Kurt Russell explains what prompted him to take his heroic role in ''Poseidon,'' the difference between battling fire and water, and more

Now in his fifth decade in the Hollywood spotlight, Kurt Russell dives into director Wolfgang Petersen’s disaster-movie remake, Poseidon, which opens on Friday. As a former NYC mayor who has communication issues with his daughter (played by Emmy Rossum), he helps lead a group of survivors to safety after their luxury ocean liner capsizes on New Year’s Eve. EW caught up with the veteran star, who offered up a few thoughts on Tom Cruise, Backdraft, and — yep — Captain Ron.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get on board with Poseidon?
KURT RUSSELL My agent called me up and said, ”Wolfgang Petersen… Poseidon… read the script and let’s talk.”

And did you read it?
I sort of felt I didn’t need to read it, to be honest. I wasn’t really that interested in reading it. Back before I signed on to Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise and Cameron Crowe, my agent and I were talking on the phone, and I said, ”Yeah, I want to work with those guys.” And he said, ”Well, do you want to read the script first?” And I said, ”No, I don’t care if it’s one line or a hundred lines, if they kill seven people or what. It doesn’t make any difference. I want to work with those people, I think they’d be fun to work with.” And I felt a little bit that way about Wolfgang…. And then my agent went through the process of just bleeding them dry for as much money as he could possibly get. [Laughs]

This movie filmed over four and a half months in sometimes cramped quarters. Did you bond with your fellow cast members?
They were all fun, and I did actually have a bit of a father-daughter relationship with Emmy Rossum. That’s fair to say, I think.

What about 10-year-old Jimmy Bennett, who plays another survivor? I understand you spent some time coaching him. Is that because you were a child star?
Some child actors are better than others at holding their concentration, and there’s always ways to help kids with their concentration and with what you want them to focus on. And having been through some of that as a young actor I recognized some things; Wolfgang would talk to me and then I would talk to Jimmy and just try to be helpful in terms of trying to get him to focus the right way.

You did most of your own stunts in the film, but the character you play certainly isn’t a stuntman. So how did you practice your stunts so as to make it look like your character was having trouble with them?
The trick is to practice them either so much that you can go back and play the character doing it, or just kind of get a general idea and then just go in there and see what happens. The former is the way to do it safely. The latter is the way to do it unsafely — but perhaps sometimes a little bit more effectively.

So how did it work out?
You do a little of both. [Chuckles] A little bit of both.

How would you compare working with water on Poseidon with working with fire on Backdraft?
Fire’s much more dangerous…. Acting underwater is more difficult psychologically, but physically, the whole experience with Backdraft was much more difficult — and I was a younger guy then, so I could do it.

Had you done a waterlogged project like this before?

Of course, you did do an episode of Gilligan’s Island when you were a kid…
Yeah, Captain Ron doesn’t qualify, and neither does Overboard. [Laughs] Although there was water involved.

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