I’ve been asked several questions about working on the set of Tombstone, and about Kurt Russell’s role in bringing the film home.

  “There were rumors that the set of Tombstone was quite tumultuous and that Kurt Russel basically directed the film. What was your experience on set?”

  “Did Kurt Russell actually direct Tombstone? I’ve read about the conflict on the set, but I’m not sure who to believe.?

I’ll be clear. 

Kurt is solely responsible for Tombstone’s success, no question.

I was there every minute and although Kurt’s version differs slightly from mine, the one thing he’s totally correct about is, how hard he worked the day before, for the next day’s shot list, and tremendous effort he and I both put into editing, as the studio wouldn’t give us any extra time to make up for the whole month we lost with the first director.

We lost our first director after a month of shooting and I watched Kurt sacrifice his own role and energy to devote himself as a storyteller, even going so far as to draw up shot lists to help our replacement director, George Cosmatos, who came in with only 2 days prep.

I was very clear and outspoken about what I wanted to do with my role, and actors like Powers Boothe, who we just lost, and Bill Paxton, were always 100% supportive, even in the blistering heat and sometimes as the day would fade, at the possible expense of their own screen time.

Kurt did this for the film virtually every hour.

I would even go up to him and whisper, “Go for another…” meaning another take when I thought he could go further, but in the interest of the schedule, he would pound on. Very Wyatt-like come to think of it.

[Sam] Elliot used to drive all the way out to hell and gone just to watch some of our scenes. So many lead actors took small roles just to rock a great western script.

Tombstone=Milestone.

It’s not often you get to dust the likes of Clint Eastwood at the box-office. He had a film out when we opened and it just couldn’t keep up! Then Kevin Costner had all the dough and distribution money and stars, and couldn’t make a dent in our popularity. (Although I liked Dennis Quaid, and my first girlfriend is also in it which was super weird – Mare Winningham.)

Back to Powers for a moment, such a gracious actor and if you love acting go back and check out his early Emmy winning roles, he’s the real deal.

And Bill Paxton, like a cheerleader for all film, for all Creativity. Always happy like it was his first job. He would have been happy if you had lit him on fire and hung him upside down, as long as there was a camera running. Just like a perfect thespian. ALL THE WAY. SUPPORTIVE. Sweet.

We all miss them both. They were good men. The kind that make you proud of the “craft.”

That’s probably how it’s become a story that Kurt directed it. I have such admiration for Kurt as he basically sacrificed lots of energy that would have gone into his role, to save the film.

Everyone cared, don’t get me wrong, but Kurt put his money where his mouth was, and not a lot of stars extend themselves for the cast and crew. Not like he did.

I’ll say it again, Kurt was responsible for the film’s success.

He and I worked so hard I eventually moved in with him and slept on the sofa when Goldie wasn’t in town, so we could use the extra 20 minutes writing or going over schedule etc. And I got all the best lines and he knew it and still laughed and joked every single day.

Early on he said casually, “Well this is your picture…” 

I didn’t know what he was talking about so like a bozo I made him explain himself. He is very, very articulate when he wants to be. Even I liked me when he was done complimenting my early days of filming…

And he is such a good dad and devoted to his girlfriend, and built his own home and ranch. C’mon. He’s a true superstar and wildly underrated as an actor. Not many guys with his range.

~ Val

The gorgeous images in this post were created by the amazing Leigh Hefner.