How U.S. Action Hero Steven Seagal Became Russian
If you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s—and your mom let you watch R-rated action movies—one of your heroes was probably Steven Seagal. The black-ponytailed, real-deal martial arts badass became a household name in titles such as Above the Law, Hard to Kill (see above), Marked for Death, Out for Justice, and Under Siege, the majority of which Seagal both produced and starred in. He was basically Bruce Lee, James Bond, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a psychopathic narcissist rolled into one—and at least at the time, that resonated with movie audiences.
These days, his films are anything but the topic du jour: 2016’s Contract to Kill was marked for death on arrival, landing an unbelievable zero rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But lately, Seagal has been making headlines more for his political leanings than his acting chops. The actor’s made himself some friends in high places—in Mother Russia, that is. Last Thanksgiving, it was reported that Seagal had been granted citizenship by President Vladimir Putin himself.
If you’re scratching your head about this, you’re not alone; apparently, the Seagal-Russia courtship has been in the making for several years. As Playboy noted in a feature on Seagal, the actor has become well known behind the Iron Curtain due, in part, to his shilling for the Russian military’s various factory built weapons—the real versions of the fake ones he blew people away with in his movies. Russia has been super keen on bringing weapons sales back to the U.S., given that they’ve been banned there for nearly two decades. (This may seem like a bit of a pipe-dream at this point, given the recent sanctions.)
Seagal’s connections in Russia have also made him an unofficial “ambassador”; he pitched in during a U.S. “fact-finding trip” after the Boston Marathon bombing. He also numbers among his friends former deputy prime minister of Russia Dmitry Rogozin; and Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican representative from California.
But maybe most interesting is Seagal’s apparent close relationship with the Russian president. The two apparently hit it off due to their mutual love of martial arts—Putin has black belts in judo and tae kwon do, while Seagal, a black belt in Aikido—and they’ve dined together, enjoyed sporting events together, and pretty much bro-ed out in every other way. What does Seagal think of Putin? He’s quoted in the Playboy story as saying, “I know him well enough to know that he is one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader alive today.” Is it not lost on Seagal that many in the international community—including as Senator John McCain—believe Putin to be a mass murderer and most recently, behind the hacking of a U.S. presidential election?
Given that President-elect Donald Trump shares some level of respect for Putin, might the actor have a second life in U.S. politics? Dare we suggest he might have a spot in a future Trump White House? We’ll see.
Either way, read Playboy‘s prescient feature on Seagal, which ran in the September 2014 issue here. If you need a primer on Seagal’s body of work, watch a fight-scene highlight reel from his films below. (Note: Some of the language involved is not safe for work.)