Father-son duo Kurt and Wyatt Russell had been approached to act opposite one another many times. It was a call they resisted until producers on Apple TV+’s Monarch: Legacy of Monsters pitched them a storyline that would find them playing the same character, decades apart.
“It was an interesting concept, the two of us playing the same character. That was what drew us to it — or drew me to it — for sure,” the elder Russell, 72, says over Zoom in a video call from New York City.
In the 10-episode MonsterVerse spinoff series (streaming Fridays), Wyatt plays Lee Shaw, a soldier in the 1950s who joins forces with a group of scientists tracking the appearances of otherworldly monsters living on earth. After the younger Russell helps found Monarch — a secret organization that monitors the world’s Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms — his father picks up the same character in the 2010s, where Godzilla, King Kong and other creatures are part of our everyday life. Kurt’s updated Shaw is drawn back into the world of monsters when he agrees to help siblings find their father after Godzilla’s 2014 attack on San Francisco.
Created by Chris Black and Matt Fraction, the show is an extension of a cinematic universe that was introduced with 2014’s Godzilla, and includes Kong: Skull Island (2017), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) and this year’s Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.
“Godzilla is just fun,” Kurt says of the character that has been a part of popular culture for 70 years. “But when you’re presented with something like this, you say, ‘Hmm, Godzilla. Well OK, what do we got here?’ When we started talking about it, it was about elevating it as much as we could.”
A lifelong fan of his dad’s work, Wyatt, 37, jokes that he studied his father’s early roles to play a version of him as a young man.
“I watched The Best of Times on a loop for 72 hours,” he says, as Kurt bursts into laughter. “Then I watched Hawaii Five-O where he played an Eastern European tennis player … Then … I was ready.”
But jokes aside, Wyatt – whose mom is actress Goldie Hawn – says that the sci-fi drama afforded them both an opportunity to continue a streak that has been present throughout Kurt’s decades-long career on the big screen.
“I love my dad’s movies. I’m a Kurt Russell fan, but what’s great about his movies is they’re all unique, which is something I’ve tried to do,” he says. “So we wanted it to be as unique as the idea was. That was the challenge and what made it fun.”
Even though they don’t appear in any scenes together, Kurt says he was able to see a different side to his son when he popped by the set to watch him at work and observe his effortless way of communicating with his fellow actors.
“Very quickly, it stopped being Wyatt, and I was watching this actor,” Kurt reflects. “I was a little surprised at how comfortable it made me feel.”
“I didn’t learn anything new from my dad,” Wyatt says of watching the elder Russell in front of the camera. “But what I already knew got accentuated.”
As far as Wyatt’s onscreen work, which includes an ongoing role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as U.S. Agent in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and next year’s Thunderbolts, Kurt says he was able to watch his son behind the scenes on Monarch to figure out how to add another dimension to the character.
“I was able to look and say, ‘I know how to do that,’” he says. “I was able to see the things he and I talked about … and figure out what was going to work.”
Not surprisingly, the Russells’ first careers as athletes helped pave the way for their lives as actors (Kurt was a switch-hitting second baseman, while Wyatt was a goaltender), and it’s a topic that comes up in conversation regularly. Wyatt says sports, perhaps more than his parents’ established resume, helped lay a foundation for his successful transition to the screen.
“Sports prepares you for life … You have to deal with lots of different emotions and personalities, failures and successes and how you put those things in perspective,” Wyatt says. “There’s a lot of things you have to deal with as an athlete that when you get into acting, directly translates. Be on time, be a good team player, know your lines, know your role, and perform that role to the best of your ability. Don’t worry about what other people do and say, you can’t control that. Those all translate to acting.”
Proud dad, Kurt, beams as he looks at his son nodding his head.
“I have nothing to add to that. It was like I was listening to myself in my head,” he says smiling.
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