It’s a ringing endorsement for the Gen-X/Millennial generation that Rene Russo has faith in us. In the ‘90s, Russo was one of the women who paved the way for female icons with roles in Lethal Weapon 3, In the Line of Fire, Outbreak and Ransom. Fans like me grew up watching Rene Russo, Linda Hamilton, Geena Davis and Sarah Michelle Gellar do the same things Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson and other men did, so we don’t even question it today.
Our conversation about Russo’s new movie went there. Russo reunites with her Tin Cup director Ron Shelton for Just Getting Started. Russo plays Suzie, an executive who comes to overhaul the retirement home where Duke (Morgan Freeman) is king. It gets wild when the mob discovers Duke, a long lost witness in hiding, and comes after him. Suzie and Duke team up with Duke’s biggest rival, Leo (Tommy Lee Jones) to escape. Just Getting Started opens Friday, December 8.
Monsters and Critics: Being back on a golf course with Ron Shelton, did it feel like old times?
Rene Russo: You know, when he sent the script to me, I thought, “Oh, this is so cool” because I love Tin Cup. I never had more fun working. I love Ron Shelton. I love how he writes for women. I didn’t even know it was Morgan and Tommy at the time. I just knew it was Ron Shelton. I didn’t have to open the script to know that I would want to do something with him because he loves women and he writes beautifully for women as well as men. I think he understands the complexity of both men and women so it’s always fun. it’s like a romp and he’s so cool, just to be on the set with him. I was really happy that this script came to me.
M&C: You worked with a lot of directors twice. Richard Donner, it was the same franchise, but also Barry Sonenfeld and Wolfgang Petersen. Do you make an impression on directors?
RR: That’s a really good question, Fred. I guess so. Lethal Weapon obviously was a franchise but yeah, I did work with Wolfgang. That was really wonderful. I don’t know if I do or not. I was probably just right for the role.
M&C: What was it like working with Romeo, the pup?
RR: Okay, so I love dogs and I have a little rescue dogs. I never thought I’d like little dogs, right? I always have big dogs. Romeo was so sweet. He was really sweet. At first I thought, “Oh my God, we’re going to work with a dog and there are a lot of scenes with me and that dog. That’s got to be tough.” For the most part, he was really good. There was one time when he couldn’t jump in the van and I had to be thrown in the van and he had to come after me. That was a tough day but other than that he was pretty good.
M&C: Did the car chase and gun fight feel like being back on Lethal Weapon?
RR: Oh, that’s really funny. Did it? You know what? I didn’t think about that. Now in retrospect, I guess so but I actually didn’t think about that. Yeah, definitely.
M&C: You’ll probably never live in a retirement community like this because I imagine you and your husband are successful enough to remain independent. Did you become familiar with these sorts of communities?
RR: No, actually. I’d never been to a retirement community but I can imagine that if you are older and you don’t have to worry about raising kids or paying the rent, that you actually have time to chill and you’re with a lot of other people, the same thing goes on there as it would in high school I would suspect. I don’t think we ever change. I think it’s always about love. It’s always about competition. If you have that time and you’re with those people and all those people just have time on their hands, that’s probably where it ends up.
M&C: You’ve said in other interviews you would have preferred to do more comedy in your career, even though you have Get Shorty and Tin Cup. You actually have the serious role in Major League, but now are you getting to scratch your comedy itch with The Intern and this?
RR: Yeah, a little bit. Frank and Cindy I love because that was full on out. She was a crazy, crazy person but I love romantic-comedies. I think they’re great. So this was an opportunity. I usually, as a girl, play the straight one, usually, which is fine. I don’t mind that but it is fun. I think it’s more fun to shoot a comedy than a dram, in terms of off set.
M&C: The straight man or straight woman is still a very important role in the structure of comedy.
RR: Sure, sure, absolutely so I like that. I think that’s cool. You’re right about that actually. When I think about old ‘30s, ‘40s comedies, very often the woman is the straight woman.
M&C: Thor became a comedy after you died in the last one. Wouldn’t that have been fun to be funny in Thor?
RR: That would’ve been fun. That would’ve been a lot of fun. You’re right, it did. I think they’re going to go probably more and more that way. It’s great. Chris is so good. He’s really good at comedy and who doesn’t like to laugh. That would’ve been fun, yeah, but moms can’t be that funny. I’m a mom for God’s sake.
M&C: Your serious action-thriller roles may have kept you from doing comedy, but I remember in Lethal Weapon 3 it was played as a surprise that you could fight. It’s not a surprise anymore. We expect women to kick as much butt as men. Is that good progress?
RR: Yeah, it’s interesting. You’re right. I think I was one of the first that could point a gun and kick ass. That’s true and it’s not a surprise at all anymore. I guess if you like to see women fighting as progress. [Laughs] Strong, capable women, yeah.
M&C: It’s also significant that Mel Gibson, Riggs, is not threatened by you. He celebrates that you’re his equal. Are men still catching up to that?
RR: Right, yes, probably. It depends on the generation. I think your generation, younger generation, think differently in terms of women. I guess it would be a generational thing in some ways. Mel was cool off and on [set]. He would always give me good lines and sometimes they were the better lines. He was very generous in that way as an actor. He wanted me to shine and that was cool. It was fun to work with someone who was that giving.
M&C: Are you saying my generation is more progressive?
RR: Yes, I think your generation is definitely, are you kidding me, definitely more progressive. You guys are going to save our asses. We’re depending on you because my generation, the ‘60s, there was a lot of hope out there. I’m not saying we didn’t make progress for women. We did. We inched our way, but you guys now need to take it home.
M&C: I hope we can.
RR: You will. I trust you. I believe in you.
M&C: All I can do is write, so when there’s a movie with relevant themes, does writing about those themes help?
RR: Absolutely. That does. It absolutely does. I know a lot of people that went to movies when they were sad. I was super unpopular in school. I was made fun of every day so I understand that feeling.
M&C: We all turn out okay.
RR: And look at the business you’re in now. Your business is going to go on for a long time.
M&C: When you were doing a movie or two a year, were you pursuing those really aggressively?
RR: You know what? I don’t know if I’ve ever pursued. You know what’s interesting? My husband’s a director now and he will get calls from actresses. I never did that. I thought, “Good for them. That’s the way to go. You’ve got to knock on people’s door and you’ve got to be aggressive.” I don’t think I ever was aggressive which is interesting. So no, I don’t think I was.
M&C: Is it true you worked at a movie theater as a teenager?
RR: I did.
M&C: Okay, I had that job too only I worked there when your movies were playing.
RR: That’s such a trip! You’re kidding. That’s so wild. Where? What theater?
M&C: Annapolis, MD., the Harbor IX theater. It’s still there amazingly.
RR: That’s crazy. Okay, what did you do in the theater? Behind the counter or usher?
M&C: I did everything. I started as an usher, then tore tickets, then learned how to sell popcorn and tickets. By the time Tin Cup came out I was a projectionist. Then I became an entertainment journalist.
RR: You know what? That is a wild story. That is so cool. That’s probably why, right? You loved it. Did you watch the movies. Could you sneak in and stand there and watch them a little bit?
M&C: I was allowed to come back after work and see them but even before I worked there I would go see every movie that came out. I’m glad you had that reaction because I wanted to ask if you ever had that full circle moment where people have your old job now showing movies you’re in?
RR: I do. I do think about that. I started out selling tickets and then I was a concessions girl. I’d go in there and look at the movies. I was there with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That’s an old movie with Robert Redford and blah blah blah. Yeah, it’s really interesting. I think about that often.