‘Breakdown’: The Touching Reason Kurt Russell Flew Home at 8 p.m. Every Night While Filming

Kurt Russell has made many movies in exotic locations. The Thing filmed in Alaska to recreate Antarctica, and Captain Ron took him to Puerto Rico, to name a few. For 1997’s Breakdown, Russell had to be home with his kids every night, and the production made sure he was. The reason for Russell’s insistence is heartwarming. 

Kurt Russell hangs onto a truck in Breakdown
Kurt Russell | Paramount Pictures/Getty Images

Paramount released a new Blu-ray edition of Breakdown on Sept. 21. It includes the new bonus feature “Filmmaker Focus” in which writer/director Jonathan Mostow discusses the making of the movie. Here’s why Russell couldn’t just film Breakdown on location. 

“I remember [producer] Dino [De Laurentiis] calling me to his office saying, ‘I got bad news. Kurt passed,’” Mostow said. “24 hours later, Kurt comes into a meeting to personally say, thank you to Dino. ‘Nobody’s offered me this much money before. I just want to say thank you but unfortunately I don’t see how this is going to work because Goldie [Hawn] and I have an arrangement and we alternate movies.’ Kurt was just going to be finishing Escape from L.A. and Goldie was going off to do a movie in Paris.”

Now, here’s how they got Russell to star in Breakdown after all. Russell plays Jeff Taylor, a husband driving cross country with his wife, Ann (Kathleen Quinlan). Some truckers in a small town kidnap her for ransom. Jeff doesn’t have the money so he has to outsmart the kidnappers.

“Dino being Dino and an impatient guy who didn’t want to wait a year to make a movie, I’ll never forget, he goes, ‘No problem,’” Mostow said. “The deal Dino made with Kurt was no matter where in the country we were shooting, he would be picked up at his house at eight in the morning and returned at eight in the evening.”

Kurt Russell kisses Goldie Hawn on the cheek
Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn | Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Netflix

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Breakdown found desert road locations around the country. No matter where they filmed, they had a plane chauffeur Russell to and from home so he could keep his promise to Hawn.

“The way that worked was a car would pick him up, drive him to the private Santa Monica airport near his house,” Mostow continued. “There’d be a jet waiting with the engines all warmed up. The jet would take off, fly to Utah, Nevada, Northern California wherever it was. Land at an airstrip, and we specifically scouted locations that were fairly near airstrips. Then there’d be a helicopter with the blades going. Kurt would get off the jet, go in the helicopter, the helicopter would come in and land at base camp.”

Remarkably, this arrangement still left Russell plenty of time to film his Breakdown scenes.

“He’d go into makeup and wardrobe,” Mostow said. “We’d get him on set, we’d have lunch, we’d come back, we’d get a few more hours. He’d hear the helicopter coming, he knew we have time for one more shot. It would pick him up in the late afternoon, go back to the airstrip, take the jet, go back and go back to his house. It worked with Kurt because he was an unbelievable pro. He was always on.”

Breakdown star Kathleen Quinlan lays atop Kurt Russell
Kathleen Quinlan and Kurt Russell | Paramount Pictures/Getty Images

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Another interesting tidbit that Mostow shared was that Breakdown began as a Stephen King adaptation. He didn’t name the story it was based on, but it couldn’t have been Maximum Overdrive because De Laurentiis already produced that movie. 

Breakdown had a strange origin in that I had been developing with Dino and Martha De Laurentiis a Stephen King movie that was set out in the desert and involved a lot of trucks,” Mostow said. “The business affairs guy came in one day and said, ‘Oh, we have a problem. We can’t use Stephen King’s name in the title.’ So suddenly, the reason to make the movie financially was gone. I just thought okay, what’s a story that I could come up with? I’ve got trucks, I’ve got desert locations, what could I do?”