Entertainment & Arts

Deepwater Horizon star Kurt Russell: 'We don't live in a perfect world'

Kurt Russell in Deepwater Horizon Image copyright Summit Entertainment
Image caption Kurt Russell as Mr Jimmy in Deepwater Horizon

Actor Kurt Russell says his latest film, Deepwater Horizon, shows "we don't live in a perfect world" when it comes to getting oil out of the ground.

In Deepwater Horizon, he plays the real-life character of oil rig manager Jimmy Harrell, opposite Mark Wahlberg as engineer Mike Williams.

When the BP-operated oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, it led to one of the world's worst environmental catastrophes.

Eleven crew members died, and millions of gallons of crude oil gushed into the ocean.

Peter Berg's film, based on a New York Times article about the rig's final hours, highlights the human story behind the tragedy.

At the start of the film there is a scene in which Mr Harrell, or "Mr Jimmy" as he was known to the crew, objects to a man's tie as its magenta colour reminds him of a level of emergency that is "as bad as it gets".

As well as setting up a sense of impending doom, it establishes Mr Harrell as a no-nonsense manager with years of experience.

It is no surprise when he clashes with John Malkovich's oil company executive over the results of a safety test.

"Mr Jimmy was someone who quite clearly really cared about the people who worked on that rig," says Russell.

"He understands that it's not an easy thing getting that oil out of the ground.

"It was a day of confusion, and you see that these decisions are made by human beings, and human beings are flawed, and they are capable of miscalculation."

Image copyright Summit Entertainment
Image caption Mark Wahlberg plays real-life rig worker Mike Williams

Unlike his co-star Mark Wahlberg, who had the real Mike Williams as an adviser on the film, Russell did not get to meet the real Jimmy Harrell.

"I watched his testimony [at the disaster enquiry] a lot. I talked to people who worked with him, I talked to guys who had his job," he says.

"One thing became clear very quickly - there's a type of person who has this job, just as there's a type of person who's the submarine captain, there's a type of person that runs the baseball club - it's in every walk of life, there are guys or women who are just right for the job."

It is a shame, he adds, that when a tragedy strikes, they can be remembered for the wrong reasons.

Wahlberg has stated that the film is a tribute to the people who lost their lives, and Russell says that is one of the reasons he signed up.

"We don't live in a perfect world when it comes to getting oil out of the ground and turned into gas to put in the airplanes or cars that we drive," he says.

"When things go wrong, they go catastrophically wrong. Not just an environmental disaster - people can be killed.

"Is it worth it?" he asks.

"I suppose the answer is, 'What's the alternative?' Stop? If we'd have stopped flying when the first aeroplane crashed I don't think our life would be what it is.

"Maybe there'll be a day when all these things don't happen because we'll learn from them.

"Or did we already learn a lesson that we chose not to pay attention to?

"That's where the drama comes in."

'Good people'

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kurt Russell co-stars in Deepwater Horizon with Kate Hudson, who plays Mike Williams's wife, Felicia

In a career spanning more than 50 years, Russell has played some of Hollywood's most memorable characters.

His roles include eye-patched anti-hero Snake Plissken in Escape from New York and its sequel Escape from LA, helicopter pilot RJ MacReady in Antarctic horror The Thing, and, more recently, The Hangman in Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight.

His other films include Big Trouble in Little China, Tango & Cash, Backdraft, Tombstone, Stargate, Poseidon, Death Proof and Bone Tomahawk.

"I've been fortunate to work with good people," says Russell.

"I have an inner thing that responds to a screenplay - and then you get into the inner workings of the motion picture business. Who's directing? How much money are they going to put into this? Is it going to be cheesy or classy?

"The truth is you weigh all those things. If you feel it's worth it for 50 cents to do this movie, then you go to work.

"If you feel the project isn't spectacular, but it can be worked on and they are going to give you a tonne of money to do that - at some point you go, 'OK, let's do it.'"

Russell cites Jonathan Mostow's desert-based thriller Breakdown (1997) as his personal career high.

"It was a really precise screenplay with a really compelling story.

"I really wanted to do it and the studio wanted to pay me a lot of money to do it.

"It was the easiest decision I ever had to make."

Deepwater Horizon is released in UK cinemas on 29 September

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