Interview – Keri Russell on taking a big swing for ‘Cocaine Bear’

Inspired by the 1985 true story of a drug runner’s plane crash, missing cocaine, and the black bear that ate it, Cocaine Bear is a wild dark comedy 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.

With Cocaine Bear releasing in Australian cinemas on February 23, Universal Pictures gave me the chance to chat with the film’s star, Keri Russell (TVs The Americans), about her initial reaction to the script and bringing humour out of dark times.

Nick: I can only imagine what it’s like reading a script like this, with the number of outlandish scenes it has like the ambulance scene, or the kids scooping cocaine into their mouths! Is there anything you read in the script, or even saw it being filmed on set, and you just sat back and said: “How the hell are we going to pull this off”?

Keri Russell: Yeah, all of it! Everything you just mentioned! I mean, Margot’s [Martindale] face being dragged on fucking asphalt! Kids spooning tablespoons of cocaine! All of it was so insane. And I love that Liz [Banks, director] was like: “I’m gonna take this on. Let’s see if it works!” I think that’s the fun of it all. You can’t half ass it. It has to be so full on.

Who’s going to say no to Cocaine Bear? I mean, it comes across your desk—it was an easy ‘yes’!

Your character has two major things to be concerned about in this story: the safety of her daughter, and the fact that a coked-up bear is slaughtering people in the woods! How did you approach bringing both of those major elements of your character to the screen?

Keri Russell: You just gotta, like, show up and go for it! You got to really show up and scream! Go big or go home! Everything about this movie is such a big swing, even for Elizabeth to take this on. When she told me about it, I even though it was so crazy and could go so wrong. But her telling me about it during the height of COVID, when the world was just so heavy and intense, it was a good time to think about doing something that is such an escape. Just pure fun and craziness.

I knew it would be grounded in something, not just complete wackiness. But, it was such a good group of people and such a good time. It was what I wanted it to be. Like a total release and relief from COVID and everything that happened.

Does being a mother in real life play any part in you taking roles like this, in which you have to play a mother frantically trying to protect her child?

Keri Russell: It doesn’t affect me, only the fact of where the movie is shooting and the length of the shoot. I’m selfish enough still that if there’s something I really want to do, I’m not going to be like: “Oh, what if my kid sees me in that?” This is what I want to do!

I do plan for my family. If work involves going away somewhere, I try and make it during the summer so my kids are out of school and can come with me. There are certain things I care about. There was a film recently that was something about midwives and a birth gone wrong, and I didn’t want to do that because during my births, I had a midwife and my baby was fine. There are just certain things that I don’t want to do. If it’s interesting and they’re cool people, I usually want to do it!

Elizabeth Banks has been saying in interviews that she feels Hollywood is still behind in terms of expectations of what stories a woman can handle as a director. She really wanted to push the boundary in terms of the transgressive elements of all this movies gloriousness. Was that something that really excited you about the role too?

Keri Russell: I love that Liz wanted to take this on! I do think she’s right, especially with these bigger studio movies – they don’t have a lot of female directors. I’ve been super lucky in my career to work with a lot of female directors. I would say about half-and-half. But maybe my experience is rare.

This movie is perfect for Liz. She is so naturally confident and capable, and comedy is in her wheelhouse even though she’s competent in the other aspects too. It’s so shiny and bright, kind of like she is. This was a big swing, and I think it was a great one for her to take on.

Thank you to Keri Russell for her time and to Universal Pictures for the chance to chat with Keri! Cocaine Bear is in Australian cinemas February 23.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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