experience was now getting a little too close to armpit. Martin let Kurt know again that Jeanne was a big fan and that she was excited to meet him – mentioning that Jeanne had been at The Banger Sisters Premiere and she was disappointed that she never got a chance to say hi to them then.

I exited the elevator and went to find Jeanne to link them up. When I told her she smiled and jumped up to follow. As Jeanne saw Kurt, her smile grew and she held out her hand and I got the impression she was about to start gushing over him. It didn’t quite happen that way.

Out of nowhere, and without warning, Kurt Russell flew into a rage and began pointing his fingers at Jeanne. “What are you going to do about the 4,000? What are you going to do about the 4,000 already dead? What are you going to do about that?”

He was referring to the people who had died in the Twin Towers. As he was yelling he kept pointing his finger at her. I had seen actors fly into rage many times before in my young career, sometimes at me – and each time it happens I just can’t help myself from noticing how crisp the performance is. Not too many people can be that angry yet so contained as actors can. It’s a pleasure to watch.

While this was going on, I just kept thinking and hoping that Jeanne was going to throw it right back at him, going to somehow laugh it off, make a joke or throw it back in his face, at least assume that he was joking. She is a comedienne after all.

But that day she disappointed her audience of one. It was as if the air was sucked out of her and she entered into some kind of weird state of frozen shock. A few seconds prior she had been so eager to kiss the ass of an idol of hers, and now getting torn a new one by said idol. Then Kurt just stopped as suddenly as he started. A window opened where she could have said something

… she didn’t.

Kurt smiled, laughed, and tapped the shoulder of her crumpled figure. “Ahhh, I’m just kidding. I’m just trying to push some of those peace buttons of yours.” To drive home the point he poked one of her actual peace buttons, twice. At that moment over my earpiece I heard set calling for Kurt. I took a step towards him, … “We’re ready for you.”

“Great!” he responded and bounced off to our set down the hall, straight into character. I looked at Jeanne, who was still in shock. “Do you want to have a seat in the Green Room?” She nodded. I walked her there and opened the door and she sat down. “I’m going to get you a cup of tea.” She nodded. When I returned with the tea, I put it down in front of her. Her hands made their way to it, but then they stopped. Her hands were shaking and she looked genuinely shook up. She then opened her mouth. “That guy is an asshole! What a fucking asshole! I can’t fucking believe that!”

I haven’t had the opportunity to work with Kurt but the other stories on set, say that he’s respected highly, coming across as fun, no BS kind of guy. Sure he’ll call people out on things, maybe press a button or two but do it straight up to their face. Isn’t that what we need a little more of in this world, especially in the fake world of Lalawood?

Enjoyed this? Read more of our 15 Minutes Of Fame columns here.