Vin Diesel Talks ‘Riddick’, the Franchise, and Sci-Fi Films

Vin Diesel Riddick Interview
Vin Diesel stars in 'Riddick' (Photo © 2013 Universal Pictures)

It’s been quite a journey for Vin Diesel in getting this third film of the series into theaters, and in fact he had to come up with the financing on his own in order to get Riddick made. Riddick, which follows 2000’s Pitch Black and 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick, is more of an independent production which meant the budget was smaller than Diesel originally envisioned. It also meant that the fans’ demand for an R-rated follow-up was possible.

Discussing Riddick at a press conference in Los Angeles, Diesel talked about why it’s been so long between films and what it took for him to get back into character.

Vin Diesel Riddick Press Conference

You’ve now done these three films. Do you want more of this world or are you ready to move on? Do you want to do more sci-fi films?

Vin 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 really good question because I’ve been thinking about that lately. The reality is that 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, there’s part of what you said that rings true which is 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 you all know which is 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 do 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-centered Fast 5. As you remember, in Fast 5 the idea of pregnancy was very present in the Brian and Mia relationship, which played to the fact that my son was being born while we were making that movie. 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 pre-production or 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.”

Because you are a producer on this, how difficult is it to be the boss of your cast masts? How do you switch out being an actor and being a producer?

Vin Diesel: “I try to create an environment where, when we step onto the set, we’re all in character. Kind of a funny, old Dungeons & Dragons thing we used to say while we were playing Dungeons & Dragons, I don’t know if you guys know this but when we would play Dungeons & Dragons there would be all of us around a table. Every now and then someone might say something random like, ‘I’m tired. I might just take a nap or something,’ and the DM would say, ‘Everything that you say is in game,’ … go with me on this … which is a similar approach to the way we approached making this movie. 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 all those things 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 and 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 producorial 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 pull it off was by leveraging everything.”

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?

Vin Diesel: “It isn’t the story that I had always envisioned to follow the last chapter of Chronicles. When we first gave the script to the studio, part of what I’ve been trying to do with 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. 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 films that you know that I turned down, the sequels. 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. They were 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, at that amount of money that we were spending at that point, 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, and to continue the mythology – even if it meant that we weren’t going to get the size budget 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 rated R, which did two things. One is it ruled out all possibilities of a studio backing you. As you know, rated R movies are few and far between nowadays. We’re all witnessing seeing less and less rated R movies, or less and less of them are being made. So that 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 and to be the bulk of the financing for this movie. And then 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.”

How did fighting Dwayne Johnson in Fast 5 compare to fighting Dave Bautista in Riddick? When you’re off camera did you ever arm wrestle?

Vin Diesel: “First of all, David Bautista came in and was just… 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 really great performances. I was confident about that.

The fight sequence between Bautista 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’d 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. This, the fight between me and Bautista is fun, but it wasn’t supposed to be a huge set piece in the way that the Dom-Hobbs fight is. As you know, the Fast 5 of it all at the very introduction of Hobbs, you’re really waiting for the Hobbs-Dom showdown. This was done a little bit differently because we were still focusing on the Johns character where you didn’t have to do that for 5. But, I remember that day. I got spoiled on Fast 5 because 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 that have spent their life choreographing fights for wrestling is that that’s what they did, that’s their specialty. Their specialty is selling taking hits. Their specialty is selling explosive hits without really making a contact or really 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, in part because he was conditioned to do that. He was such a great choice to have that fight sequence with.”

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 and how do you envision the future?

Vin 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 really talk it out, face-to-face, mano-y-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.”

How do you envision the future of film?

Vin Diesel: “I envision the future sunny and with love, harmony, and oneness. ‘We are the World. We are the children.’ I think Hollywood is changing. I don’t know when the last time 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 fan and film franchise in a new way. They’re more receptive to an audience, 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 we have today and it’s really 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, movies are that thing where you go and you 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 could never comment about it. You could never have a relationship with it. If Clark Gable had a Facebook page, there would have been a Gone with the Wind 2.”

David Twohy says that he wants to do two more Riddick films. Do you want to do two more?

Vin Diesel: “Tell David to give me the goddamn script for the next one right now. He’s late! I was expecting it yesterday.”

-By Rebecca Murray

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