Wyatt Russell Talks 22 JUMP STREET, Turning Down THE HUNGER GAMES, Playing Professional Hockey and Overcoming Injury, Improv, and Collaborating on Set

     April 7, 2014


When it comes to natural acting talent, you’d be pretty safe to assume that Wyatt Russell’s got it.  The son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn makes a memorable appearance in the upcoming comedy sequel, 22 Jump Street, as Zook, a new bestie for Channing Tatum’s Jenko, which puts Jonah Hill’s Schmidt in an awkward friend zone.

While on set between takes of a meet-cute between Zook and Jenko, our small group of online journalists had a chance to talk to Russell about the film.  Russell talked about his reaction to seeing the first film, using improv on set, overcoming injuries while playing professional hockey, and whether or not the other cast members asked him about his famous parents.  Hit the jump to see what he had to say, and check out 22 Jump Street when it opens June 13th.

22-jump-street-channing-tatum-wyatt-russellQuestion: Obviously this is your first scene in the movie.

Wyatt Russell:  Yes, yes it is. This is when Channing and I meet each other and realize that we might be long-lost brothers, or something.

I kinda got the sense that he’s not the brightest guy.

Russell: Yeah, it’s taken on that feeling. It started off as, “They’re quarterbacks and they’re football guys,” and it’s evolved, or devolved … I don’t know what the right word is … into something less intelligent.

Did you see the first movie in theaters? Were you a fan? Tell us a little bit about how you came to join.

Russell: I did, yeah. I saw the first movie, I think, like everybody, with sort of tempered expectations, nobody really knew what to expect, but it was both really good … not just funny but really good. There’s a big difference from people who are just funny. These guys are … the story that they always talk about, it’s more about that than the comedy. The comedy comes with what the story is. When I saw the movie, it was actually really good. It was actually really funny, really good, sweet and nice. At the end of it, I was like, “They did a really good job with something that’s really, really difficult.”

We saw there was a lot of changing of dialogue and improv on the fly. What are your skills with comedy coming in and how comfortable are you feeling with that side of this?

Russell: [laughs] That’s a good question. Yeah, everything is just absolutely kind of off the cuff. You really have to be based in what the scene’s about. You have to know who your character is, because if you fly off the rails, it could be bad. Before I came in, I’d never done any improv training or things like that, but the things that I’ve been able to do all leading up to this have all been sort of improvisational stuff. When I was young, with my brothers, we’d make movies all the time and that was never scripted. I think that the way that they do it is really simple. Anybody can kind of do it, in a way, where you come up with something that your character’s gonna say, and if it’s line with what your character says and who he is, then it’s gonna be right.

Do you know when you do a good take? When you said something that nailed it?

Russell: Yeah, I think you can feel it. It’s really hard not to laugh in those moments. Or they throw something at you and you think, “Oh, this could be funny,” and as you’re saying it the first time and thinking of it for the first time, it’s actually really funny to you, but you want to get through it so that you won’t have to do it again and recreate the moment. But they’re really good at just letting you sort of do what you’re good at, or what you feel you’re good at.

22-jump-street-channing-tatum-jonah-hill-chris-miller-phil-lordDoes that come more from working with Channing and Jonah, or does that come more from the directors?

Russell: Both. Everybody. They’ll say stuff and yell stuff to say, “Do this or that,” and obviously not everything’s gonna work, but something will land. And then Jonah will say, “Say this,” or Channing, or an AD, or a Grip, you’ll overhear them saying something funny, and you say, “Oh, I’ll say that.” There’s no bounds to what they’ll let you do, which is great. It’s awesome and really fun.

You can’t talk spoilers, but how prevalent is your character in the rest of this movie?

Russell: My character in particular is a football quarterback, and he and Channing create a relationship that … a bromance develops, and sort of how to deal with that side of a relationship and all the stuff that ensues in a relationship, in a bromance, that’s really funny. I think there’s stuff that’s really crazy and really out there, but I think at the same time it really touches something grounded.

Are you the other woman?

Russell: I think I would be. [laughs] I’m not ashamed to say that.

You had a tough decision to make between this movie and The Hunger Games.  Can you talk about how you negotiated that decision? Why this one over that?

Russell: [laughs] It was really hard, like more honored than I think I’ve ever felt in my life, to be presented with a decision like that. It basically came down to, a lot of it was scheduling, a lot of it was other films that I want to do after this that maybe I wouldn’t have been able to do if I would have been doing Hunger Games, because the shoot is so long. It’s an impossible decision to make. I was literally asking friends, asking family, like, “What do you think I should do?” At the end, it just came down to what my gut was, and really some of these other movies that I wanted to do afterwards and probably wouldn’t have been able to do if I had been in Atlanta for that long. But, you know.

You seem pretty comfortable in the gear there. Were you a football player from back in the day?

Russell: Never. [laughs] I was a hockey player. I played hockey forever. That was my life and my job until I got injured, so I get sports and I get the sports atmosphere, the feeling around other athletes, but I never played football.

What level did you play hockey at?

Russell: I played professional hockey in Europe. I played in the German third league and the Dutch elite league.

22 Jump Street - Jonah Hill and Channing TatumTalk a little bit about Phil and Chris’ directorial style versus anybody else you’ve worked with. It seems like, you did a take, and they’d say, “We like this, we don’t like this.” Talk a little bit about how they work.

Russell: It’s really cool. I personally have not had one bad experience. That’s the honest-to-God truth. I haven’t, obviously, been doing it very long, so I’m sure that probably it will at some point, hopefully, if I keep doing it for that long. The way that they’re different is because they’re a team, they can look at each other and they can bounce it off of each other first. They really involve you. Because it’s a big movie, you can feel intimidated. There are moments where you don’t know if what you’re going to say is right, you don’t want to screw anything up. They really involve you, and they make you feel like they hired you for a reason. I can do this. I’m the guy who can do this. As opposed to other people who have it really thought out, just because of the subject matter, sometimes you have to follow much more of a throughline to get across the point of the movie if it’s a more serious subject, or something like that. In this, there’s just so much more room to play.

Jimmy [Tatro]. He’s really funny, too. What they do great is, this is exactly it. They hire the perfect people I think. Jimmy’s like the perfect guy to play this guy Rooster. Really nice guy, too.

Are you saying he’s a dick?

Russell: [laugh] No, no. Just the way he can carry himself on film. The way he looks and the way he is. He’s as good of a dude as he is a dick right there.

Can you speak about making the transition from sports to acting, and how sports has helped you with your acting?

Russell: I was able to go in the room and be like, “Yeah, I played sports.” [laughs] It was hard. It’s hard for anybody when they get injured to make a transition into anything else. I tried other things. You think you’re gonna do it for the rest of your life, you think you’re invincible, you know? I get paid to do this. Why is it ever going to stop? And then it gets ripped out from underneath you and you don’t know what you’re gonna do. I just stayed in my room for four days and just look at the wall and cry. And then you kinda realize, “Well, I gotta do something else with my life. I don’t want to get a real job.” [laughs] I’ve been playing a game my whole life. This was … my family was involved in it, I never wanted to do it, I wanted to stay away from it because it’s what everyone expected I was going to do. I kinda just shied away from it for a long time. Afterwards, I realized I could do this as a job. What it brings: the happiness and joy it can bring your family, friends, fans and people around you, or whatever, and so I decided to give it a shot.

22-jump-street-channing-tatumWas there one personal moment that flipped the switch?

Russell: Yeah. I got hurt when I was 19. They thought I broke my neck. I couldn’t move my hands or feet, and I had a very bad experience. They had to cut off my gear and it was just a bad time. I remember rolling through the hospital and looking up at the ceiling and just thinking, “Okay, so I’m not gonna play hockey anymore. I’m not going to be able to do this anymore. What am I going to do? Maybe I’ll direct? I’ll do something like write?” I didn’t know. Then later, I had almost a severed nerve in my neck, I had a severely pinched nerve in my neck … The feeling came back and everything came back, but after that, I realized that I’m not going to be able to play hockey forever, and I’m not going to be doing this, maybe if I’m lucky, til I’m 35, and after that I gotta do something.

So I started watching a lot of movies. I wanted to direct, but then I realized that directing … getting a movie off the ground is like impossible, so I’ll try something else. That was the moment for me that flipped the switch.

Do you have any physically challenging scenes in this movie, like big action scenes or anything?

Russell: No, I don’t have any big action sequences, but a lot of working out. A lot of working out. Just a lot of physicality.

Do we see your character solely on the field or in the gym? Or do we see him around campus, too?

Russell: Yeah, parties, everywhere. He’s just doing everything with Channing a lot. Most of it’s with Channing. This is just the football stuff, but there’s a lot.

It sounds like Schmidt might be a little jealous.

Russell: I think maybe. [laughs] Possibly.

Was it an easy bond with Channing and Jonah?

Russell: They’re the nicest guys in the world. It was so easy. You get to see them and like, the minute you meet them, they put you at ease because they’re such nice people. Channing and Jonah both have been … I think they understand when new people come into a situation, especially like this, they did it before and they were successful. You’re coming into something where like, I want to be good, I want to be good for these guys. They hired you to do a job. I want to be as good as I can, I don’t want to disappoint them, you know?

How long did they wait before they asked you about your dad?

Russell: I don’t know, not really. They haven’t really asked. Well, they’re bigger than he is now. [laughs] He’s gonna be asking me about them.

22-jump-street-channing-tatum-jonah-hill-jimmy-tatroObviously there’s a really strong connection between your and Channing’s characters. How do you navigate the levels of bromance so that it doesn’t get uncomfortable?

Russell: [laughs] Very good question! I don’t know. You just go at all levels and see what they put in the movie. That’s what I think it is. Given every choice you can possibly think of, Phil and Chris know what’s funny more than anybody I’ve met in my recent history. They just know what’s funny. So it gives you confidence to know that I can go crazy, say whatever I want, and it’s probably not going to be in the movie, or they’ll take that little piece of it and they’ll put it in the movie and make me way funnier than I actually am.

How’s your time been in New Orleans?

Russell: Never been here before. Went to school in Alabama for two years when I was playing. It’s really a special city. I can understand why people dig it so much and want to move here, be here, experience the culture, and stuff.  Really different. I’ve never been in a city like this. You have really conservative folks and you have really unbelievably like the most liberal people I’ve ever met, living right next door to each other and working in the same environment. It’s really cool that way. Like Magazine Street. I was living in the Quarter at first at the hotel. Went and did that whole thing. Quarter got old, you know. When you’re there for three or four weeks, you can’t just do it every day. So I moved across the way a little bit to the Garden District to get that feel. Awesome. And the way I guess it’s recovered has been very remarkable.

Okay, the arm guard: Dialogue or hypothetical plays?

Russell: [laughs] Yeah, I’m like, “Uhh meat … Q-tip … sandwich.” I’m like that dumb I can’t remember … no, they’re actually plays that we’ve practiced so that I don’t forget and I can run the offense. 

For more from our 22 Jump Street set visit:


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