In the summer of 1992, “Lethal Weapon 3” dominated the box office, but audiences didn’t leave the theater to talk about the outrageous stunts or Mel Gibson and Danny Glover’s buddy act. Rather, it was Rene Russo, an actress turned model with a few minor roles in films like “Major League,” who stole the film from her A-List co-stars. Her turn as Sergeant Lorna Cole, an agent Hard-talking internal affairs, perfectly capable of dodging bullets and taking out bad guys, was a breath of fresh air in an era when action movies were a male-dominated business.
Russo, who would go on to star in notable hits like “In the Line of Fire” and “Get Shorty” over the next decade, credits director Richard Donner with credit for trying his luck with the acting newcomer. , whose curriculum vitae initially made him hesitate to give him the concert. Donner died on July 5 at the age of 91. In addition to the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, he also directed “Superman”, “The Omen” and “Maverick”. At the time of his death, Russo reveals, he was planning to make a fifth film in the “Lethal Weapon” series and was trying to convince her to dust off Cole’s badge for another race.
Russo shared many of his memories of Donner with Variety. They have been edited and condensed for clarity:
He gave me a chance at the start of my career, but it hardly happened. My agent was fighting so that I could read ‘Lethal Weapon 3’ and he didn’t want to see me. He had heard that I was a model and blah, blah, blah. So when I got the interview, I was worried because I knew he didn’t really want to talk to me, and I’m already insecure. I didn’t want to go, but I did and I was so nervous.
He was larger than life, but he was so sweet and easy going that it wasn’t intimidating. He had a gentle wit and that sense of humor that made you feel right at home. He then called me back to read with Mel. And he said to me ‘you remind me of my wife’. You look a lot [producer] Lauren [Schuler Donner]. And I thought it might be a good thing.
I walked on the set the first day. It was a scene where I’m at police headquarters and I’m annoyed by Mel and Danny. I was so nervous that the first scene, I’m not kidding, I blew my lines four times in a row. Once, it’s like uncomfortable. Four times is beyond humiliation. But Dick just laughed and got me through it. He made me believe I could do this.
He had a thunderous voice and never remembered anyone’s name. So he called everyone kid. He was sort of the father on set. He was there to do the job and knew exactly what he wanted but we could have fun.
It was not an easy shoot for me because the physique was a lot. I worked with Cheryl Wheeler, who was the kickboxing world champion, and she trained with me every day. I’m kind of a street girl, which I don’t think Dick expected. I can get angry very quickly. It’s my Italian side. Honestly, I don’t think a lot of girls can say fuck you and mean it. But I can do it.
It was one of the first times that there was any real action part for a woman. Back then, women didn’t play cops much. It has changed now, but it was different then. My stuntman did a lot of hard work, but I had to start a lot of those scenes. I can’t believe I did all of this. I look back and think if I did today my arm would just break. There is no way.
On the stage where we compared scars, we improvised a lot. We basically knew where the scars and gunshot wounds were, because of the makeup, but Mel and I were sort of discussing what we were going to say before we shot it. I felt like we nailed it when we filmed it. Sometimes you come home and you boot up, but this time I knew it was working. We didn’t do too many takes. It was maybe two takes. Dick has given you a lot of freedom to experiment, which is why his films are so good. They are the best directors. They make you play. He would start by saying “do anything” or “when you are ready”. He didn’t say “action”. And then he sort of went in there and cut things off gradually and focused on what was working.
Dick liked jokes. Dick and Mel brought a marching band for my birthday. Another time I cut off my staggered eye and opened a box and there was a steak in it. He allowed that kind of fun.
It’s rare for someone to be so nice and so talented, but he was both. He could see into someone’s mind and understand what your issues were and help feed you and get you to use it in your performance as well. By the time I came back for ‘Lethal Weapon 4’, my old nerves were gone. I just remember laughing a lot.
He was interested in making “Lethal Weapon 5”, and I spoke to him about six months ago and they were working hard on it. It would have been amazing to work with him. I told him, “If you think I’m doing any of the moves I did back then, come see me try to get out of my car.” I was clear that I wasn’t going to do any of those kicks again. He said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll make you a police captain on this one. You can sit behind a desk. ‘