Wyatt Russell

By
Photography Brian Higbee

Published April 18, 2016

WYATT RUSSELL IN LOS ANGELES, FEBRUARY 2016. PHOTOS: BRIAN HIGBEE. STYLING: LAURA MAZZA. GROOMING:  ANNA BERNABE/ART DEPARTMENT USING LEONOR GREYL AND TATCHA SKINCARE. 

In Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater‘s love-letter to his college years at the beginning of the 1980s, Wyatt Russell plays a character named Willoughby. A new transfer to the baseball team, Willoughby is a pot-smoking pitcher with an impressive lung capacity and a penchant for Carl Sagan. Compared to his teammates—played by Glen Powell, Tyler Hoechlin, and Blaker Jenner, among others—he comes off as calm and at peace with himself.

Now 29, Russell grew up in the film industry. His parents, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, are both successful actors, as are two of his three older siblings, Kate and Oliver Hudson. But Russell never intended to follow in his family’s footsteps. Rather, until an injury in his mid-20s, the L.A.-native was a professional hockey player. When he transitioned to acting, he did so quietly, and over the last five years, he’s been working his way up with roles in both indies like the horror Sundance flick We Are What We Are and more conventional blockbusters such as 22 Jump Street.

Here, Russell talks to his friend and co-star in the upcoming film Table 19, actor Craig Robinson.

CRAIG ROBINSON: [singing] Waiting on Wyatt, what about you? Waiting on Wyatt, what about you? Here he comes!

WYATT RUSSELL: [singing] Craig Robinson. What’s up dude?

CRAIG ROBINSON: Wyatt Hawn Russell. Or should I tell the people what I call you, WHR. [laughs] Because I’m so clever.

RUSSELL: What are you up to man?

ROBINSON: Man, I’m in New York City.

RUSSELL: Me too. I’m in Brooklyn.

ROBINSON: We could do this in person! What if we ran into each other? That would have been crazy.

RUSSELL: That would’ve been insane. What are the chances? I guess the chances are good.

ROBINSON: What are the chances of two actors being in New York? Can I tell you a confession?

RUSSELL: Give me the dirty deets.

ROBINSON: I might be the last person that did not know that your parents are some of the coolest motherfuckers that walked the Earth. I didn’t know your parents were your parents.

RUSSELL: You didn’t?

ROBINSON: No, I did not.

RUSSELL: The whole time?

ROBINSON: This is how long it took me. The other day when I asked you, “What’s your middle name?” and you said “Hawn” my thought was, “Oh, that’s interesting, that’s a good place to start for an interview.” It still did not hit me. Then they sent an email and there were these sample questions, “Ask him about his parents” and it all came rushing back. Everything made sense after that.

RUSSELL: “All the dick things you did—every piece of shit move you’ve ever made—make sense.”

ROBINSON: No, that is not how I felt. I do appreciate self-deprecating humor. But here’s my thing, and it’s really just one question.

RUSSELL: Hit me with it.

ROBINSON: [sings] Hit me with your best shot… After the first time that you saw Escape from New York, did you ever talk back to your father again?

RUSSELL: [laughs] The first time that everybody else saw Escape from New York was the first time they realized talking back to him was a bad idea.

ROBINSON: But you already knew?

RUSSELL: Far before any of that. My dad, in the best way possible—not in an intimidating way, but with the physically intimidating qualities that every father has—can truly be scary. The only time you saw that side of him, the raw side of him, would be in a moment when you truly were the one that screwed up. You fucked up and now there’s hell to pay. My siblings and I grew up with a pretty good moral compass because of him and my mom. I would consider my dad a pretty patient guy, but there was no tolerance for spoiled behavior.

ROBINSON: So he made it clear that you all have this charmed life? When did that make sense to you?

RUSSELL: Pretty much out of the womb. Anybody that lives in America and has parents with a moderate amount of wealth can be spoiled. I see it everyday—kids who are just running their parents over to get what they want because kids are smart, and they know they can manipulate their parents. But my father got it from his father—they never lost the value of the guy that came over here with $92 from Maine and lived in his friend’s family’s attic in Pacoima for two years. When he had kids, he didn’t all of a sudden let us forget that that’s where we came from. It wasn’t like we came from generations of wealth and fame; everybody in my family is pretty much self-made. I remember he would do things, like we’d go to a nice restaurant and if you started to act out—I’m talking at two or three years old—he would say, “If you keep doing this I’m going to take you home” and if you did it again, he’d take you home. He’d actually do it. You didn’t get a second chance.

ROBINSON: You had a second chance. [laughs]

RUSSELL: But that was it. I blew it.

ROBINSON: I respect that.

RUSSELL: My mom was the same way. There was an appreciation: “You’ve been afforded the opportunity to have all these great things, don’t blow it.” It wasn’t just pressure to not blow it, it was, “As a human being, understand the position you’re in and appreciate these things.” That’s what my parents drilled into us as kids, a true appreciation of what you have. Also, I don’t get things from my parents. When I stopped playing hockey and started acting, the last person I was going to ask for help was my dad. He’s the king of being like, “I don’t know. It’s good work if you can get it. Good luck.” [laughs]

ROBINSON: [laughs] He told you that?

RUSSELL: Totally. Look, I’m not an idiot, I know that even getting into the industry, when I go out and do those meetings, people are interested in that—they want to know what it’s going to be like, so they want to meet with you. But then if you’re no good at it, or if there’s a sense of entitlement, you’re thrown away like anybody else that’s no good at it. It is my worst nightmare as a human being to be seen as somebody who is taking advantage of a position.

ROBINSON: Wyatt. Wyatt. You’re not running for president. I remember when Private Benjamin came out.

RUSSELL: I wasn’t born yet.

ROBINSON: You weren’t even thought of, young man.

RUSSELL: I wasn’t even a twinkle in their eye.

ROBINSON: Not even a freaking, “Hey one day, right?” This a lady coming out in the 1980s leading a comedy. I remember that. She was the it-girl.

RUSSELL: Yeah. She was special in that she was never a comedian. My mom was never a stand-up comic; she knew how to transfer comedy into storytelling, and that’s what made her so special. She’s going to do a movie pretty soon with Amy Schumer. It’ll be her first movie in 13 or 14 years. I can’t wait.

ROBINSON: Wow. Spoiler alert.

RUSSELL: Yeah. I’m super excited. She’s going to have an awesome time. She has a foundation that she’s been working with kids for about 12 or 13 years. That’s her passion, what matters to her, but this is her foray back into film.

ROBINSON: That’ll be nice. Do you guys have Thanksgiving and stuff with each other?

RUSSELL: Oh yeah. We do all that stuff.

ROBINSON: Because we knew each other over Thanksgiving and I don’t recalling getting an invite…

RUSSELL: [laughs]

ROBINSON: Wyatt. Moving on. We worked together on a movie called Table 19 starring the fantastically fabulous Anna Kendrick.

RUSSELL: The genius of Lisa Kudrow.

ROBINSON: The brilliance of Stephen Merchant.

RUSSELL: The organic ease of comedic timing of Craig Robinson.

ROBINSON: The super sexiness of Tony Revolori.

RUSSELL: And the charm, wit, maturity, level-headedness, and majestic qualities of Amanda Crew.

ROBINSON: And the sassiness of June Squibb.

RUSSELL: Oh, that’s right. The sassiness of June Squibb. I had two sleepovers with June Squibb.

ROBINSON: Only two?

RUSSELL: I couldn’t convince you to stay. [laughs]

ROBINSON: I know the two times you were over there because my apartment was directly above hers so I heard you. Here’s my question, in that movie you had some very meaty monologues. You had more than a couple. This is one of those dramedy movies—it’s quirky. It’s not all comedy and not all drama. How do you prepare? There are a hundred million ways to skin a cat, what’s your way?

RUSSELL: I literally take the page and I read it and read it with not much emotion. When I get on set and I have awesome people to work with such as yourself, you’re going to give me something much different than whatever I could have imagined. So instead of reading it with somebody else as if I’m doing it, I just memorize the lines and some of the beats. Whatever the emotion is on set is going to be the emotion I’m trying to reflect in the monologue. Acting is reacting.

ROBINSON: Right. Absolutely. That’s interesting that you don’t rehearse with anybody else. I’m the complete opposite. Rehearsing with somebody is like the difference between punching a punching bag and then being in the ring with somebody.

RUSSELL: I like to be able to go in knowing my lines, but still be malleable. At first I’d go in and I’d have my lines ready, because I was so used to auditioning and when you audition, you have to give your version of what that scene is going to be. You don’t have time to talk with the director, and the other person reading it is not reading it to make you better. [Now] if someone’s around me, I’ll definitely have them read the lines with me, but I don’t act them out. Then the day we’re rehearsing, I’ll sort of feel out the scene a little bit.

ROBINSON: You give them 40 percent and then you’re like, “It’s all Wyatt time.”

RUSSELL: If you blow it all out at the beginning you lose the spontaneity of what it can be.

ROBINSON: You are a retired professional hockey player.

RUSSELL: I played [in Germany] on the Groningen Grizzlies and the Timmendorfer Strand Axa, which was a team owned by a bank.

ROBINSON: Who named those two teams and are they still employed?

RUSSELL: I honestly don’t think so.

ROBINSON: Well, there you go. How long did you play hockey?

RUSSELL: I played professional hockey for three years. I played junior hockey in Canada and then I played college hockey at University of Alabama in Huntsville.

ROBINSON: How much did you weigh?

RUSSELL: 195. I’m a string bean. I’m, like, 172 [now].

ROBINSON: So you’re just down 23. Look at that. Did you see how quickly I did that?

RUSSELL: Math skills. But you were a teacher. You were molding the minds of our youth.

ROBINSON: I was telling someone that yesterday and I couldn’t believe it as I was saying it. I was inside of a classroom. I told people what to do and they paid me for it. [laughs]

RUSSELL: Now you’re molding the minds of our youth in a different way—the power of entertainment.

ROBINSON: I asked God a long time ago to make me a vessel for the kids, and that’s what happened. Okay, hockey. Tell me the story of when your fans looked in your window.

RUSSELL: Do you remember me telling you that?

ROBINSON: I remember everything you’ve ever told me Wyatt.

RUSSELL: Oh no. It was after a final game and it was in Germany. I had an apartment that was right across from the arena. We went out and partied, we had all the fun you have when you win a championship, and I went back to my house.

ROBINSON: You won a championship?

RUSSELL: We won a championship.

ROBINSON: Did you score?

RUSSELL: I was the goalie.

ROBINSON: You were goalie and you won a championship? That means you did some shit that night, homie. Yes. We won’t dwell on it. You were a championship goalie. You went to parties. You drank. Germany knows how to party.

RUSSELL: Yeah they do. A little too much for my liking. I went home and I fell asleep around six. I woke up at nine am to people standing on my lawn and on my second floor balcony banging on my door to get in. I’m in my boxers and they have signs and chocolates and pretzels, so I let them all into my apartment and they all hung out and had a little party. I was a little freaked out that if I didn’t let them in, something bad was going to happen. They found out where I lived through my Facebook, which is why I don’t have Facebook anymore.

ROBINSON: Yes, get rid of Facebook; don’t just erase the address. [laughs]

RUSSELL: Yeah. [laughs]

ROBINSON: You could have been murdered! But that says something about you man. You didn’t just let them in because something could have happen if you didn’t, you let them in because that’s just who you are. You’re open arms. The funniest thing to me in 22 Jump Street is when you and Channing Tatum were lifting weights.

RUSSELL: Channing is a beast. I got pretty in shape for that movie, but he’s a total beast. For for that, he was like, “Why don’t we put some real weight on?” and I was like, “Yeah totally. That’s a great idea!” By the end of it I was dying.

ROBINSON: But how many takes did you do?

RUSSELL: We must’ve done 12 takes. My arms were shot, but it’s my first big movie, so I’m not going to say anything to anybody. Then I had to wake up the next day and go to football practice for the seven seconds of football that’s in the movie. There’s literally seven seconds of football in the movie and I think I had to go to football practice for about three weeks— running plays and all that stuff. Then I watch the movie and it’s one cut of me rolling out to the right and tossing one pass.

ROBINSON: Must I remind you that you are a world champion goalie?

RUSSELL: That was in the past…I’ve just lost it. I’m like a big bag of milk now.

ROBINSON: So Everybody Wants Some!! with Richard Linklater.

RUSSELL: He has a pet pig.

ROBINSON: Okay, let’s start with that. Did he keep it on set?

RUSSELL: Not on set but on his farm.

ROBINSON: What’s Richard like? He’s got a pet pig.

RUSSELL: Well, Rick—

ROBINSON: Oh, excuse me, my bad. Rick.

RUSSELL: Richard. [laughs] Richard is the sweetest guy you’ve ever met in your whole life. He also has a zen quality to him in terms of letting the river flow wherever the river wants to go that is unlike any director I’ve ever met. He sets the guidelines for the river; he builds the base of the river. Then he lets the dam open, the water flows, but he doesn’t make the water go a certain way.

ROBINSON: That is so poetic. He’s going to get that water into the well.

RUSSELL: Exactly. [laughs] It’s going to create a well of emotion within the audience and power them like a dam powers an aquifer. That’s like vaguely what it was. He directs you in the true sense of the word. He has an idea laid out in the script structurally of where the story is supposed to go, but you, the character that you created, is going to be a part of that process. He’s not going to force a square peg into a round hole. It’s a collaborative process and it becomes a very amorphous process when everybody is involved—it’s 12 people in this instance trying to make a team work.

ROBINSON: Tell me about your new house.

RUSSELL: I got a house in Austin, Texas because it’s the greatest place in the world. Have you ever been to Austin?

ROBINSON: I’ve been to Austin several times and the energy there is unlike anywhere else. I have a special kind of love for Austin, man.

RUSSELL: It is special. For me, the speed of the city is just right. I moved from L.A. to Vancouver to play hockey, and since then, I pretty much haven’t lived in L.A. So it’s the perfect in-between; there is a lot of stuff to do and concerts and culture, but everything is 15 minutes away. If you want to go to the most beautiful waterfall you’ve ever seen, McKinney Falls, or if you want to go to hill country, it’s half an hour away.

ROBINSON: What’s your rush Wyatt? Why do you have to get to the waterfall so fast? Enjoy the car ride. Talk to the person you’re with. What else do you want the people to know about Wyatt Hawn Russell?  

RUSSELL: There’s a part of me that is trying to figure out how to do the things that I want to do in film and television and how to balance it. I’ve lived my whole life really fearful of celebrity. I don’t enjoy it. Anonymity has been an important part of my life. There’s a big difference between, “I love your work” and that thing that people get in their eyes when they think “celebrity.” When someone says, “I love your work,” it feels good. When someone looks at you like you have no idea what they’re going to do next, that doesn’t feel good.

ROBINSON: I call it the celebrity muscle. If you don’t work a muscle, it’s going to freak out on you. So that’s what happens. People don’t see a celebrity every day and so when they do, they freak out. You have to take control of the situation and know they’re coming from a loving place. Don’t forget that when somebody does come up to you and say they  “like your work,” that’s a connection that you made.

RUSSELL: That’s what I mean. You have to know how to deal with it. You can invite [celebrity] into your life or not. The reason that I don’t do Instagram or social media is because, by not doing that, I don’t invite that into my life. My brother Boston is a religious scholar. He’s getting his Masters in Buddhist Theology and a minor in Hinduism. I think he’s going to go back to school now to get his Psychology degree. That’s what I like to consider as true things to be proud of, to celebrate.

ROBINSON: You talked about Buddhism and said that Richard Linklater was zen to you. Your father was honorable and your mom has these moral characteristics. What keeps you centered?

RUSSELL: People like you Craig. I’m not joking! Life is a lucid dream. Sometimes you need to take a steam for 20 minutes and be alone with your own thoughts—don’t be afraid of your own thought process, let it wash over you. If it makes you feel bad, then you feel bad, but figure out why and get to the core of things. Usually at the end you come out feeling with a sense of at least you faced it. Anytime I try to run away from a problem, never does it end up answering itself. Here’s my theory on life: It’s just a series of insecure moments—we’re all so deeply insecure—but it’s about how we deal with those insecurities moment to moment.

ROBINSON: Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Wyatt “Here’s My Hand” Russell. [laughs] Let’s hang and get barbecue.

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! IS OUT NOW.  CRAIG ROBINSON IS AN ACTOR AND FORMER SCHOOLTEACHER. ROBINSON’S RECENT CREDITS INCLUDE THE FILMS THIS IS THE END, GET ON UP, AND THE FORTHCOMING  MORRIS FROM AMERICA AND TABLE 19, AS WELL AS THE TELEVISION SERIES BROOKLYN NINE-NINE AND MR. ROBINSON.