Built on the success of 2000's under-the-radar hit Pitch Black, which cast Diesel as a mysterious, cold-blooded killer struggling to save a shuttle's passengers from a planet full of nocturnal creatures, the franchise sputtered a bit when the 2004 sequel The Chronicles of Riddick failed to capitalize on a dramatically increased budget. This prompted several years of attempts by Diesel and franchise cowriter/director David Twohy to get a third film off the ground. That third film, Riddick, finally began filming early last year in Montreal with a significantly lower budget, an R rating, and a back-to-basics approach for everyone involved.
Fandango was part of a team of journalists who visited the Montreal set of Riddick near the end of shooting to speak with the cast and creative team, and watch the filming of a dramatic scene.
Shot late in the evening, the scene unfolds amid a torrential downpour on the alien planet that has left the ground slick and coated with mud. Earlier in the evening, the sound of gunfire could be heard from the large indoor set built to look like the rugged terrain of the planet where Riddick has been stranded for an unspecified time. Many of the cast members – which include Battlestar Galactica actress Katee Sackhoff and former wrestler Dave Bautista – conducted their interviews while drying off from the shoot and strapped with all manner of sci-fi weaponry.
The scene we previewed featured Riddick himself (Diesel) exiting an armored outpost via a slick, rain-soaked ramp. As with anything the character does, it was nothing if not dramatic as he slowly emerged from the shadows and adjusted the trademark goggles he uses to see during the daylight hours. Behind him, the interior of the outpost flickered with shorted-out lights that revealed some serious damage to the walls and ceiling.
Elsewhere around the soundstage, sets were made up to look like the throne room of the Necromonger ship Riddick was seen in at the end of The Chronicles of Riddick, as well as both the interior and exterior of Riddick's underground lair on the planet. Amid massive, clifflike set pieces bordered by floor-to-ceiling green screens, Riddick's makeshift camp could be seen, complete with fabricated skins (and skulls) of strange, alien beasts he'd hunted. During a tour of the creature-effects studio, Eric Fiedler and Jason Hamer showed off several of the monsters that would be giving Riddick and the mercenaries pursuing him a tough time on the planet – many of which can be seen in the trailer.
And despite the late shooting schedule – it was well past 1 a.m. when Diesel received a break from the action – he eventually made his way off the set to chat with the press for a long, sprawling conversation about the Chronicles of Riddick franchise, the nine-year gap between the second and third films, and why he kept fighting for Riddick to be made. He also chatted a bit about some of his other long-standing passions projects: the once failing but now going strong Fast and the Furious series and the yet-to-be-made Hannibal movie he's hoping to make about the ancient Carthaginian military commander.
Here are some of the highlights from our conversation with Diesel:
Q: What does it mean for you to finally be filming this movie?
Vin Diesel: It's surreal for me to be here after nine years. When we first did Pitch Black it predated The Fast and the Furious, but led into that relationship [with Universal Pictures], and we're here now because of The Fast and the Furious. You're sitting on this set because I did a cameo in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. We leveraged that cameo in Tokyo Drift to reboot a franchise that was dying, because when The Fast and the Furious got to that third film it was basically a scrap of metal that nobody wanted.
Q: Did you have to push for the R rating for Riddick? Did the studio want that rating for the film?
Diesel: Oh my God, of course they wouldn't want that. Nobody's doing R-rated movies. You can count on your hands the number of R-rated movies getting a lot of play. In going the studio route with The Chronicles of Riddick, the budget went up but the first thing taken out was the R rating. If you want to spend that kind of money and you want to expand the mythology, you have to reconfigure the movie and make it PG. But there's something appropriate and liberating and honest and free about being able to make it a rated-R picture and not having to comply with an understandable studio mandate of PG filmmaking for Hollywood blockbusters.
Q: In Pitch Black, Riddick goes from bad guy to good guy, and in The Chronicles of Riddick he goes from good-guy human to something more than human, with powers. What's the evolution in this movie for Riddick?
Diesel: I don't want to give too much away because you're tapping into the juicy stuff. If you follow the mythology, you'd assume this movie takes you into the Underverse. But in this film that's kind of thrown out the window after a series of events. It's a very creative construct that (writer-director) David Twohy and I worked on, which is playing on the idea of having so much power, and that feeling you get from having too much power and the need to return to the animal side.
Q: What are the core elements of the character that have kept you passionate about Riddick for all these years?
Diesel: I enjoy playing a quintessential antihero. When I first read the Riddick character, I felt like I'd stumbled on an antihero I hadn't seen – to the point where there's something therapeutic about playing the character. I know it sounds corny, but I feel like I learn about myself when I play that type of character. Going to that dark, isolated place produces some kind of vision about myself. He mirrors my own quest for identity, my eternal quest as a child. David Twohy asked me what I thought a Furyan was, and depending on what day you asked me I would give a different answer.
Q: That's funny, because he told us to ask you.
Diesel: He did? [Laughs] Well, something he gravitated to was the idea that a Furyan doesn't know where he came from, and that simple reality of not knowing where you came from is such an integral part of being a Furyan.
Q: Each of the Chronicles of Riddick movies has raised the bar as far as stunts and fight sequences go. How did you amp up the latest film?
Diesel: There are some people, like myself, who feel like an honest continuation of a story is the most important thing and the most rewarding thing in a franchise. But if you asked anybody else, they'd tell you that Riddick is like nothing you've ever seen. I guess, for me, I try not to get too distracted by the gratification of it being bigger and better, but trying to find the subtleties and the nuances that explain this evolving character.
Q: Is there something more enjoyable about making a movie at a stripped-down level like this, more like Pitch Black than a big, blown-up studio project?
Diesel: There is a freedom when you go in and you say, “We're going to make it like this. We're going scale. We're going rough, rugged and raw. It's rated R.” The freedom of that is that you don't have to make a movie by committee in the way that studios make movies. It's not a good or a bad thing, because sometimes I actually miss that. Sometimes I embrace it. I like having people double-checking everything and putting up a fight for their own cause or their own reason. But, there is definitely something attractive and something fun about making a movie without parents anywhere around.
Q: You've gone well beyond the movies with The Chronicles of Riddick franchise with games and animated features that fill in gaps in the mythology. Can we expect more of that tying in with Riddick?
Diesel: Oh God, yes... The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay materialized out of a need to expand the world and not having any more resources available to do so. The video game allowed us to create, at the very least, interstitials and animatics that might have cost $10 to $20 million if you would have shot it in the live-action format. It was an opportunity to start to set up some of the mythology for The Chronicles of Riddick in a medium that cost a fraction of what it would have cost in a live-action format.
Q: You've been saying for years that we'd get another Riddick movie, but it's been almost the same amount of time that you've been pushing for a Hannibal movie about the famous Carthaginian general. Are we any closer to seeing that one, too?
Diesel: The loudest three promises I made in this millennium are: The Chronicles of Riddick will continue; the second is that [Michelle Rodriguez's character] Letty will return [in The Fast and the Furious franchise], against all odds, because that's what was designed from the very beginning. I stick to the things that were designed from the beginning. Maybe that's weird, but if we talk about how this story and mythology is going to lay out, it's hard for me to abandon it and just go, “Okay, let's create something new.” That just patronizes our audience. But the third promise is the Punic Wars.
Q: That's the Hannibal movie?
Diesel: [Laughs] Usually people throw things at me when I talk about that movie, like, “You asshole! You've been talking about Hannibal for 10 years!” Hannibal‚ that's the third promise. Hannibal is the dream that's been there for a long time.
Looking for more action?
Check out more of your favorites at Summer of Action!