Fresh off of the staggering worldwide success of his latest entry in the “Fast & Furious” series, global action superstar and film producer Vin Diesel returns to his breakthrough role in “Riddick,” the much-anticipated new chapter of the captivating saga that began with the hit sci-fi movie “Pitch Black” and the epic “The Chronicles of Riddick.” In a dark thriller that reunites him with writer/director David Twohy, Diesel reprises his role as the antihero Riddick, a dangerous escaped convict wanted by every bounty hunter in the known galaxy. Opening September 6th, the movie also features Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Gerard Funk and Karl Urban.
At a recent press conference in Los Angeles, Diesel talked about the excitement of receiving his star on Hollywood Boulevard, answering the fans’ request for an R-rated “Riddick,” bringing to the film a level of respect that he felt the overall chronology of the story deserved, doing an independent production, securing foreign financing and leveraging everything including his house in order to make “Riddick,” his preparation to play the character, balancing his responsibilities as both the film’s producer and star, and how fighting Bautista in “Riddick” compared to fighting Dwayne Johnson in “Fast 5.”
Diesel also discussed his views on the future of the film industry, why he disagrees with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s recent predictions, how he believes Universal Studios is committed in a new way to the relationship between the fans and the franchise, his desire to do more science fiction, his upcoming “Soldiers of the Sun” project at Universal, his promise to make “Hannibal the Conqueror,” and the possibility of doing two more “Riddick” movies with Twohy in the future.
Here’s what he had to say:
Vin Diesel: Did everyone see the movie?
Question: (chorus of yesses) Yes! It’s a nice return to form.
Diesel: This is so cool. You’re the first group of people who have seen this movie. Wow! I’ve been waiting to sit in front of some people that have seen the movie, because everyone I’ve talked to over the year while I was touring the world for “Fast and Furious,” when people would talk to me about “Riddick,” there was no frame of reference. They didn’t see it. They didn’t know how we meshed the “Pitch Black” and “Chronicles” and how we answered the next chapter. To sit before all of you who have seen the movie is almost as exciting as getting the Hollywood star yesterday. (loud applause)
Q: Congratulations on getting your star on Hollywood Boulevard!
Diesel: Thank you!
Q: Do you feel like you’ve done “Riddick” now and can move on? Or are you even hungrier to do more “Riddick” and more science fiction?
Diesel: I would love to do more science fiction. We have another project at Universal called “Soldiers of the Sun,” that’s very interesting and an opportunity to go into that genre. But that’s a good question because I’ve been thinking about that lately. The reality is I always envisioned the Riddick franchise as a continuing mythology, so I always imagined that there would be many other films to follow. And yet, part of what you said rings true. I do feel like I answered that growing request from the fans that said, “Please make another ‘Riddick.’” It was one of the three promises that I either made, or people assumed that I made, on the social media network. One of them obviously was the return of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). That was something everyone was so vocal about four and a half years ago. The second was the resurrection of “Riddick” and reawakening that mythology. And then, of course, the third one was “Hannibal the Conqueror,” which is the one promise I haven’t delivered on yet, but I will.
Now that I have kids, it’s a little bit trickier to watch “Riddick.” We were initially going to try to make “Riddick” before I did “Fast 5,” and then I learned that we were expecting a child. I didn’t think it would be fair to the child, and I didn’t think it would be fair to the fans to go to that dark place while welcoming a life into the world. So, “Riddick” waited until after I did the more family-centric “Fast 5.” As you remember, in “Fast 5,” the idea of pregnancy was very present in the Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) relationship, which I guess played to the fact that my son was being born while we were making that movie. But, I couldn’t play the Riddick character and go to that dark place. I guess the reason why I’m saying that is because it *is* a dark place to go to, to play Riddick. It’s very rewarding to see the movie. It’s very rewarding to make the movie. But, playing the character is sometimes a lot more difficult than other characters because it takes so much preparation to get into that character. For this version, with where Riddick is now in this movie, and his state of mind in this movie, I went to the woods for four months and prepared by basically being a recluse. I prepared the inner core of the character. And specifically, because I was also producing it, it was so important to get that core character correct, so that I could easily tap into it while maintaining some kind of circumspect view of what was going on with the production as a producer.
Q: How difficult is it for you to balance your role as an actor with also being the producer?
Diesel: I try to create an environment where, when we step onto set, we’re all in character. There’s a funny thing we used to say while we were playing Dungeons & Dragons. When all of us were around a table, every now and then someone might say something random like, “I’m tired. I might just take a nap.” The DM (Dungeon Master) would say, “Everything you say is in game,” which is a similar approach to the way we approached making this movie. When you come on set, everything should be focused around your character, and you should stay in the pocket, as much as possible. Every actor has their own process. For me, I need to stay in the pocket. So, if I’m on set and I’m in character, I’m not thinking like a producer. If I’m on set and I’m not in character, wardrobe and make-up, and I’m just coming on set for the moments that I’m not shooting, then I’m able to be the producer. This was tricky because it wasn’t like being the producer of “Fast & Furious.” This was being the producer of something that, if it didn’t work, I would have lost my house. Everything that I had in my life was leveraged to make this movie. So, in terms of the producerial role, the stakes were higher than for any producer I know because the skin in the game was real. I was so committed to answering this growing request from the social media fans to continue this character, and the only way that I could have pulled it off was by leveraging everything.
Q: Since this was an independent production this time, is this the story you always envisioned to follow “The Chronicles of Riddick”? How has that evolved?
Diesel: It isn’t the story that I always envisioned to follow the last chapter of “Chronicles.” Part of what I’ve been trying to do at the studio, and have been very successful with, as you’ve seen with the “Fast” franchise, is to create movies while simultaneously thinking about the succeeding chapters, and how they would all interlink and how each film would speak to one another. That felt like the challenge of our millennium. In the old millennium, when we made sequels and whenever we did franchise movies, we just put the brand up there and slapped something together and didn’t expect the property to grow. We expected the property to fizzle out. It was exploiting a brand. That’s why I turned down all those films, the sequels that I turned down. I didn’t feel like they were approaching it with that level of respect to an overall chronological story.
When we were doing “The Chronicles of Riddick” back in 2003, David (Twohy) and I put together three leather binders, and each leather binder had a lock. It was one of those binders that you could lock. And we gave it to the head of the studio and we gave them one key. On the first binder, it said Core I, the second binder said Core II and the third binder said Core III. At that production level, the amount of money that we were spending at that point, as you can imagine, we were thinking we were going directly to the Underverse for Core II, and then to Furya for Core III. When years and years started to go by and we weren’t delivering the next chapter, we had to make a very conscious decision to find a way to tell the next chapter, to continue the story, to continue the mythology, even if it meant that we weren’t going to get the size budget that we had just had on “The Chronicles of Riddick.”
Almost luckily for us, there was an outcry from the social media to make this one as an R-rated movie which did two things. One is it ruled out all possibilities of a studio backing it. As you know, rated R movies are few and far between nowadays. We’re all witnessing it and we’re seeing less and less rated R movies, or less and less of them being made. So it ruled out the idea of the studio backing it from the beginning, which meant that we had to take a more independent route, so I went to Europe, to a film market, and presented what this film was going to be, and got foreign money to start this movie, to be the bulk of the financing for the movie. And then, two, it was up to us to take those somewhat limited means, especially in comparison to where we were on “Chronicles,” and tell a story with those limited means. Thank god, the audience wanted it rated R because that justified in some ways taking a more independent route.
Q: One of the reasons why I wanted to see “Fast 5” was to watch you and Dwayne Johnson go mano a mano. How did fighting Dave Bautista in “Riddick” compare to fighting Johnson in “Fast 5”? Did you guys arm wrestle to size up each other?
Diesel: First of all, David Bautista came in and was just [amazing]. I remember when he was auditioning, I immediately saw something. I immediately saw some potential. I had just worked with Dwayne Johnson on “Fast 5,” so I believed you could take somebody from the wrestling world and coach them into some great performances. So I was confident about that. The fight sequence between Bautista and I was different in some ways. It took the same level of choreography, but the fight sequence in “Fast 5” took us a week to shoot. Dwayne will tell you, anyone will tell you, that it was one of the most rigorous scenes we’ve ever shot because it wasn’t just all the physical component. There was an emotional component that was a part of that fight sequence that added an extra level of difficulty and intensity to it. The fight between Bautista and I wasn’t supposed to be. It was fun, but it wasn’t supposed to be a huge set piece in the way that the Dom-Hobbs fight is.
As you know, in “Fast 5,” at the very introduction of Hobbs, you’re waiting for the Hobbs-Dom showdown. This was done a little bit differently because we were still focusing on the Johns character (Matt Nable), where you didn’t have to do that for “Fast 5,” and all the characters that are part of the mercs. But, I remember that day. I got spoiled on “Fast 5.” I used to do fight sequences, and I started to get self-conscious about fight sequences, because invariably the other person would get hurt, and you never want anyone to be hurt on a film, let alone you being responsible. The great thing about working with these guys who have spent their life choreographing fights for wrestling is that that’s what they do. That’s their specialty. Their specialty is selling taking hits. Their specialty is selling explosive hits without making a contact or doing too much damage. So, I was able to exploit that for the “Fast 5” fight, as well as exploit that with David Bautista. He’s the only character in “Riddick” that our protagonist fights to that degree, and it’s in part because he was conditioned to do that and was such a great choice to have for that fight sequence.
Q: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas recently made some comments and predicted that the film industry is going to implode and that mostly only these blockbuster franchise movies will get made and ticket prices will go up. As someone who stars in and produces these types of movies, what are your thoughts on their statements? How do you envision the future?
Diesel: Not on my watch. It won’t implode while I’m around. I promise you that. What are my thoughts on those statements? I’d love to talk to them. We should get Lucas and we should get Spielberg over here and talk it out, face to face and mano a mano. I love Steven, and I’m a huge fan of George Lucas. At the risk of sounding naive, I don’t see that in the immediate future. I envision the future as sunny (laughs) with love, harmony and oneness. (breaks into song) “We are the world. We are the children.” I think Hollywood is changing.
I don’t know the last time that Steven Spielberg or George Lucas made a movie with Universal, but I can tell you that Universal is leading the charge. They’re looking at film differently. They’re planning ahead in a way that I’ve never seen a studio do before. They’re believing in a relationship between a fan and a film franchise in a new way. They’re more receptive, in part because of the social media, to an audience in a way we’ve never been allowed and in a way that Steven could never have imagined. When Lucas was doing “Star Wars,” he didn’t have a 50-million person Facebook to just sift through feedback to try to get an idea for what he was going to do next. It’s a luxury that we have today, and it’s cool to see Universal leading the charge by listening. I mean, the thought of listening to an audience was unheard of five years ago. And you know from your history of going to movies that movies are that thing where you go and buy a ticket, and you never get to talk to the person that made it, and you never get to talk to the creator or the producer of those films. You buy the ticket, shut up and sit down, and you can never comment about it. You can never have a relationship with it. You can never say, “Yo…” If Clark Gable had a Facebook page, there would have been a “Gone with the Wind 2.” (laughs)
Q: David Twohy says that he wants to do two more “Riddick” films. Do you want to do two more?
Diesel: Tell David to give me the goddamn script for the next one right now! He’s late! I was expecting it yesterday.