Did Kurt Russell Direct ‘Tombstone’? Alabama Actor In Iconic Western Says No


Michael Biehn, the Alabama-born actor widely known for his roles in action films like “The Terminator” and “Aliens,” shed a little more light on a Hollywood urban legend that has long driven film fans mad: Did Kurt Russell actually direct “Tombstone?”

Released Christmas Day in 1993, the movie follows Wyatt Earp and his brothers’ efforts to retire to quiet lives in the town of Tombstone before dangerous outlaws disrupt their plans. It stars Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Dana Delany, Powers Boothe, Charlton Heston, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Rooker, Biehn and many other notable actors.

The tension on set of the iconic Western is well-documented. Kevin Jarre, who also wrote the script, was tapped to direct, but his inexperience put the movie behind schedule and led to his ousting and the hiring of George P. Cosmatos, who’d previously made “Rambo: First Blood Part II” and “Cobra.” With little time to prep, the new director had to work fast, and star Russell (who played Wyatt Earp) played such a pivotal role behind the scenes, rumor quickly spread he actually directed the remainder of the production.

As reported by The Hollywood Reporter in a 2017 blog post, actor Val Kilmer (who played John Henry “Doc” Holliday), said Russell was instrumental in the completion and success of the film, which was a box office success and has since become a cult classic. “Kurt is solely responsible for Tombstone’s success, no question,” Kilmer wrote in a blog entry. “I watched Kurt sacrifice his own role and energy to devote himself as a storyteller, even going so far as to draw up shot lists to help our replacement director, George Cosmatos, who came in with only two days prep.”

Kilmer said Russell made many sacrifices to “save the film.”

“Everyone cared, don’t get me wrong, but Kurt put his money where his mouth was, and not a lot of stars extend themselves for the cast and crew,” Kilmer wrote. “Not like he did,”

But did Russell actually direct “Tombstone?” That’s where Anniston native Michael Biehn, who played the villainous cowboy Johnny Ringo, enters the picture.

“I’m so F’n tired of people asking me if Kurt Russell directed the movie,” Biehn recently said on the “Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum” podcast (hosted by actor Michael Rosenbaum, best known for his portrayal of Lex Luthor on the WB series “Smallville”). “Kurt Russell did not direct the movie, OK? Kurt Russell was responsible for getting the movie off the ground. I never would have played Johnny Ringo if it wasn’t for Kurt Russell. And I told you last time I was here, I love Kurt Russell. He’s a great, great person and a great movie star.”

Biehn said the film was directed by “kind of a committee.” He said original director Kevin Jarre (who also wrote the script) shot about five weeks’ worth of footage before he left the project and George P. Cosmatos was hired. Biehn described Cosmatos as “kind of a visual guy” who directed the film for the next six weeks before it went into post-production.

“He didn’t direct it. It was directed by committee,” Biehn reiterated. “Everybody had a hand in it. But a lot of the stuff got cut out of the movie.”

Biehn also said the cast and crew did not respond well on set to Cosmatos, who passed away in 2005.

“George Cosmatos was an idiot,” Biehn said on a previous episode of the same podcast. “Nobody really liked him. This is the truth. I met him. … I said five words the entire time I made that movie. He got credited for directing that movie. I met him, I said hello. He started talking. It was around a couple of other people. I just said hello. The next day, I watched him directing, the way he treated people. The next time he approached me, he said, ‘Michael …’ and I said ‘Go f–k yourself.’ And that was the only five words I said to George Cosmatos.”


“He was a guy that if you were above him on the food chain, he’d kiss your ass,” Biehn said. “He tried to kiss my ass. But if you were below him on the food chain, he’d treat you like s–t.”

Biehn said Cosmatos would treat stars like Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer and Sam Elliott with respect on set, but even still, “nobody liked him.”

“Kurt, on the other hand, he held that movie together when they fired the director,” Biehn said. “And Kurt’s a wonderful guy. He’s a great, great personality. He’s fun. He’s got a great laugh. Obviously a wonderful actor. He’s been a movie star since he was 10.”

He also addressed the mystery of who directed “Tombstone” during this episode of the podcast. “He didn’t really direct the movie,” Biehn said. “Nobody directed it. People say, ‘Did Kurt Russell direct the movie?’ The fact of the matter is it’s a little bit like a football team.”

Biehn said the original director, Jarre, was “a great writer” whom he liked, but “he was very rigid, and he didn’t understand how collaborative filmmaking was.”

“Tombstone” is currently streaming on Hulu.

Born in Anniston in 1956, Biehn moved to Nebraska at a young age before attending the University of Arizona. His movie career began with an uncredited bit part in 1978′s “Grease” before landing a lead role in James Cameron’s 1984 sci-fi hit “The Terminator” alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton. He’d again work with Cameron on “Aliens” and “The Abyss.” Other notable films include “Navy SEALs,” “K2″ and “The Rock.” Recent television credits include “Criminal Minds,” “The Walking Dead” and “The Mandalorian.”

Russell was spotted in Alabama during summer 2023 while filming “The Rivals of Amziah King,” an upcoming film starring Matthew McConaughey. Fans may have seen the “Escape from New York” and “Miracle” star whipping a truck down a dirt road in Marshall County while filming a car chase. “He was grinning like a possum one time, when he come down through there driving,” said Marshall County Commissioner Lee Sims. “He was sliding the truck sideways and everything, on that dirt road. He was having a time.”

Russell was spotted in Jefferson County the next day driving pickup truck on Birmingport Road, Mulga Loop Road and other normally quiet streets of Mulga, which thrilled the locals. We then learned Russell wrapped his part in late July when a fan spotted him napping on a flight out of Birmingham. Klaudia Brady, a resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, shared details of her encounter with Russell, including his reaction to an unexpected career reference, on Facebook.

“Tombstone” also features another Alabama-born actor, Jasper native Michael Rooker. The longtime character actor moved to Chicago at age 13 and later attended DePaul University. Rooker first came to prominence in the terrifying title role of “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” Notable film work includes “Eight Men Out,” “Mississippi Burning,” “Days of Thunder,” “JFK” and “Tombstone.” Rooker’s most popular big screen role came in 2014 when he first played Yondu Odonta in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” He also earned acclaim for playing Merle Dixon, a villainous survivor on AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”