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Friday, May 2, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Kurt Russell Picks Flicks Based On Story Over Role

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service

While Mel Gibson shepherds his own projects, Bruce Willis shoots bigger bullets and Harrison Ford finds slimier villains, Kurt Russell elects another method of staying on top of the movie machine.

He elevates the story above character, he says. And that technique has done all right for the former dimpled-darling who was a child star when some of those other guys were still figuring out how to get a date.

Russell isn't always the "star" of a movie. In fact, he says, "In my personal career I've slid along somewhat hidden in that I choose roles in which the movie's not about HIM. I never cared that much that I play a character that the movie's about. I've done them. But I prefer to read good stories. Often I'm more taken with the story than I am with character."

It's true. It wasn't until he snarled as the caustic Snake Plisken in 1981's "Escape From New York" that he actually became a full-fledged, high-stakes movie star.

Russell's often worn the second-banana skin in films such as "Backdraft," "Silkwood," "Swing Shift," "Unlawful Entry" and "The Best of Times."

"It's a different style of acting than I think a lot of actors do," says Russell. "I think it's unheralded for the most part," he says. "But I don't do movies to be heralded. I do movies to make money and movies to entertain."

In his latest film, "Breakdown," he'll probably make money and he sure does entertain. A thriller written and directed by relative newcomer Jonathan Mostow, the movie casts Russell as an ordinary Joe whose Jeep breaks down in the desert and whose wife (Kathleen Quinlan) vanishes while going for help.

Mostow wrote the picture with Russell in mind. He took the script to old-pro producer Dino DeLaurentiis ("Serpico," "Death Wish," "Conan the Barbarian.") It was supposed to be a low-calorie project with a budget of $3.5 million - which is about the cost of an average TV movie of the week.

But the savvy DeLaurentiis hasn't helmed 600 movies for nothing. He grasped its potential and said, "Let's try to get Kurt Russell. If we get Kurt Russell, we'll make it for $14 million."

Mission accomplished.

Russell, who's the 14-year partner of Goldie Hawn, shares an extended family with her: Her son, 20, and daughter, 18, from her marriage to Bill Hudson, his son, 17, from his marriage to actress Season Hubley, and their son together, 10-year-old Wyatt (who is already on his way to becoming an actor, thinks Russell).

At 46, Russell figures he's lucky to have them. His family keeps him from "going too deeply over one edge or the other," he says.

He's already in training for his next foray in "Soldier." But this one will take even more effort than "Breakdown," which had him clinging to the side of a speeding truck and dangling perilously over a raging river gorge.

Russell has quit smoking. Chomping his Nicorette, he says, "After working out for five months with smoking, I realized I'm just not going to make it for this next picture. So I have to quit."

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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