Rene Russo just finished telling a story about the time she single-handedly thwarted five would-be robbers who accosted her and a friend in Martinique. You can’t help but get the sense that she’s a woman who can hold her own — whether it’s on a Caribbean street or opposite an impressively long list of A-list leading men (currently Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones in Just Getting Started, which hits theaters Dec. 8).
Starting out in the modeling industry in the ’70s and crossing over to the movie business in the late ’80s, a woman had to be tough — as we’ve learned in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal. But 63-year-old Russo, who has starred in films from The Thomas Crown Affair to Thor, says that she’s witnessed the mistreatment of women long before becoming a part of Hollywood.
“I’m surprised that people are so surprised that women are being groped,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle on the set of Build Series NYC on Monday. “Really? Because this is how I grew up. I don’t have very many girlfriends who weren’t inappropriately approached in some form or another.”
Now people are (kind of) listening, but back then? Not so much.
“In those days, if it was reported at all, the police would come, they’d go down to the dirty old man down the street, and then they’d go to the home of whatever girl was molested — in my neighborhood that was quite a few — and say, ‘Oh, stay away from, ya know, Charlie down the street.’ That’s how it rolled in my neighborhood,” says Russo, who grew up in Burbank, Calif., the daughter of a single mother who worked in a factory. She dropped out of high school in the 10th grade.
While Russo is glad to see what she describes as this “cultural moment,” which is “fueled by so much pent-up anger and resentment and shame and fury” because it’s “pushing us into the next place that we need to be,” she thinks about the women of the world who don’t have the same voice as the women who have come forward in Hollywood.
“I’m worried too about women in hostile environments who are afraid to come forward,” she says. “Women in factories — like my mom [was] — who need their job and are afraid to come forward and don’t because they need their health insurance, they need their apartment. Single moms. Our industry is getting a lot of the publicity, but what’s going on in the rest of the country? So it’s time. It’s been time for a long, long time. To not believe a little girl in the ’60s is one thing, but it’s still happening. So we’re in a moment. We’re in a moment.”
Russo’s only daughter, Rose Gilroy, from her 25-year marriage to director and screenwriter Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, The Bourne Legacy) has followed in her footsteps into the modeling business. Did Russo feel she needed to give her tips about navigating some of that … ickiness?
“I didn’t really have to give Rosie tips. She already knew,” Russo says. “And for me, to be honest, that never happened to me. Because I was just primed for that. That would not happen to me. By the way, I don’t want to be quoted with just that because there are young women who did not have my background who were not steeped in that kind of environment. To me, it was like commonplace. So that wouldn’t have surprised me. But there are these women that come here — and have not had any experiences like that and they work their whole life to be an actress or whatever — they come to this industry and that happens. It has to be earth-shattering for them. I know that some careers were ended over it, and that’s heartbreaking. So not everybody is like me just because I was aware of it. So many women aren’t. That’s sad, that’s terrifying, and really heartbreaking.”
Russo doesn’t do social media. (“I don’t know what the purpose would be,” she says. “There’s not enough hours on the day to check who’s following and stuff.”) We tell her we saw a photo of her at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., in January on her daughter’s Instagram page. It was a family affair for the Russo-Gilroy family.
While the actress, who suffers from anxiety and is bipolar, says attending a massive rally like that is “not something I would do … I guess the world we live in motivated me to go.” Right after the election, when the march was announced, “I made reservations. And who knew it was going to be that big? I don’t think anybody knew. … It was cool to be a part of that. The energy was amazing. I thought: Good. Women are getting out and expressing themselves. It’s important.”
For the record, her husband, whom she has collaborated with on Nightcrawler and Two for the Money, among other films, made his “Feminist” banner. She laughed remembering him walking through their hotel with the sash and headband that said Peace. “They stopped him at the door: What are you doing? Who are you? He walked in like a badass crazy man. It was a funny moment. That was a very funny moment. We had a great time at the march.”
Russo has taken long breaks from acting. She’s grown tired of early call times, unless the project is great, which got her to the set for Just Getting Started. It’s helmed by Ron Shelton, who was her director on Tin Cup. She’s a night owl and likes to sleep in. As she falls asleep, she says she dreams about her garden, which is her true passion project these days as an empty-nester. (Rose, who graduated college with a double major in political science and psychology, signed with Elite Model Management and lives in New York City.)
“My manager calls me Greta — as in Greta Garbo. I want to be alone,” Russo says with a laugh when we point out that despite being a movie star who’s married to a famous director, her personal life seems kept largely under wraps. “I don’t go out a lot. I’m not sure why my business isn’t out there, to be honest. Maybe because I’m not on social media? I will go out and promote a film, of course. But I’m not really sure why that is.”
Maybe because there’s a decided lack of drama in her life. Earlier this year, Russo marked her 25th wedding anniversary with Gilroy. However, despite the milestone, they didn’t do anything special “because we never remember.”
“Unless my mother-in-law calls me, I have no idea when it is,” she says of her anniversary. “She called this year, and I said, ‘Ruth, don’t say anything to Dan. Say nothing.’ So I got a couple of people together. We went to a restaurant. I just wanted to shame him. I had them bring out a cake, ‘Happy 25 years’ with a candle. It came and he was mortified. I was like, ‘Why? I never remember our anniversary. What’s the difference?’ It was fun to torture him like that a little bit though,” she says with a laugh.
See — now that would have been the perfect thing to share on social media.
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