Movie News

Set Visit : Riddick; Moviehole talks to Vin Diesel

Movie News
Drew Turney

An Australian-based film critic and celebrity interviewer now based in Los Angeles, California.

Vin Diesel reprises his iconic role of Riddick in the long-awaited follow-up to “Chronicles of Riddick”. The infamous Riddick has been left for dead on a sun-scorched planet that appears to be lifeless. Soon, however, he finds himself fighting for survival against alien predators more lethal than any human he’s encountered. The only way off is for Riddick to activate an emergency beacon and alert mercenaries who rapidly descend to the planet in search of their bounty. The first ship to arrive carries a new breed of merc, more lethal and violent, while the second is captained by a man whose pursuit of Riddick is more personal. With time running out and a storm on the horizon that no one could survive, his hunters won’t leave the planet without Riddick’s head as their trophy.
Moviehole was lucky enough to be invited to the set of the film in Montreal, Canada. Here’s what happened when we ran into star and producer Vin Diesel.

This looks like an intense film to be working on. You must be in every scene aren’t you?

VD: In all honesty it is. By the design of our story there is what we call the ‘Jeremiah Riddick’ portion. It gets very intense because it’s just one man stranded on the planet.

We went through the costume department, and while we’re on this particular bend, how resourceful would you be if you were out, could you make your own clothes?

VD: Yeah with very Indian influence in some ways, very resourceful. But we’ve seen Riddick in kind of a resourceful state in the past. In fact in Chronicles of Riddick we pick him up while he’s living up north in the polar region as you guys know. You can tell he has fabricated a lot of his own clothing and he’s living in caves and this is similar except for the fact that here he is left for dead at the start of our picture. He’s left for dead on a planet that’s really not so hospitable.

Why do you think that this is a character that can endure over the course of three, now potentially five films that were hearing, what is it in his nature that makes him interesting?

VD: That’s a good question. I think there’s something that makes him a quintessential anti-hero in the truest sense of the word. So many anti-heroes are written as anti-heroes but they come off as reluctant heroes. This is a guy who really wants to kill you and ends up some how by virtue of the story servicing some good in spite of it and I think the audience appreciates a classic anti-hero in that sense.

But what is it about those anti heroes that historically have very little dialogue, its men of short words.

VD: Sure, sure, sure, I don’t think they are too concerned with being liked. Dialogue is usually for, you know, light washed heroes or mustache twirling villains. I think that this character it really almost has a dyslexia with mankind. He doesn’t even know how to process caring about people. He’s probably found himself most vulnerable in life when he has cared about people and probably felt the most foreign to even himself when he does care about other people.

Because DT was saying you were like oh you can take out those lines of dialogue, most actors are like give me more

He’s minimalistic to say the least. He’s a very internal character and introspective character and what I think is most fascinating about the Riddick character is what we see him reflecting upon on screen. It’s the things that he doesn’t say that makes him so interesting and tells the most about him.

What gets you so attached to the character Riddick, or the film, the franchise?

VD: I don’t know, I have to say I have a very strong connection to this character. I imagine it has something to do with this quest for identity that he doesn’t realize that he’s on and I guess there’s some interesting similarity between my historic quest for identity and the quest for identity of our character.

Were you at all reluctant to come back to it because you asked a question online you said something like ‘do I want to go back to this dark place?’ you seemed like you were equivocal for a minute there or is that just for show?

VD: No, its actually 100% right. In fact I was supposed to go back to the character before Fast Five and then my son was going to be born and I couldn’t play this character while introducing a child to the world. It’s just too dark a character here walking around with thoughts that are too dark and too detached from everything and it probably wouldn’t be the best character to welcome Elijah into the world.

Was it a matter of coming back to what you do best and that’s why you returned to the Fast franchise as well or you still want to stretch yourself?

VD: The irony is that returning to the Fast franchise was in service of returning to this franchise. You all probably heard about that story when I did that cameo in Tokyo Drift there were two things that the studio offered me and the first thing that they offered was they said they had no intentions of continuing the Fast franchise and if I did a cameo they would let me produce it. Since they were never able to attract me back or bring me back or appeal to me wanting to be part of Dom again, due to the scripts that I had been given, they were very clever and said ok since you said no to these scripts no matter how much money we’ve given you or offered you, you produce what you think would be the right story path. You produce and you work with this writer, well send this writer up to your house and you come up with stories and a theme and a direction and a vision for this continuation of the Fast franchise. What people probably don’t know is that even that wasn’t enough for me to come and do that cameo in Tokyo Drift . But they had already shot the movie and they needed the cameo to release the movie. I remember midnight the night before going to shoot that cameo in California in 2006, I suppose. I had cold feet about doing the cameo and I thought ‘I can’t do that cameo you know!’ If they were going to bring Dom back we would have had to do a script that was catered to bringing Dom back. I feel weird about doing four hours worth of work and then have the world thinking that I’m in a movie and then not really be in that movie. And as you can imagine even my agents felt ambivalent and my reps felt ambivalent about that, not as much as me but they felt ambivalent about me misleading the audience into thinking that I’m in a Fast and Furious film when I was really only there for a second a tad at the end. And then the studio called at midnight and said that franchise that you won awards with, video games, been so loyal to, Chronicles of Riddick, the one that you asked the head of the studio at the time, Stacey Snyder, if you could buy the franchise back for $10 million and they said no, the studio said they will give you back that franchise if you do this cameo.

Very clever.

VD: Very clever.

I met Helen Mirren in London and she said to me she wants to contact you and she wants to be in Fast and Furious six.

VD: Oh wow, I don’t blame her, (laughter). Judi Dench was in the last Chronicles of Riddick. I have a role for her in the next Chronicles of Riddick, so if you see her, let her know that she may very well play an elemental in the next chapter.

From the scene that we got to see before, you’re all chained up. Can you just kind of set that scene for us? I mean I know its all aluminum and its fake and all that other stuff, but how much do you get in the moment?

VD: Oh my God, all the way! I go in the moment so much that I don’t remember what I do afterward; I try to make the situation, the setting, or the set or the sequence as safe as possible because once the director says action I don’t know where I’ll be.

That was a seven and a half minute scene that we initially saw which is unheard of to let a director go on that long, he hadn’t said cut yet

VD: Well Sydney Lumet had a couple of long scenes too; I think Sydney Lumet had a ten minute court room scene that I did. I guess that’s funny because DT walked on the set a couple hours ago and said I feel like I’m directing theatre. For years growing up in New York City the only thing I ever did was theatre. The idea of being able to do anything in front of a camera was a pipe dream or something far off or something I would have to wait twenty years to realize. I think it’s very much like that, I think its very much like a stayed performance in that regard. That experience allows you to go into these incredibly long takes. I mean and those that know my past and know how I came into this industry, I was a thespian long before I could bench press you know 100 pounds. Before I was a bouncer, before I became athletic and before I became this macho New Yorker, I was just a kid doing the Charleston up at a place called the (inaudible) repertory on 86th street in New York City.

Because you get so in the moment Vin, is that the reason why you couldn’t do this film while you had kids because it’s a little difficult to leave the character at work?

VD: It’s a little difficult to leave character at work and just a very cold detachment that happens with this character that, and I could be wrong, but it just didn’t feel like it would be a right process to go through while welcoming life.

Is this some kind of spiritual belief that you have?

VD: It may be. I know that doing Fast Five, if you notice that this Fast Five was the lightest Fast and Furious you’ve ever seen me do. In some ways it was about family. It was about welcoming my sister’s kid and Brian’s kid and you know the celebration of family. You hear that spoken about in Fast Five. Those were themes that worked and that I could apply and carry through my life at that time.

As passionate as you were about this project what was your mindset last fall then when things started to kind of dissipate.

VD: It was very, very scary on some levels. I started to think at one point last fall that we were too ambitious to try to go for a rated R in this day and age where there are really no great rated R movies and no ones really doing them. When I grew up watching movies the second I turned thirteen it was all about rated R movies but you look nowadays they’re so far and few between.

So what did the producer Vin Diesel do to kick into high gear to save this project?

VD: Thank god the producer has a little cloud over at Universal. I had already forfeited the pay you know, I already said I’ll work for scale. I didn’t work for scale for Saving Private Ryan, you know what I mean. In fact I never worked for scale in my life. Even for Saving Private Ryan I got $100,000. But I guess it was really, really important to make sure that Fast Five got the attention that it did because that would allow for Universal to see that I could make them a profit as a producer.

Yeah that slightly did ok (laughter)…

VD: By doing that, by showing that I could take a film that [Tokyo Drift] wasn’t making any money and to show that studio that I could take a property that they were going to shelve and turn it into a brand new trilogy with Fast Four, Fast Five, Fast Six. Not only was that going to help me to get Riddick made, but ultimately will help the big cause, which is the Punic Wars and making the Hannibal trilogy.

So with all the challenges of making this movie what made it so important to you, to you and to DT as well. I asked him before if you guys had something to prove after the Chronicles or what made you power through after all the difficulties?

VD: Somebody on my Facebook page said ‘please, please, please, please make Chronicles of Riddick! You can’t end the story there.’ Without knowing how hard we’d been working for the past decade to make that a reality. They said ‘I bet each one of us would put $10 into it, to pre-buy a ticket’ and something about that was so endearing it strengthened my conviction to make this movie. The other thing is, and this may be spiritual, who knows what this is. I don’t know if it was a vision or a promise or a declaration, but the first promise I made in this millennium that would make sense to my career is that Letty would be alive whether the studio or whether anybody in the process wanted it or not. As a man of integrity, which is what I like to think if myself as, (which is good and bad because I could turn something down that the whole audience might want me to do but I wont do it because of integrity and then everyone’s mad at me because didn’t do it) but the first thing was Letty and not in this order but the fact that Letty was alive was imperative to me. The fact that Riddick would continue was imperative to me. Again I never worked for scale before, and I’m having a great time. I remember when I turned down Too Fast Too Furious my father is kind of the altruistic hippie but he’s an altruistic guy, an artist who grew up in artist housing where if you made more than $15,000 a year you were kicked out of the building. So he’s this downtown bohemian artist making art for the sake of art and I said ‘Hey Dad, you know I just turned down the script to Too Fast and Too Furious, you want to know how much money I just turned down? I just turned down twenty something.” I thought my father was going to say ‘Good! That’s it. You don’t give a shit about the money.’ But he said to me, ‘Are you sure you really want to do that?’ And the irony is that instead of doing Too Fast and Too Furious I ended up doing a rewrite of Chronicles of Riddick a WGA rewrite for $50,000. And it took the same amount of time as the movie. So all these guys had come out they had a full movie in the can and I was just getting done with my job.

What was the thinking behind making Chronicles so different to Pitch Black you went in a direction that no one would have expected?

VD: Nobody would have expected it. It was expanding the universe and the allure of expanding the universe. I’m a Gary Gygax D and D player. I’m a D and D player from the seventies you know and I played Dungeons and Dragons in a serious way into my early thirties. At least to a point where if I wasn’t bouncing, you know the thing I love to do the most was you know hunt women

Interesting choice of words

VD: That’s real. I was this romantic in New York City about women. But the only thing in the world that could trump that was an all-night (D&D) session. There was a cop that played, there were musicians that played, there were caterers that played, and we would all play around this table. It was escapism at its best. And maybe because I was a bouncer, I wasn’t so into drugs – it was a drug. The idea of continuing the Chronicles of Riddick and flushing out this mythology is part of me that was DM-ing Hollywood, I mean Michelle Rodriguez will often joke and say you DM Hollywood its like you’re DM-ing Hollywood, for those who play D and D.

I think I first met you with Saving Private Ryan and many, many films later. There was always this coy kind of behavior you were trying to like dance around certain things. You seem much more at ease now there’s like a comfortability. Has all the pressure kind of gone? Has becoming a father maybe let all that go?

VD: Maybe, there definitely is something that happens when you become a father and also the wisdom that comes with age. I don’t worry about money and I don’t worry about anything but the quality of work and so that’s just everything. I don’t care about award shows as you know. I’m not into extra press and magazine covers and selling my kids on People magazine anything. I’m a very private person I guess but not even deliberately anymore. I really love what I do and I love to dance in that imagination more than anything else in the world and I love to commit to it.

With all that and now being a father and having that experience, the Jeremiah Johnson aspect of this movie, did that appeal to you at all – to have the me just going out not have any responsibility?

VD: Maybe. I was a big fan of Grizzly Adams when I was a kid. Maybe that’s because I grew up in a building with 5,000 people in downtown New York City and the idea of having any space to yourself or any moment to yourself… I was a night person just because I wanted to cut down the population. The way you would do that in a big metropolis is you become a night person. That’s when you start writing, because there is less noise, less people, less distractions. There is always something I learn about myself when I delve into the Riddick character. There is always something therapeutic.

And this trip it was?

VD: This trip was something very deep, too deep for today, but very, very, very deep.

You have written, acted and produced. When are we going to see Vin Diesel the director?

VD: I directed Los Bandoleros which was a short film that prequeled Fast Four. If you haven’t seen that it’s a great thing to see. Its on the Fast Four DVD. I dabbled in a webisode just recently, but people are asking me ‘when’? I’m very content. People think I’m ecstatic when I’m directing. I wanted to direct Hannibal but you can see I’m a bit gun shy. To even say it now, because its been a long, long road, that I’m slightly ‘gun shy’ about my need to direct Hannibal. There are people who would say there would be no one better at directing Hannibal. I went to Tunisia and brought Facebook there, you’ll think about that later.

As a journalist from Montreal I have to ask did you have time to go around the city?

VD: My family came in this week and I took my daughter to the Notre Dame church yesterday and it was wonderful.

Is it your first time shooting a movie in Montreal?

VD: First time, but I got to say I like it, I like it a lot.

How is your relationship with DT?

VD: Pretty damn remarkable, almost too good. I think we’ve been in the trenches long enough and he fought for me in the beginning and then I fought for him later in our lives. We spent so much time working on this its funny. I looked up Chronicles of Riddick on Wikipedia and there was some article in 2006, right after that Tokyo Drift deal by the way, where I talk about returning to Chronicles of Riddick. That means that we’ve been plotting this that long. If you had the chance to look at any of the [message] boards I’ve never seen a film in my life with boards as extravagant and as incredible! In fact we will have a coffee table book and you’ll think its Frank Miller. They’re that intense and that elaborate. It’s all because we had so much time in pre-production which is something that studios sometimes over look. It’s the only way that you can make a $150 million movie for a third of the price. It’s expensive and this is something I was trying to sell with Hannibal for a long time by saying ‘if you increase the pre production phase you could make a huge movie for a fraction of the price.’ And I think were proving that here.

While you were making this movie what was the coolest day on set, has there been a moment for you that’s been this is fun an adrenaline rush or something?

VD: There have been some pretty cool days on this set. There is a mud demon fight, there is a fight with this huge creature. It is a real primal…

Isn’t that a piece of Styrofoam?

VD: It’s not just a piece of Styrofoam. It may be just a piece of Styrofoam to me and when you’re jumping I feel like I’m living out a character in a game. I feel like I’m a god of war when I go into character.

You talk about this being R rated does that really make a difference? I don’t feel like Chronicles of Riddick wasn’t violent. You pull off somebody’s head at one point.

VD: That’s a very good question. I’ve sometimes asked myself if you can distinguish enough between a rated R movie and a PG movie

I think PG 13 movies are getting stronger if we talk about Dark Knight

VD: Yeah I think they are getting stronger and yet once you start seeing this movie you go ‘whoa.’ There’s a scene that I just shot last week where David said to me the next day ‘you know it was so gruesome, I just don’t know if it’s even ok for rated R.’ There is something unapologetic about an R rating. I think it’s the spirit in which you make the movie. The unapologetic nature of that process is worth something. It’s hard to explain, but it’s just worth something. You don’t have to worry about how many curse words, you don’t have to worry about how gruesome these kills are, or how savage these sequences are. I think it’s something that you’re very clearly going to feel when you see this movie.

DT seemed pretty confident about fourth and the fifth what is your vision?

VD: I’m probably more confident than he is.

Is there anything you felt when you were filming this one that tells you there is something more into this one specifically?

VD: Oh my god, I would go as far as to say there were more elements of The Underverse Furia and the sequel stories in place than there were this story. This story was an organic detour that happened to our central character and if this wasn’t called the Chronicles of Riddick we might not even be allowed to take this detour. So yeah both those other sequel stories are very real and are ironically more flushed out then where we started with this story six years ago.

What is your upcoming project soon after this one?

VD: My daughter really wants me to make a film the kids can see. She’s three years old. She just recently discovered that daddy’s an actor and now she wants me to do something. And by the way, this movie is so rated R. About six weeks into making this I had to call the agent and say OK lets take that other family film very serious because now I’m beginning to feel like I’m alienating half the world here since this movie is so rated R. I would feel guilty for under aged people trying to sneak in and see the movie.

For fans who love Pitch Black who may have been a little disappointed with the exuberance of Chronicles, how would you tell them to come back now?

VD: I would leave that for Universal to do. I make movies with my heart, I don’t make the movies for bubble gum award shows. Like I said, all those are bull shit. I haven’t seen shit in the award shows that means a damn thing to anybody. Nobody has. I mean, we’re not moved, we’re told what were supposed to like, there’s nothing that’s driving us and making us feel like whoa I’m in that movie. I make movies for that audience, for escapism, for true, true escapism

But this is the Riddick that they initially discovered?

VD: This Riddick is very akin to a story not unlike Pitch Black, however for a culture that has been influenced by The Chronicles of Riddick games. Have you ever heard of World of Warcraft, the Wrath of the Lich King was Underverse, It was a complete rip off of the Underverse, everybody knows that. The cultural impact of Chronicles of Riddick is present and real and the fun of the Chronicles of Riddick is expanding that universe. I guess what’s exciting is being able to continue to flesh that out. It will be interesting to take you into the world of the elementals and what that’s like. You’ve only met Aereon, you met Judi Dench, that’s one of many, that’s one of four normal and a multitude of quasis what have you. The possibilities are infinite. I’m a mythology guy. The idea that we can go and do a very contained story like this one while never relinquishing the fun or the opportunity to play mythology is what is so exciting about this property. For as many people that say they loved that very contained sci-fi driven Pitch Black there’s a whole bunch of people the love that kind of open mythology of the Chronicles of Riddick. You have to blend it all and I guess the fun of being a part of a franchise like this is that you can.

More freedom?

VD: A lot of freedom, its rated R, Universal never would have let us do rated R under normal circumstances.

Will we get to see other Riddick video games?

VD: Yes, you will be able to see other Riddick video games.

Comic books?

VD: You’re going to see a coffee table book, a real graphic novel.

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About Drew Turney

An Australian-based film critic and celebrity interviewer now based in Los Angeles, California.

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