Filed in Career Movies

Interview: Keri Russell on the “outlandish ridiculousness” of Cocaine Bear and why she had to say “Yes!”

Cocaine Bear, inspired by the 1985 true story of a drug runner’s plane crash, missing cocaine, and the black bear that ate it, is a wild dark comedy that finds an oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists and teens converging in a Georgia forest, where a 500- pound apex predator has ingested a staggering amount of cocaine and gone on a coke-fueled rampage for more blow … and blood.

Ahead of the film charging into cinemas from February 23rd, Universal Pictures invited Peter Gray to speak with one of the film’s ensemble cast members, Keri Russell, to discuss the “big swing” of joining such a project, how being a mother has affected her film choices, and the darkness of a pandemic informed her to say yes.

Hello Keri.

Hey, how are you doing?

I’m very well, it’s lovely to talk to the babysitter from Honey, I Blew Up the Kid!

(Laughs) Thank you.

We’ll get to the serious side of things for a movie called Cocaine Bear, but does being a mother affect the the role that you are taking on?

Does it affect? Only, for me, only in the fact of where it shoots and the length of the shoot. I think I’m selfish enough still, that if it’s something I really want to do, I’m not going to think, like, “What if my kid sees this?” I’m like, this is what I want to do. But I do plan for my family. I try to work, if it’s going away, I try to make it in the summer when my kids are out of school so they can come with me. There’s certain things I care about, like there was a film recently about midwives and the birth going wrong, and I didn’t want to do that because I had a midwife with my pregnancy. There are certain things that I don’t want to (do), but mostly it’s just the art of it. If it’s interesting and they’re cool people I’ll usually want to do it.

But, who’s going to say no to Cocaine Bear? I mean, it comes across your desk, you’re like, “Yes please!” During, and actually since COVID, I don’t think I’ve done something very serious or sentimental. I think I’ve been drawn to the lighter, brighter stuff. The world has already darkened.

And you’re playing a mother here, but you are also a character dealing with a bear wanting to tear people to shreds in the woods…

You just gotta show up and go for it. I mean, there’s no half-assing this, like you’ve got to really just show up and scream and go big or go home. Everything about this movie is a big swing. Even for Elizabeth (Banks) to take this on, (when) she told me about it I was like, “This is so crazy (and) it could go so wrong,” but my in was, first of all, just the ridiculousness of it, and her telling me about it at the height of COVID when the world was so heavy and intense… it was such a good time to think about doing something like an escape. And just like pure fun craziness. Then when she told me Margo (Martindale) was going to do it, who I love and adore from the past, I was like, “Oh, that’s where she’s going with this. I see.” So I knew it’d be grounded in something, not just complete wackiness. It was such a good group of people and such a good time. It was really what I wanted it to be (which was) a total release and relief from COVID and everything that had happened.

There’s so many outlandish scenes in the film. The ambulance scene. We have kids spooning cocaine into their mouths. Is there anything you read in the script that was, or wasn’t filmed, that you just sat back and thought, “How the hell are they going to pull this off?”

Yeah, all of it. Everything you just mentioned. I mean, Margot’s face being dragged on fucking asphalt. You know, kids spooning tablespoons of cocaine. Just all of it was so insane. And I love that Liz was like, “I’m going to take this on!” I think that’s the fun of it, the outlandish newness is the fun. You can’t half-ass it, you can’t do it halfway. It has to be so full on, and I think that’s the fun of it. Especially during this time. When I read it during COVID (I knew) the bigger it is, the better it is, and I think Banks did a great job.

Elizabeth Banks has said that she’s felt Hollywood still feels a bit behind in terms of expectations of what stories a woman can handle as a director, and she really wanted to push the boundaries in terms of the transgressive elements of the film. Was that something that excited you in jumping on board with Elizabeth on this?

Yeah, I mean, the title says it all. It’s such a big swing, as I was saying before, but I love that Liz wanted to take this on. I do think she’s right, especially these bigger studio movies. They don’t have a lot of female directors. I’ve been super lucky in my career (that) I’ve worked with a lot of female directors actually. I would say pretty half and half, but maybe my experience is rare. But this is perfect for Liz. She’s so naturally confident and capable, and comedy is so her wheelhouse, even though she does the other stuff too. But (Cocaine Bear) is so her wheelhouse. It’s so shiny and bright. I really hope it does well for her. But I get what she’s saying (that) it’s a big swing.