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Rising Star Alex Russell Talks SWAT, Telekinesis, and Surviving the Australian Outback

The actor who is about to be everywhere.

Alex Russell is about to be everywhere. On SWAT, the CBS crime procedural-slash-action hybrid that premieres in early November, he plays Jim Street (that name!), a hard-charging loose cannon who's working hard to fit into the team. Elsewhere, he stars opposite Daniel Radcliffe in Jungle, a deadly adventure that takes place in the Amazon, and Rabbit, an Australian indie making the film-circuit rounds. His latest film, the firefighter drama Only the Brave (starring Josh Brolin, Taylor Kitsch, and Miles Teller) officially arrives into theaters today.

The 29-year-old son of a surgeon and a nurse-turned-interior designer grew up Down Under, eventually landing roles in Chronicle, Carrie, and Unbroken. And this fall, his stardom is leveling up. After a long day of filming in LA, Russell talked to Best Life about avoiding the typecast of a character with telekinesis powers, performing his own stunts, and surviving the harsh Australian Outback. And for more great interviews, don't miss our sit-down with White Famous' Jay Pharoah. 

Your IMDB page has this absurd bit of trivia: "He has starred in two film about bullied teenagers with abusive parents who gain telekinetic powers and go on rampages: Chronicle (2012) and Carrie (2013)." Did you worry about being typecast as someone who stars in film about bullied teenagers with abusive parents who gain telekinetic powers and go on rampages?

I can't tell you how many telekinesis movies I've had to turn down. [Laughs] No, I'm not worried about that at all. But I certainly was aware of the irony that the very next film I did after Chronicle was Carrie. It was odd and interesting dealing with that subject matter again. The second time around, I was jealous because I didn't get to have the powers. Chloë Grace Moretz hogged all the powers. But I'd love to be involved in all projects like that. Anything that that's fantastical and outside of the box but succeeds in maintaining a groundedness. Who wouldn't want to be involved in something like that?

You're a busy guy these days.

We just finished shooting [SWAT]. Also, I've been in post-production on a short film with my brother who is in Australia. It's been a bit crazy.

That's a tough time difference.

That's a huge part of it. He's 17 or 18 hours ahead. It'll be 7 p.m. for me and 1 p.m. for him. It's definitely been interesting. We co-directed the film. That makes it more difficult because we both have to sign off on everything. Next time, he might produce and I might direct, or vice versa. We've sworn to never co-direct if we can't be in the same place at the same time.

What's the short about?

It's called Come Correct, which is a colloquialism that basically means show up prepared and respectful. It's about a simple, young guy who goes into a fancy, self-indulgent cocktail lounge and orders Bundaberg Rum. It's a low-brow drink in a high-brow establishment. The bartender kicks him out, but then the main character challenges him to a cocktail shake-off. The whole thing is this ridiculous, silly comedy about these guys battling it out in the world of mixology.

What were you shooting today for SWAT?

We were shooting in the studio. We do a lot of on-location stuff in the show, which is fun to do and helps with the authenticity level, but anything at SWAT headquarters is on the sound stage. There wasn't too much action today, but the days are always packed. The show is so ambitious.

How is the pace of a show like SWAT different than a studio movie?

I've done studio movies where Roger Deckker is taking eight years go line up a shot. Then you see it and it's like the Sistine Chapel on screen. And I've done the fastest, grittiest indie. We did one this year called Brampton's Own that we shot in eight days. That's just crazy. With SWAT, the money is there to get a certain level of production value, but it's still crunch time every day. There's no relaxing. It's tight.

You have a stuntman to do most of the work but what's the most ambitious thing that you've done?

The other day, we were shooting an episode where my character is driving up to a situation where we know there are some bad guys. We're cruising up in the Dodge Charger. I'm driving. The scene plays out that the bad guys take off, I whip the car, skidding, sliding, drifting, careening around this corner. I watched it happen with the stunt drivers. They are drifting and doing all this crazy stuff with the cameras outside the car. Then they got me to get in the car. They put three cameras on the car and put Shemar Moore, the star of the show, in the passenger seat. They told me not to drift, just to go up and do a U-turn. But when I did it, I lost some traction. It was awesome. I thought to myself, "I"m driving this Dodge Charger with over $1 million in camera equipment on it and the star of the show next to me. Luckily, we have our seat belts on."

Why did you start acting?

When I was a kid, I was the fat kid. I was not popular. I got picked on at school. I didn't have a good time. My favorite time of the week was Friday night. We'd get McDonald's. That was the family treat. I'd go to Video Easy, which was our video store, and I'd pick something out. It was my favorite, favorite thing to do. It still is today. I go to the Arclight and see films. I love them so much to watch, and I think that translates into being a part of them.

Any tips for surviving in the Australian Outback?

The first thing I'd say is don't take any advice from Alex Russell. But if you're going to take advice from Alex Russell, heed this: Don't drink the last of your water, then eat a pack of salt and vinegar chips, and then realize that you're lost.

A real-life story?

It wasn't technically in the Outback but I went to visit one of my best buddies on his parents' ranch. He wanted to take me to see this waterfall. We drove up this mountain, across this dirt road, and into the jungle for awhile. Then we got out and started walking. We're walking and walking and walking. He kept telling me the waterfall was close. We kept walking. We finally got to what he called the waterfall, but there wasn't any water there. We sat down and chatted for a bit. Then we started walking back. My friend paused, looked ahead, looked back the way we came, and looked around. I asked him if we were lost. He said yeah. He didn't know where we were. We had just finished our water and eaten some chips. I had this terrible taste in my mouth, and all I wanted was water. We were lost for like four hours. It was scary.

Sounds cinematic. You should have brought a camera.

We should have. A real missed opportunity.

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