Kurt Russell and Son Wyatt on Hesitating to Work Together, Bringing ‘Different Energies’ to ‘Monarch’ and Needing a ‘F—ing Break’  (2024)

Kurt and Wyatt Russell never talk about acting … like, ever.

Despite being part of what many would consider an acting dynasty, they don’t talk about it. It’s a process they fully commit to and do the preparation for, but at the end of the day, it’s instinct. Kurt likens it to his days as an athlete, as well as family advice he’s received.

“It’s something that’s in your head,” he tells Variety. “Back in my baseball days, you would study a pitcher, you would learn everything about him. As my dad used to say, understanding the situation and the count and the inning and what everyone is thinking and doing, all goes into your head. But when you step into the batter’s box, you just look for something white.”

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So, it was new for the father-son duo to sit down and talk about acting when they signed on to share the role of Col. Lee Shaw in Apple TV+’s “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.” It wasn’t their first time taking on roles playing the same character in two stages of life. When Wyatt was 12, he briefly played the younger version of his dad in 1998’s sci-fi thriller “Soldier.” But “Monarch” was a different beast.

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Kurt Russell and Son Wyatt on Hesitating to Work Together, Bringing ‘Different Energies’ to ‘Monarch’ and Needing a ‘F—ing Break’ (3)

The series is the first live-action television extension of the MonsterVerse franchise. But it shifts the focus from the monsters to the human element on the ground and through time, jumping from the 1950s to the aftermath of the franchise’s first installment, 2014’s “Godzilla.” It charts the creation of the shadowy agency Monarch, and how it scientifically tracked Titans before being warped by government intervention. The younger version of Shaw is a U.S. Army colonel assigned to escort Keiko (Mari Yamamoto) as she begins Monarch’s work. The older Shaw is a man reckoning with the cost of that work.

But Kurt and Wyatt weren’t immediately sold on the idea.

“The first reaction was that these are like UFC brawls between Godzilla and Kong, or whatever,” Wyatt says. “So no, it wasn’t a ‘yes’ right away.”

They were admittedly intrigued by the show’s human-first priorities, but they wanted Shaw to be beefed up. “When we first read it, it was just an idea and Shaw was really the fifth or sixth character in the show,” Kurt says. “This was a really interesting idea to play the same role, but the character had to be integral to the 10-hour story.”

Kurt Russell and Son Wyatt on Hesitating to Work Together, Bringing ‘Different Energies’ to ‘Monarch’ and Needing a ‘F—ing Break’ (4)

For Wyatt, signing on for Shaw was also about timing. Growing up with Kurt Russell as his dad certainly casts a shadow, and standing on his own as an actor took time. So, he had to be sure it was the right time to test that theory.

“The stress was from wanting it to be good and thinking that my dad and I are actually going to do this thing together,” he says. “I’ve avoided it my whole life because of comparisons. But now it’s 14 years in, and I’m positioned well in my own life and in my career. This could work pretty well. But it didn’t take away the stress of like, ‘This has to be really f*cking good, otherwise, what’s the point of doing it?’”
Together, they decided it was worth the leap. Then they had to discuss acting because, as Kurt puts it, they had to “hook the past and the present” for Shaw.

Kurt notes as actors, you need to create character boundaries over the course of shooting a 10-episode show. “Yet, you are shooting Episode 3, and no one is really positive of what is in Episodes 8 and 9. So you don’t want to set things up that are going to be difficult to stick to, characterwise. Wyatt and I also have different energies. It was incumbent upon us to find the character, so we could play this guy at different ages, and that was kind of fun.”

Wyatt adds: “I’m considered a little more laid back than my dad. I’m considered lankier, I’m languid and maybe goofier. Then I had to tell myself I couldn’t rest on those instincts because that’s not what he would do.”

It mattered how the audience met Shaw as well. Kurt isn’t in the premiere, which finds Shaw in a bar fight. “If you meet someone in a story in a barroom brawl, that says a lot about him,” Wyatt says.
One of their biggest insights into the character happens in Episode 6, when Shaw is at a party with Keiko and government officials, including Shaw’s boss, who watches the pair dance.

“As he is looking at him, he says, ‘The lad looks absolutely presidential,’” Kurt says. “Wyatt and I talked a lot about how he has that potential. So, while you meet this guy in a barroom brawl, he is someone who could end up on the course to high-level politics.”

Kurt also wrote a line for Episode 2 that helped inform the character. As he flees decades of Monarch’s imprisonment, the older Shaw takes a moment to get his bearings behind the wheel again before proudly declaring, “If it floats, flies or runs on four wheels, I’m your guy.”

“That’s who he is,” Kurt says.

Playing Shaw at different ages naturally means Kurt and Wyatt never share the screen. All the work they did together was before the cameras ever started rolling, and they filmed at different times around the world. So, out of curiosity, Kurt occasionally visited the set when Wyatt was filming to see what he did with Shaw.

“What was really funny was I would watch the scene, and it was 95 percent what I would expect and five percent what I would have never thought of,” Kurt says. “But what was more fun for me was to watch him after and in between takes. That was fascinating because we are almost identical in the way we work. I couldn’t believe that. I’d watch his concentration turn on and turn off and watch him be inside himself thinking after something and then watch what he did next. I would assume what he was thinking and then watch what he would do with it. In that regard, that was pretty spooky. It was like looking in a mirror.”

“That is osmotically learned,” Wyatt adds. “I saw that on sets growing up. It’s not necessarily genetics. You just have a good teacher in my dad.”

On the flip side, Wyatt was a little more hesitant to visit Kurt on set.

“I’ll be honest — for me, I needed a break,” he says, drawing laughs from both of them. “You want to talk about method acting. That’s my process. Sometimes, you just need a f*cking break. And I have always known he’s really good. So, once we got it rolling, it doesn’t help me to get bogged down with too many things I can’t control.”

The trust they put into each other paid off. The series was well-received by MonsterVerse fans and casual viewers alike, earning a Season 2 renewal. But for all the work to imbue Shaw with a timeless authenticity, “Monarch” is still missing something.

“I didn’t really get to work with my dad,” Wyatt says. “I would still like to do that. This wets the whistle. It would be so much fun to be in a scene together.”

Kurt Russell and Son Wyatt on Hesitating to Work Together, Bringing ‘Different Energies’ to ‘Monarch’ and Needing a ‘F—ing Break’  (2024)
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