What the Hell Happened to Rene Russo?

rene russo 2013

Rene Russo came seemingly out of nowhere and became one of the top actresses of the 90′s.  She start in a string of hits for most of the decade.  She has worked with directors like Richard Donner, Wolfgang Petersen, Barry Sonnenfeld, and Ron Howard.  And then, as suddenly as she appeared, she left Hollywood for a six year hiatus.  These days, she plays the mother of the god of thunder in the Thor movies.

What the hell happened?

russo - modeling

Before acting, Russo started out as a model.  Russo signed with the Ford Modeling Agency and appeared on magazine covers for Vogue, Mademoiselle, and Cosmopolitan.  As she approached her thirties, Russo decided to give up modeling.  She began studying acting and working in regional stage productions.

russo - sable

In 1986, Russo made her acting debut on the TV adventure series, Sable.

The TV show was based on Mike Grell’s comic book, John Sable: Freelance.  Lewis Van Bergen starred as a vigilante by night who writes children’s books during the day.  His sidekick was a blind man named Cheesecake who pretended to be a stand-up comedian.  Russo was the girl with 80′s hair.

ABC cancelled Sable after only 7 episodes.

russo - major league

In 1989, Russo made her big screen debut opposite Tom Berenger in the sports comedy, Major League.

The movie focuses on a fictionalized version of the Cleveland Indians.  Berenger played the team’s veteran catcher.  Charlie Sheen played the rookie pitcher nicknamed Wild Thing.  Corbin Bernsen played a prima donna third baseman.  And Wesley Snipes played the cocky new  center fielder Willie “Mays” Hayes.  Russo played Berenger’s ex-girlfriend whom he is trying to win back.

Major League received mostly good reviews and was a hit at the box office.  It spawned two sequels one of which Berenger came back for.

russo - mr. destiny

In 1990, Russo starred opposite James Belushi in the comedy, Mr. Destiny.

Belushi played an everyman who believed that his life would have been better if he hadn’t struck out at a high school baseball game.  Michael Caine played a mysterious figure who grants Belushi’s wish.  Suddenly, Belushi is living the life he would have lead had he hit a homerun instead.  He’s rich and married to the boss’ daughter played by Russo.  But he finds himself missing his old life and his wife played by Linda Hamilton.

As with most James Belushi movies, Mr. Destiny was poorly reviewed and bombed at the box office.

russo - one good cop

In 1991, Russo starred opposite Michael Keaton in the drama, One Good Cop.

Keaton played a cop (a good one) whose partner is killed in the line of duty.  When Keaton tries to adopt his late partner’s daughter, he is denied because his apartment is too small and the child has special needs as a diabetic.  Then the opportunity arises for Keaton’s character to make off with some drug money, buy a house and adopt the girl.  Russo played Keaton’s supportive wife.

Keaton was in between Batman films at the time.  He was trying to establish himself as a dramatic actor outside of his super hero persona.  But audiences didn’t seem overly interested in Keaton when he wasn’t telling jokes or fighting crime.

Reviews were mixed and the movie was not a hit at the box office.

Next: Lethal Weapon 3 and In the Line of Fire

Posted on November 15, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Nice entry…any speculation as to why RR took a hiatus? Was it personal or because she was getting less “co-starring” roles and was just getting offered “crap” roles (which maybe she didn’t want to take)? [No sarcasm intended.]

    I must admit it was nice to read an entry lacking in “serious drama,” i.e., wherein the actress messed-up her face w/ plastic surgery; became crazy, a drunk, dope addict, or incredibly annoying to any and all in her orbit, appeared in career-wrecking bombs, etc.

    • This one was remarkably drama free. Which is surprising considering how many times Mel Gibson showed up.

      Usually, for a hiatus for an actress, I start looking at marriages, kids etc. Russo has a single child born in 1993. So I don’t think she left to raise her family per se. She made good money modeling for a decade. She made better money acting for another decade. I think it’s safe to say she didn’t need to keep working. Her husband is screenwriter Dan Gilroy. His career really seems to take off in 2005 which coincides with when Russo walks away. So there may be a connection there. I think certainly the roles she was being offered played a factor. When the modeling gigs slowed down, she walked away from modeling. The movie roles were definitely slowing down. I think she decided it was a natural point to just walk away.

  2. I think that Rene Russo is the type of actress who when you get right down to it, was never really a bona-fide or “true blue” box office or A-list star. Rene perhaps benefited from being at the “right place at the right time”. Rene was fortunate enough during the height of her career to co-star w/ actors who were either at that point, could be considered “legends” of the industry (e.g. Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Gene Hackman, and Dustin Hoffman) or people who were on a “hot streak”. For example, she appeared in “Freejack” w/ Anthony Hopkins, fresh off of “Silence of the Lambs” (which basically, officially made him a household name), “One Good Cop” w/ the then reigning Caped Crusader in Michael Keaton, “Get Shorty” w/ John Travolta, who was still fresh off of his remarkable comeback thanks to “Pulp Fiction”, and “The Thomas Crown Affair” w/ the then reigning 007 in Pierce Brosnan.

    Even “Lethal Weapon 3″, which is generally considered to be Rene’s breakthrough role just so happened to be the third movie of a hugely successful franchise. Even “Ransom”, which teamed her again w/ Mel Gibson more than likely would’ve been a hit even had she not been in them. So it isn’t like people went to see “Lethal Weapon 3″ and “LW4″ and more recently, the “Thor” movies because Rene was in them. Rene Russo is basically the textbook example of a “star by association”.

    I also think that maybe Rene’s age caught up to her. I don’t know if that was one of the reasons if not the main reason why she dropped out of sight for six years (i.e. Rene didn’t like the scripts that were being offered to her), but it certainly didn’t help her cause. Anyway, to put things in perspective, Rene was 35 years old when she made her film debut in “Major League”. She was 38 when she made her breakthrough in “Lethal Weapon 3″. I think Rene like many actresses profiled in the WTHHT series, had the unfortunate distinction of being an actress who was mostly seen I suppose as a sex symbol (who for all intent and purposes have a very short self-life) who got “too old”.

    One thing that I’ve noticed and find remarkable about Rene Russo is that she looks a lot like Drew Barrymore (especially in that screen-cap from “Major League’). I’m kind of surprised that they haven’t been paired together in a movie yet as mother and daughter.

    • re: So it isn’t like people went to see “Lethal Weapon 3″ and “LW4″ and more recently, the “Thor” movies because Rene was in them.

      Slightly harsh, but basically true.

      re: Rene perhaps benefited from being at the “right place at the right time”. Rene was fortunate enough during the height of her career to co-star w/ actors who were either at that point, could be considered “legends” of the industry…

      In a way, RR — and I’m not trying to be A Big Meanie here — is to some extent a glorified supporting player. She was usually the “love interest” to the male star and hasn’t really been “THE star” except in a movie or 2 that was not commercially successful.

      As for “right place at the right time” that can apply to SO many actors/actresses, really…it’s the same with music. I’m a “music nerd” as well as a “film nerd” and I could easily name a dozen performers with RAVE REVIEWS up the wazoo but if THEY DON’T GET PLAYED ON THE RADIO, Americans aren’t really gonna give a shite about ‘em. I say “Americans” not because I’m anti-American but in much of Europe and Japan, music fans are more loyal than the ones here. Example: There are American performers that could get arrested in the USA but are still popular there because Europeans don’t care if your last hit record was 35 years ago or if you’ve EVER had a “hit” AT ALL. If you’re good, they like you and still with/by you. Singers such as Roy Orbison (before his comeback), Gene Pitney, Carl Perkins, and Ben E. King were/are REVERED over there whereas in duh USA they’re generally considered “oldies artists” (or outright has-beens) and consigned to the nostalgia circuit. But I digress…my point, such as it is, is one could be the greatest actor/actress (or just really decent) in the world but if lotsa people don’t see your movies, you’re…just another good actor. At least some actors can go back-and-forth between stage, TV, and screen, while some…well, let’s us remember one of the best lines in the classic comedy “MY FAVORITE YEAR”:

      “I’m not an ACTOR, I’m a MOVIE STAR!!!!!”

      • I get the impression Russo was comfortable being the supporting player. She took all the girlfriend/wife roles other actresses said they didn’t want. And that was a recipe for success for her. Other actresses were always trying to pick more interesting (“showy”) roles. Russo just kept playing the love interest and the suffering wife. More often than not, she was eye candy. Every now and then, she got to really show some range. But those supporting roles served her well.

    • One of my criteria for judging whether or not an actor is an A-lister is whether or not they can open a movie. Russo never did. She was in a lot of hits. Percentage wise, she had a really solid track record. But, she was never the main draw. I think she’s a fantastic actress, but never really an A-lister.

      • When I think of RR, Bonnie Hunt comes to mind also as the quintessential female character actor. The wife, the best friend. The female M. Emmett Walsh(es)! Only way cuter.

        • I totally just pictured M. Emmett Walsh in a dress and wig >shudder<

          • That slinky little dress from the Thomas Crown Affair, no doubt. Your welcome. I mean I’m sorry;) Hopefully the characters’ images won’t continue to be interchangeable (she says as diabolical laughter ensues)…

    • Rene Russo

      What happened to her career?


      She’s 57, OP. You know what that means in Hollywood. I saw her a few months ago on ACCESS HOLLYWOOD and she looked great. She said that when the offers slowed down, she decided to take time out to raise her daughter. Her daughter is now 18, so she was ready to work again.

      Rene Russo was the go-to actress when producers needed a solid, attractive, talented name actress who was affordable. You will notice that she co-starred with the biggest most highly paid actors of the ’90s – Travolta, Costner, Gibson. Her salary offset the sky high salaries of her male co-stars. I read an interview with her in which she readily admitted this adding she was very happy with the situation. Seemed liked a very level-leaded, likable lady.

  3. D’oH!!! I meant to use the cliche “could NOT get arrested” above, but in the heat of the moment…I erred. Sorry.

  4. PS: I am one of the 73 people that liked “FREEJACK” — it wasn’t great, no not at all, but it was entertaining in a cool B-movie way. (And Anthony Hopkins was in it for maybe 10 minutes tops — a glorified cameo, really.) Like so many H’wood science fiction movies, it pretty much abandons the s/f aspects at a certain point to become just another “bunch of bad guys chasing resourceful good guy through a strange terrain” movie. (“IMPOSTOR” suffered from that too.)

    • I remember seeing Freejack largely for Anthony Hopkins who was hot off of Silence of the Lambs. I was not one of the 73 people who liked it. ;) I don’t rmemeber much other than everyone I saw it with was utterly disappointed. It’s probably more fun than I remember.

  5. Spoiler Warning for Thor: Dark World

    Oh my. Rene Ruso provides class and intelligence to her roles. She is way more then “eye candy.” She may not be an A list star, but I am willing to bet she does not define her life by her box office draw. I was glad to see her in Thor. But she was killed off….I guess there is no chance to see here in the next Avenger movie?? Darn

  6. My impression was always that Russo was the right actress at the right time in that she was sexy but mature, so she was more realistic as a leading lady next to older leading men without being a dowager. That was a valuable quality. Also, she was a decent actress to begin with.

  7. Freejack is worth watching for Mick Jagger’s performance alone. Other than that, there isn’t much else of interest.

  8. Once again this choice demonstrates the wide variety of different answers to the whole question of WTHH to… the subject being written about. I had a similar impression to what Daffy wrote in that Russo as arm candy for more mature actors, in the Ann Margaret style. She seems to have sound judgment choosing projects, after all, it gave her a stable career, and she definitely has had excellent costars.

    Intrigued with the trailer for Tin Cup, and totally have to check out Two for the Money, critics or no critics!

    • I am glad you see it as variety. Sometimes I feel like I’m repeating myself. The broad strokes are always the same. It’s the details that vary.

      I bet you’ll enjoy Tin Cup. I’m not a sports fan and certainly not a golf fan, but I enjoyed it. Great chemistry between the leads.

  9. “Eastwood played a Secret Service agent who failed to save President Kennedy. Now he’s protecting a new president from a diabolical assassin played by Malkovich. Russo, I’m assuming, played Eastwood’s daughter. Wait! What? She played his love interest? Ew.”

    Better Clint than Woody Allen, I say.

    • I can’t argue with that. Every hot young actress in the last 20 years has been paired with Allen at some point. In the 70s, it was one thing. But 90s-current it’s just creepy. And I’m a fan.

    • IIRC they at least address the age difference. In Woody Allen films the dichotomy is so huge they just ignore it. OK- so Annie Hall is basically about the difference- but she dumps him for Warren Beatty in real life-

      • And to hang out with Paul Simon in the movie.

        Woody addressed the age difference in Manhattan. But that was creepy in its own right. As he got older, his co-stars rarely aged with him unless it was Keaton or Farrow. I’m sure Allen has bedded more than his share of young, beautiful women. That’s because he’s a legendary film director. But his characters are usually schlubbs. So what we saw on screen strained suspension of disbelief for everyone except for Allen who looked at Julia Roberts and said, “Sure. I could tap that.”

  10. Thor: The Dark World (2013) : What the Hell Happened to Rene Russo?


    Thu Nov 28 2013 23:41:06

    I guess that’s supposed to be some insult at her doing Thor or having to do Thor. Acting can be a tough business at times, especially for women who start to age a little. Leading roles don’t come around as often. Rene could be the exception still she appears to be in great shape and is quite attractive still. Not sure why she took a six year break. Actors do have real lives, sometimes with spouses and/or children. Could have been self-imposed, who knows.

    Fri Nov 29 2013 04:21:43

    I was going to say pretty much the same thing as the person before me. But I want to add in that there are many actors I’ve wondered about the same thing. Later I’d find that they have been acting nonstop the whole time, just not on screen. Many actors love the stage. She could be in some play in some big city all of this time… if not what the person said before me about home life with spouse and children. Hopefully it was not bad health. I think Sharon Stone left acting while she was trying to get her health back. Rene Russo seems to be in good health.

    Fri Nov 29 2013 08:17:27

    Nothing happened to her.

    Rene Russo was never interested in acting, apparently it was just a “job” for her.

    Fri Nov 29 2013 09:03:49

    What happened? Well she found out that they’re better things outside Hollywood crave for fame stupidity.

    Fri Nov 29 2013 12:32:02

    Whoever wrote that blog entry needs to get their head out of their bum.

    • re: What happened? Well she found out that they’re better things outside Hollywood crave for fame stupidity.

      That statement don’t hardly make no sense.

    • I wonder if part of the reasons for Rene’s six yer hiatus from movies is she wouldn’t accept the possibilities of having to take parts in which she wasn’t the female lead or a major focal point. Rene was never really a box office star (as previously mentioned, “Buddy” was the only movie that she made in which Rene was absolutely the star/main attraction), just a glorified supporting player.

      With that being said, I’m kind of curious towards why her appearance in the “Thor” movies didn’t do much to rekindle the public’s interest in her? It was almost as if Rene’s participation on those movies was an afterthought. It’s sort of like how Winona Ryder showing up as Mr. Spock’s mother in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” didn’t even do much to help her career.

      • I don’t know that Russo ever had that much of an audience to begin with. I think she did the Thor movies to occupy her time now that her kids are grown. I don’t think they were ever intended to spark a comeback.

        • After reading all of the stuff regarding other female WTHHT subjects, I’m at this rate, somebody who wouldn’t be surprised if the truth regarding Rene’s long absence from movies had to so w/ her being tough to work with. Of course, I don’t think that there’s so far, much of that kind of stuff on-line to justify such allegations.

  11. This is just “imho”: I hope some indie director casts Russo in a movie about ADULTS, such as “Enough Said,” which featured, uh, actors/actresses that were done all growed-up…sorta old, even. :)

    • I’d be all for that.

      I kind of get the impression Russo is working these days just to get out of the house. Like her kids told her to go make Thor to keep her busy.

  12. Rene Russo vs. Nicole Kidman (“Batman Forever”):

    So, Rene was originally going to be cast if Keaton was involved. I was watching In the Line of Fire (1993) the other day and she played a similar role to Nicole Kidman as Chase Meridian in that movie. But she was not over the top like Nicole was. She still had the sexy/sassy thing going on, but wasn’t baring her breasts all over the place like a crazed hooker.

    Anyone else have an opinion on this?

  13. What hits me most in this piece is the comment on Michael Keaton and “One Good Cop”, how that audiences weren’t interested in Keaton if he wasn’t telling jokes or fighting crime. I don’t know, film audiences are like fair weather friends: if you “change” from their initial impression, they don’t like you so much. To judge an actor that way though, I think, is unfair and superficial. I liked the film “Clean and Sober”, so I believe in Michael Keaton in dramatic roles.
    On Rene Russo: for someone who got off to such a late start, she chisled out a pretty fine film career.

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