I must admit I’d never seen a Riddick movie, or any Vin Diesel movie for that matter (just because he was in Boiler Room doesn’t qualify that one). This latest chronicling of his naturally night-visioned character Riddick was my introduction to a whole new world. I brought along a friend who is a fan of the franchise and he shared with me that this third installment harkens back to Riddick’s Pitch Black roots. That may be in part due to the R-rating these two films share, whereas the second one, The Chronicles of Riddick, was made suitable for a PG-13 audience.
Sitting in the theater, I was struck by how Vin Diesel so effortlessly embodies all the qualities you could want in a modern action hero. That tough Riddick exterior, however, was nowhere to be found the day we met to interview him in Beverly Hills. Music filled the room as the door opened to the press conference, the soundtrack provided by the cellphone cradled in his rather large hand. When he asked, “So you guys wanna talk?” I replied that we just wanted to dance, so Vin gave us a few tango moves before taking his seat. Turns out, it’s not easy to switch between his easygoing self and the tortured soul that is Riddick.
DIESEL: 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. If you remember, in Fast 5, the idea of pregnancy was very present in the Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) relationship, which played to the fact that my son was being born while we were making that movie. So, I couldn’t play the Riddick character and go to that dark place. It’s very rewarding to see the movie, and 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. 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.
PPLA: How difficult is it for you to be the boss of your co-stars, and balance being actor and producer?
DIESEL: When you come onto the 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 really 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 on my life was leveraged to make this movie. So, 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 pull it off was by leveraging everything.
PPLA: We asked one of his co-stars, Katee Sakhoff who plays the only female character in the film, what it was like to work with Vin Diesel and why she thinks audiences love him as Riddick.
SACKHOFF: I loved working with Vin. He has a passion about everything he does. He’s been married to this project for so long and I’m sure that it’s owned a piece of property in his brain for the longest time. You can sit and listen to him talk about it forever because he is so passionate about it, and he brings a passion to the set every day. There’s a darkness to Riddick that I think allows people to want him to do bad things, because you know Riddick is going to do bad things, that’s just the way it is. But I think that at his core, who he is and what he’s fighting for, is something that everybody can identify with. He’s truly the last of his kind in a sense, and he’s just trying to get home and stay true to who he is and people just keep coming after him. So I think that audiences kind of like him to do bad things. I think also that (director) David Twohy has done such a phenomenal job at creating a world that we don’t really see a lot of. There are pieces of the original Total Recall in there. There are so many different tonal references throughout Pitch Black to Chronicles of Riddick to this one as well. It really does take you on this journey and you kind of follow Riddick through this journey of trying to accomplish something and you know what he’s trying to accomplish and you know that there are people after him.
PPLA: Since this was an independent production this time, is this the story you always envisioned to follow The Chronicles of Riddick?
DIESEL: It isn’t the story that I had always envisioned to follow the last chapter of Riddick. 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 each film would speak to one another. That felt like the challenge of our millennium. In the old millennium, when we made sequels and franchise movies, we just put the brand up there and slapped something together. We 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 the sequels to all those films. I didn’t feel like they were approaching it with that level of respect to an overall chronological story. Luckily for us, there was an outcry from social media to make this one rated R, which did two things. 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 seeing less and less rated R movies, and less and less of them are being made. 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 and to be the bulk of the financing for the movie. And then, it was up to us to take that somewhat limited means, especially in comparison to where we were onChronicles, 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.
PPLA: 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.
PPLA: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas recently made some comments predicting that the film industry is going to implode and that only blockbuster franchise movies will get made while ticket prices will go up. As someone who stars in and produces those types of movies, what are your thoughts on their statements?
DIESEL: Not on my watch! It won’t implode while I’m around, I promise you that. I’d love to talk to them. We should get Lucas and Spielberg over here and really 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.
PPLA: How do you envision the future of film?
DIESEL: I envision the future sunny and with love, harmony and oneness. I think Hollywood is changing. I don’t know when the last time was 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 believe in a relationship between fan and film franchise, in a new way. They’re more receptive to an audience, in part because of social media, in a way we’ve never been allowed and in a way that Steven never could have imagined. When Lucas was doing Star Wars, he didn’t have a 50 million person Facebook following where he could just sift through feedback to try to get an idea for what he was going to do next. It’s a luxury we have today, and it’s really cool to see Universal be leading the charge by listening. The thought of listening to an audience was unheard of, five years ago. Movies were that thing where you went and bought a ticket, and you never got to talk to the person that made it, and you never got to talk to the creator or the producer of those films. You bought the ticket, shut up and sat down, and you could never comment about it or have a relationship with it. If Clark Gable had a Facebook page, there would have been aGone with the Wind 2.
Watch the Riddick trailer.