Russell reflects on past; future in acting

Published 5:28 pm Friday, July 29, 2011

Clanton native Grayson Russell signs autographs at the AmStar 14 Stadium Complex in Alabaster before the premiere of his latest film, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” back in March. Russell’s first film “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” opened in theaters five years ago this week.

This weekend marks five years since the opening weekend of the Will Ferrell NASCAR themed movie, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”—and quite possibly the birth of a very promising career.

Clanton’s Grayson Russell, who played Ferrell’s character’s son, Texas Ranger Bobby, made his big screen debut in the film. He also provided some of the most memorable lines in the film, as well as arguably the most popular character.

According to Russell, it all started on a whim.

“It doesn’t seem that long ago,” he said. “It feels like yesterday. When I got it, I was in second grade, and my mom saw an ad audition for a casting call in Birmingham. It was one of those days where dad was fishing and me and mom were bored, so mom suggested we go for the experience.”

He got the part and began working on his first feature film alongside Will Ferrell, and under director Adam McKay. Russell said he had very fond memories of the cast and crew, and also said people might be surprised at how different Ferrell is off camera.

A lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them this, but he’s a really quiet guy in person,” he said.

He also told of how he might have crushed Ferrell’s and McKay’s musical aspirations, albeit jokingly.

“When we started filming, I was in love with the Bee Gees’ music. This was really before iPods, so I was walking around with CD players with Bee Gees albums, and Will Ferrell and Adam McKay made up this long-lost Bee Gees song and sang it. It was bad, to say the least, and when it was over, they asked me how it was. I really didn’t know what to say until [one of the production crew] whispered to me, ‘Tell them not to quit their day jobs,’ which I did, and they both walked away acting very hurt.”

Russell said he never imagined his role would be as popular as it was.

“I’ll still be walking around, and people will recognize me as him,” he said.

From his performance as a juvenile delinquent in “Talladega Nights,” he went on to star alongside David James Elliott (of JAG fame) in the independent movie “The Rainbow Tribe,” and then settled into his latest role as the hyperactive Fregley in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movie series.

He said there was a distinct difference between the characters of Fregley and Texas Ranger Bobby, but he enjoyed them both.

“With Fregley, I got to run around and be weird,” he said. “With Texas Ranger, I could run around and they told me ‘Here, here’s a bat, now go break everything in that house,’ and [I] went to town. It was so much fun.”

Russell, who just turned 13 on May 13, has a few more upcoming films in the near future.

“They’re doing a direct to DVD sequel to ‘Marley and Me,’ and I get to do the voice of Marley as a puppy,” he said. “I’m actually leaving Aug. 2 for Vancouver to work on Diary of a Wimpy Kid III.”

For some, acting is a full-time job, and they treat it as such. Not so for Russell, who chooses to view it as a hobby.

“It’s fun,” he said. “I love doing other things, too, though. I play guitar; I play basketball. With acting, you go and do stuff you wouldn’t or couldn’t normally do.”

He also said that while many head to Hollywood to pursue a career, he plans to stay around Clanton as long as possible.

“Clanton is my home,” he said. “L.A. is L.A. It’s nice, but [after a while], when you go and do stuff, you get kind of homesick. You miss your friends. I want to stay [in Clanton] as long as I can.”

He said he also wants to act as long as possible, too, despite getting started in it without any goals in mind.

“It’s funny, the McKinnon commercials were really spur of the moment. They just asked, and I said, ‘Sure, I’ve never been in a commercial before; I might like that,’” he said. “I definitely want to [act] for as long as I can. It’s so wonderful an experience; why not try to do it?”