HEAT VISION

'Overlord' Star Wyatt Russell on Embracing the "Moral Gray Area"

The actor plays a soldier who cares about nothing but getting his job done.
Peter Mountain/Paramount Pictures
The actor plays a soldier who cares about nothing but getting his job done.

There's a moment in Overlord where things get ugly, and star Wyatt Russell is at the center of it.

The film is billed as a World War II zombie movie, but as with most good zombie stories, the true monsters are the humans (but yes, there are plenty of legitimate zombie monsters, too). Russell leads a group of U.S. soldiers as Cpl. Ford, a demolitions expert tasked with parachuting into an occupied French village and destroying a Nazi radio tower ahead of D-Day. The team learns the Nazis are conducting vile experiments on the people of the village, and Russell's Ford is determined to get the information from a captured Nazi officer — even if it means torturing him.

It's a grisly moment that stands out in a film full of such moments.

"I'm guessing it's not the first time he's had to do this," Russell tells The Hollywood Reporter of his character's torture scene. "He's one of those guys who lives in the moral gray area."

The film earned strong reviews out of Fantastic Fest in September and comes from J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot and director Julius Avery, who previously just had one feature under his belt.

"It was an ambitious movie. You are like, man, it could really go off the rails, because it's so crazy," Russell says. "Julius always wanted to keep it grounded. Grounded, grounded, grounded. That was his main thing."

Overlord is both a self-contained adventure and a film that could potentially lend itself to sequels, as the action takes place in 1944, more than a year before World War II ended.  Russell is potentially open to sequels, but notes he does have a fear of being "pigeonholed" as an actor.

"Being in something that is good and successful and it was so great that no one else wants to see you in something else," says Russell. "Superhero movies can come kind of suck people in that way sometimes, where it's, 'Do I want to see them in something else? I love seeing them like that,' for the younger audience. It's not fair to you sometimes. It's a tough one. You've got to balance it. I don't know the answer."

Russell is the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, but didn't have acting ambitions when he was younger. He opted to pursue hockey and played professionally in Europe until a hip injury ended his sports career in 2010. Switching to acting, he went on to work in Cowboys & Aliens and 22 Jump Street, and more recently began leading AMC's critically lauded Lodge 49.

Though he didn't see acting as a career choice as a kid, growing up around the business made it seem less intimidating. To illustrate the point, he talks about seeing the Washington Capitals' off-season camp, where he crossed paths with hockey great Ray Bourque's son Chris. He was struck with how comfortable Chris was being among pro athletes.

"It's because he grew up in it," says Russell, noting it's the same with actors' kids. "It's not because they are born talented, it's because from day one, you do get to see how it operates, and it doesn't make it mystical. …You've seen it a lot. You've seen how it works. And for us, it was work at a high level. And how it doesn't have to change you and how you don’t have to be a different person."

Overlord is in theaters now.

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