Elizabeth Banks’s star-studded dark comedy, Cocaine Bear, is fast approaching. Since it was first announced, the buzz for Pablo Escobear’s big-screen debut has been nonstop. Not only is the premise pretty “crazy, wacky, out-there,” as star Keri Russell describes it, but it also boasts a pretty phenomenal cast. In addition to Russell, the movie stars Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, Matthew Rhys, Kristofer Hivju, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, and the late legacy, Ray Liotta.
Inspired by true events that took place in the mid-eighties, Cocaine Bear gives a blow-by-blow account of the unbelievable mishap… only, with a lot more blood. When a drug runner drops an outstanding amount of cocaine on the aptly-called Blood Mountain in Georgia, a 500-pound black bear ingests a brick of it before it can be picked up. Coked up, the bear goes on a rampage, leaving a trail of gore in its wake. Unlike what actually happened, if this bear is going down, he’s taking dug dealers, tourists, and cops down with him.
Before Cocaine Bear’s worldwide release in theaters on February 24, Collider’s Steve Weintraub spoke with Russell about this insane movie. During her interview, Russell shares what ultimately convinced her to do the movie, how her The Americans co-star and husband, Matthew Rhys, got involved, and what about the script appealed the most to her. She also tells us how Banks leaned into the absurdity of the movie, what it was like playing the most normal role amid the chaos, her favorite kills, and shares a little about her upcoming Apple TV+ series, Extrapolation. For all of this and more, check out the interview in the player above, or you can read the full transcript below.
COLLIDER: You’ve done a lot of stuff in your career. If someone has never seen anything you’ve done before, what is the first thing you’d like them watching, and why?
KERI RUSSELL: Oh my God, that I was in? Oh, God. I think The Americans is pretty great, mid to the end of The Americans, I would say.
Yeah, I’m a big fan of that show, and speaking of The Americans, it seemed like it was a prerequisite of being in The Americans to be in Cocaine Bear.
RUSSELL: It kind of was. That was something that Banks said. She just tried to get as many characters, as many actors from The Americans as she could. Three is pretty good.
Is this serious? Because it really is like a reunion.
BANKS: No, she knew Margo [Martindale] from a project they’d worked on together, and then when she brought it up to me, I got a text from Margo saying, “Are you doing this movie?” And I was like, “Are you doing this movie?” And we called, and she was like, “Yeah, I’m doing this movie. And I was like, “What? Now I’m definitely fucking doing this movie.” Because I was like, “Oh my God, the thought of Margo being the park ranger,” I was like, “Oh I get the whole thing now.” To me, she’s my favorite thing in the whole movie.
Then Matthew [Rhys], we were getting ready to go to Ireland, and Matthew knows Banks from many, many years ago, and he said, “Who’s doing the part, that part at the beginning?” And I said, “I don’t know.” He goes, “Text Banks and tell her I want to do it.”
And Elizabeth was like, “Yes please!”
RUSSELL: She was like, “Okay.”
So this is one of those projects I can’t believe it got made.
RUSSELL: I know!
It’s just one of those where I’m like, “I just can’t believe it.” But what was it like for you actually reading the script for the first time and seeing what they were going to be going for?
RUSSELL: I just thought it was that crazy enough. Do you know what I mean? Also, we were at the height of COVID. Like I think we’d probably been through about a year and a half of the worst of it, of the beginning, and it just felt so intense and everything felt so crazy and heavy, and to read something like this, I was just like, “It’s gotta work.”
It just felt like such an escape and such a romp, and Liz had an idea for it, you know, she had a total tone idea that she was going for. When she told me that she was getting Margo, I was like, “Okay, I see what you’re doing, and why not?”
Movies have been around for over 100 years, and it’s very rare to make a movie, through a big studio, where you’re doing something that has really never been done before.
RUSSELL: I think that speaks to Liz. First of all, Elizabeth has such an easy confidence in her. She loves this business. One of the first things I remember her from is Wet Hot American Summer, her playing that trashy girl making out with Paul Rudd. She just been doing it for so long, she’s such a pro, and she’s sort of unflappable in that way. She believes in herself, and that’s a really good quality as a director, and I just feel like she had a vision for it. She loves the gore and the craziness of those kind of movies, so she did not shy away from the gore at all, and I think that’s what makes it this crazy, wacky, out-there movie.
I think in a time where we’re all kind of not going to the theater as much, this is one you can totally go sit with a ton of people in a crowded room and laugh your ass off and be scared and grossed out. And it’s just like a total fun ridiculous ride, and I think that’s what she wanted to create, and it’s what she’s perfect for.
I agree. There are some amazing and nasty and bloody kills in this movie. Obviously, so much of this is going to be CGI – when you’re watching it for the first time, which was the kill that you were like, “Get the F out of here.”?
RUSSELL: Oh my God! So many. Margo and Jesse [Tyler Ferguson] and I all went to a screening room, and there [were] so many. I mean, Jesse’s death is pretty amazing. Pretty amazing. And we were just crying, screaming laughing. Margo’s face being drug on the asphalt, pretty great. The ambulance workers being thrown from the ambulance. Amazing. I mean, we were shrieking and clapping and laughing and crying.
That’s pretty much me in the theater. I was howling. Again, I couldn’t actually believe how many… I haven’t spoken to Elizabeth yet, but I am curious how the MPAA was like, “Yeah, go for it.”
RUSSELL: That was always her tone, that was always her desire, and she loves those kind of movies. So I think she’s just like, “No, I want it to be gory and gross and scary and totally ridiculous.”
In the movie, you are basically playing everything straight while the craziness is around you. So what is that like?
RUSSELL: Actually, mostly you’re just trying hard not to pee your pants in that pink jumpsuit because that would be very visible. It was helpful to be the straight person because Jesse, who’s so good off the cuff, like Liz, they’re so good at one-liners, and they were improving all those jokes. Those were just coming out, and Margo was really good at that too. So in a way, it was helpful to be the straight man and just let them riff and kind of be their watcher.
I wanted to talk about something else. I’m a big fan of Scott Z. Burns and you are part of his upcoming Apple series. It deals with the environment, and could you talk about it and what you drew you to the project?
RUSSELL: Yeah, Scott Burns is so talented, he’s a friend of ours and wrote this incredibly beautiful, moving anthology. It’s a limited series, and what he was trying to do, which is huge, is to personalize what’s happening to get people to see that it’s going to affect all of our lives. He’s just written such beautiful stories. They’re so moving, and about relationships and animals, and our life. It seems like it’s set in the future, and from the time we made it to now, it’s happening. I think he made a very poetic, beautiful take on that.
Every episode is sort of its own little world, and I’m a very small part in this episode that takes place all in India. I think I speak the only English in it, but it’s really just epic and beautiful and, important.
Cocaine Bear rampages into theaters, worldwide, on February 24. For more on the movie, watch our interview with Elizabeth Banks.