Kurt Russell has enjoyed a storied career in both movies and TV, but he just can’t seem to escape the King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley .
Kurt Russell’s acting career has been weirdly intertwined with portrayals of Elvis Presley. Surging to fame in the mid-1950s, Elvis Presley sits proudly alongside The Beatles and Michael Jackson as one of the most successful and influential music artists of all time. Releasing classic hits such as “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock” while racking up 31 movie credits, Elvis’ popularity endures to this day, and has translated into a posthumous Hollywood obsession. Aside from the usual biopics, Elvis has been depicted as a murderous ghost (True Romance), a supernatural-battling impersonator (Bubba Ho-Tep), and even a singing Penguin (Happy Feet).
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One man who knows Hollywood’s Elvis obsession all too well is Kurt Russell. Part of an acting dynasty, Russell’s acting career spans more than half a century, and includes memorable starring roles in The Thing, Escape From New York, and Tango & Cash, striking up long-running collaborations with iconic directors John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino. Kurt Russell’s most frequent collaborator, however, has actually been the King of Rock n’ Roll.
The odd recurrence of Elvis Presley in Kurt Russell’s filmography begins with his very first feature film role as a young child actor. In It Happened At The World’s Fair, Elvis plays Mike Edwards, who falls in love with Diane Warren’s nurse character. To get himself “treated” by the object of his heart’s desire, Mike pays a young child to kick him in the leg – a young child played by an uncredited, pre-teen Kurt Russell. 16 years after punting him in the shin, Kurt Russell was cast as Elvis Presley for John Carpenter’s Elvis biopic, charting the performer’s early childhood and rise to international fame. Russell received much acclaim for his performance as the hip-swinging icon, and Elvis was also a family affair, as Vernon Presley (Elvis’ father) was portrayed by Bing Russell, Kurt’s real life dad.
Kurt Russell would reprise his Elvis role in 1994 (not that you’d necessarily notice) thanks to Tom Hanks’ Oscar-winning Forrest Gump. While Gump is still a child, a guitar-playing lodger comes to stay at his house, and the two become firm friends, with the charismatic stranger taking dance move inspiration from Forrest walking in leg splints. This lodger, of course, is revealed to be Elvis Presley, who is played on-screen by Peter Dobson. Rather than using Dobson’s lines, however, Forrest Gump‘s Elvis voice is provided by an (again) uncredited Kurt Russell, marking his second turn as the King, and yet another dalliance between them in one form or another.
While perhaps not strictly an Elvis performance, Kurt Russell put on his blue suede shoes again in 2001, this time for 3000 Miles To Graceland. Starring alongside Kevin Costner, Russell plays Michael Zane, who pulls a casino heist with 4 other criminals during a Las Vegas Elvis convention. Naturally, the gang dress up as the man himself to hide in plain sight. Not only does 3000 Miles To Graceland require Kurt Russell to pull on the Elvis costume for a third time (let’s assume he was appropriately dressed while recording lines for Forrest Gump), but Zane purports to be Elvis’ illegitimate son. Then, in the closing montage, Russell performs “Such A Night” as the King, once again inhabiting Presley’s persona.
Kurt Russell’s cinematic relationship with Elvis is mostly just an amusing coincidence, but it’s also a product of circumstance. Russell was born early enough to star alongside Elvis, but recently enough to be the perfect biopic actor when the man himself passed away. The actor has also spoken about tossing a baseball with the King while filming on It Happened At The World’s Fair, perhaps giving him a unique insight into a man who is continually overshadowed by his legend in the modern era. With the right look and an uncanny impersonation in his locker, 1979’s Elvis solidified Kurt Russell as a go-to Hollywood Elvis Presley.
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