Interview: Theresa Russell of Track 29

Theresa RussellDisc Dish recently spoke with actress Theresa Russell on the eve of the release of Track 29, (DVD $14.98, Image Entertainment, available on Feb. 21, 2012), the 1988 comedy-drama in which she stars alongside Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Christopher Lloyd (Piranha) and Sandra Bernhard (Dinner Rush).

Written by Dennis Potter and directed by Ms. Russell’s then-husband Nicolas Roeg (The Man Who Fell To Earth), Track 29 is an eccentric fantasy-reality juggler if ever there was one. In it, she portrays Linda, a bored housewife who becomes captivated by the handsome young hitchhiker Martin (Oldman), who suddenly “drops” into her life. After Martin claims that he’s the child that she gave up for adoption after a teen pregnancy, Linda must deal with a series of increasingly bizarre events, which may or may not be transpiring solely in her own lonely head.

Not a great film but far from a forgettable one, Track 29 is a real brain-tease, one of a bunch of arthouse entries that Ms. Russell made with Mr. Roeg a couple of decades back.

Disc Dish: Between 1980 and 1991, you appeared in five feature films directed by your former husband Nicolas Roeg, including Bad Timing, Eureka and Insignificance. Where does Track 29 fit in to your personal appreciation and assessment of the work you did together?

Theresa Russell: Where does it fit it? Hmmm, I’m not sure how to answer that. The one that I can say is my all-time favorite is Bad Timing. It was a huge film for me—I was only 22 years old and was part of such a unique film. In terms of Track 29, I had more input into that one and how it turned out. Usually, Nic wouldn’t let me read any of the material before the production was ready to go. I had no input in any of the other films until I was on-set.

DD: Knowing Mr. Roeg’s splintered chronological style in his filmmaking, it sounds like that would make things even more challenging.

TR: Well, that’s how he worked. But for Track 29, I got the script at the very beginning. [Screenwriter} Dennis Potter would come over the house and we would all go over it. He was a very interesting fellow, always mixing fantasy and reality and going for an absurdist quality in his work Remember, he had nurses in hospitals singing and dancing in The Singing Detective! But there was a rhythm to his writing and I really enjoyed working with that.

DD: Was he ever on-location in North Carolina during the production? And how about George Harrison, whose Handmade Film produced the film?

TR: No, neither George nor Dennis ever came to North Carolina, but before that they were around, which was pretty cool.

Track 29 movie scene

Theresa Russell dreams a little dream of Gary Oldman in Track 29.

DD: What was the most notable contribution you made to the film, apart from being its leading lady, of course.

TR: One of my best girlfriends, Colleen Camp, was also in the film, and we had seen Sandra Bernhardt in King of Comedy. We both just loved her and I helped to shanghai her for Track 29.

DD: And how did you get along with Gary Oldman?

TR: I adore Gary. He was wonderful then and wonderful now. And so terrific to work with.

DD: Over a ten-year period that included Track 29, you worked with a really diverse group of filmmakers, including Mr. Roeg, Bob Rafelson, Michael Crichton, Sondra Locke, Ken Russell and Steven Soderbergh. Was it a real challenge to shift creative gears, so to speak, in such a short amount of time for such a varied group of directors?

TR: Well, that’s the nature of film, isn’t it? I don’t think of it in retrospect like that. They’re all just completely different. The actor’s job in film is to facilitate the director’s vision and, hopefully, you can trust them—unless the director isn’t doing his job and doesn’t have a vision, and then you’re on your own. To me, every single experience is different and it’s up to the actor to negotiate the relationship with the director. But I can say that that Michael Crichton film (1989’s Physical Evidence) wasn’t a very good one. I think he may have taken it off his resume.

DD: Worry not. There are plenty of other films you’re associated with that people are talking about, particularly Track 29.

TR: Oh, I’m completely proud of it, as was Nic. I was [Nic’s] muse for those years.

DD: With five features, you and Mr. Roeg are on record as one of the most prolific filmmaking couples, like Fellini and Giulietta Masina and Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands.

TR: We’re a part of film history!

DD: Any chance of you two making more film history with another project together?

TR: I’m not sure if there’s going to be another one. He’s getting up there now and it isn’t likely. Probably not. Actually, I’d have to say that the answer is no.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.