Kurt Russell stars as coach Herb Brooks in Disney’s Miracle, the story of how the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team toppled the seemingly invincible Soviet Union squad to capture the gold medal. He says he took on Herb’s personality when on the Vancouver set, keeping his distance from the actors so that they would get the feeling he was like a coach.
“I figured that the best thing to do was to not involve myself with them at all. That turned out to be very, very right. Their reaction to that was exactly correct,” says Kurt. “They kind of looked over their shoulder. They were looking at each other like, you know, what’s he about? Who is he? What’s his deal? That was just right. There was also a couple of times where I knew Herb to them was the coach. You didn’t question him, he was Herb and you did what he said. There were a couple of times where, unlike me too, I just kind of slammed the hammer down real quickly on a conversation.”
This helped in keeping the new, young actors in line. “These are hot young guys. They’re hot, they’re great athletes, they’re winners, they’ve got big quiet egos, some of them have big egos, they like showing off. The minute you walk into a room of athletes, you feel the power of who’s got what and where. For guys who’ve never acted before, there’s a saying which is really true. You can’t act a king, you can only be treated as a king. These guys were going to have to treat me like Herb. I couldn’t act Herb, I’m just going to be Herb and they’re going to treat me like Herb. That real respect and sense of power that this guy chooses whether I’m on this team or not, I don’t, I had to have that respect and there was just no way I couldn’t. So in being removed, I was cordial and nice, but I was never friendly. They weren’t close enough to me for me to be what I would call friendly.”
Kurt says that in some scenes they had to do improv in order to get things going. “Some of the improvs, they, as you would expect, would start to feel their oats and it would start to go south. You’re losing control of it. That was really good to do those improvs because I would slam it shut. I would get personal and scary, and some of them were like, ‘Is he talking to me? Oh sh*t, am I being fired off this movie? What’s happening here?’ They would get that frightened thing. But what it did was it clearly established who’s who in the room. It made it real simple for them. That was real important to do. It was an interesting experience in that regard. I didn’t feel really comfortable with it at times, but it was for the good of the show, so, there was nothing wrong with it.”
Russell says he tried as much as possible to communite with Brooks for researching the role. “I think if you’re going to play somebody who’s alive, you’re obligated to be as much like them as you possibly can, so you’re obligated to find out as much as you can. I met Herb twice, spent full days with him, talked to him on the phone, had reams of tape and stuff. Would you want to be played incorrectly? Would you want to be represented as somebody you’re not? I think that’s the wrong thing to do.”
With the film taking place over 20 years ago, he says that director Gavin O’Connor and the cast paid attention to every detail. “Gavin was great, Gavin was full of information. [The actors] wanted to hi-five. Quickly, Gavin would say, ‘That wasn’t even their attitude then.’ And he’d talk about it with them. They know enough about it, they’ve seen tape and they’ve seen stuff of hockey. They got into that time period. They understood very quickly that this is not 1999, it’s not 2003, it’s 1979, 1980, a different time. People were different. I think one of the things that is fun about the movie to watch is that for people my age or anywhere near it, we really do tend to forget how different things were then. For young people seeing it, this movie has a good feel for the way it really was. That’s sort of the attitude. Things were the same but they were quite different. Gavin, I think, did a terrific job in being able to get the players to feel comfortable with all that.”
Speaking of that time, Russell got to wear an interesting wardrobe as well. “I wouldn’t have worn it if he didn’t wear it. We talked about that and said, ‘look at some of the stuff this guy is wearing. Are we gonna do that or not?’ Well he wore it. There’s a picture of him in it, what are we going to do? Well, if we’re going to do him, that’s what he’s wearing. Let’s do it.”
Will moviegoers have to know about hockey to enjoy the movie? “I think the best thing Gavin did was to allow me to answer that question and say no. That was the whole problem when you’re doing the movie, is this a hockey movie? No. Okay, how do you not make it a hockey movie? Because this is about the 1980 hockey team. It’s something you can sit and rail on all day long and say, ‘Oh, this is not a hockey movie.’ While the people can sit there who saw it and say, ‘Oh, it is a hockey movie.’ Well why do you say that? ‘Because there’s about 15 minutes of hockey in the movie.’ But the real way to do it is the way he did it, which was don’t deny it. Don’t deny the hockey, because the truth about any sport is sports ain’t about sports. Sports is a microcosm of life, you just have to get the people who are watching your story to understand the detail of what goes into playing.”
Miracle opens in theaters on Friday, February 6.