By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Vin Diesel arrives for an interview in a joyful mood. He is literally dancing with delight as he listens to E17’s “I’m Here For You” on his iPod. There’s a reason for his high spirits. Diesel is coming off the success of “Fast & Furious 6,” which has raked in nearly $787 million worldwide this summer. Just the day before, the former New York bar bouncer received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, surrounded by his longtime girlfriend, Paloma Jimenez, their two children and some of his movie co-stars.
The 45-year-old action star is encouraged by the early positive response to his new sci-fi thriller “Riddick,” the third in the series that began in 2000 with “Pitch Black.” Diesel reprises the role of Richard Riddick, a dangerous escaped convict wanted by every bounty hunter in the known galaxy.
The film picks up with Riddick leaving his lofty post as Lord Marshal of the Necromongers at the advice of an untrustworthy colleague (Karl Urban) to find a distant planet where his people are rumored to be. When he lands on Furya, the place is full of hostile creatures that are trying to kill him. While trying to avoid becoming a meal, Riddick also has to contend with a ship of mercenaries that arrives in hopes of collecting the bounty on his head (literally) and another ship, helmed by a fellow with a personal grudge. While Riddick plays a game of cat-and-mouse with his pursuers, a deadly storm threatens to take everyone out. The question becomes who can make if off the planet alive. Jordi Molla (“Colombiana”) plays the sadistic, machete-wielding bounty hunter Santana and Matt Nable (“Killer Elite”) plays the revenge-minded Boss Johns. Rounding out the cast are Katee Sackoff, as a take-no-prisoners second-in-command to Boss Johns and Dave Bautista as Diaz, Santana’s muscled henchman.
As the producer and star of the independently financed R-rated film (written and directed by David Twohy, who wrote and directed the previous “Riddick” films), Diesel has more at stake than his reputation. He put his house up as collateral to help secure the financing for this latest action-packed sci-fi adventure.
Q: Has making this film made you hungry to do more science fiction films?
Diesel: I would love to do more science fiction. We have another project at Universal called “Soldiers of the Sun.” It’s very interesting and an opportunity to go into that genre but that’s a very good question because I’ve been thinking about that lately and the reality is I’ve always envisioned the “Riddick” franchise as a continuing mythology. I always imagined there would be many other films that follow. I do feel like I answered the request from the fans to make another “Riddick.” It was one of the three promises that I either made or people assumed that I made on social media. One of them obviously was the return of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez’s character in the “Fast & Furious” franchise), which was something people were so vocal about four and a half years ago. The second was the resurrection of “Riddick,” and re-awakening that mythology and then the third is “Hannibal the Conqueror,” which is the one promise I haven’t delivered on yet, but I will.
Q: There were some delays in making this. Why?
Diesel: We were initially going to try and make “Riddick” before I made “Fast Five” and then my girlfriend and I learned 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 Five.” My son was born while we were making that movie. It’s very rewarding to make “Riddick” and be in the movie, but playing that character is sometimes a lot more difficult than playing other characters because it takes so much preparation to get into character. For this one, with where Riddick’s state of mind, I went to the woods for four months and prepared by basically being a recluse and preparing the inner-core of this character. It was so important to get that core character correct so I could easily tap into it while maintaining a circumspect view of what was going on with the production as a producer.
Q: Because you are a producer on the film, how difficult is it for you to be the boss of your cast mates on the set?
Diesel: I try to create an environment where when we step on the set, we’re all in character. It’s kind of like in Dungeons and Dragons, where when we were playing someone would say something random like, “I’m tired. I might just take a nap or something,” and the Dungeon Master would say, “Everything you say is in game.” We had a similar approach to the way that we made 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 his or her own process but for me, I really need to stay in the pocket. If I’m on set and I’m in character, I’m not thinking like a producer. It was tricky, though, because it wasn’t like being the producer on “Fast & Furious,” because if this didn’t work, I would have lost my house. Everything that I had in my life was leveraged to make this movie. The skin in this game was real. I was so committed to answering this request from the social media fans to continue this character that the only way that I could pull it off was by leveraging everything.
Q: Since this was an independent production, is this the story that you always envisioned to follow “Chronicles?”
Diesel: It isn’t the story that I always envisioned to follow. When we first gave the script to the studio, part of what I’d been trying to do at the studio and had been very successful in as you’ve seen with the Fast franchise is to create movies while simultaneously thinking about the succeeding factors 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, whenever we did franchise movies, we just put the brand up there and slapped something together and didn’t expect the property to grow. It was exploiting the brand. That’s why I turned down all those films 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 making “The Chronicles of Riddick,” David (Twohy, the writer/director) and I put together three leather binders and each leather binders had a lock and we gave it to the head of the studio and we gave them one key. On the first binder it said Core One, the second said Core Two and the third said Core Three. We were thinking we were going directly to the Underverse (the Necromongers promised land) for Core Two and then to Furya for Core Three. When years and years started to go by and we weren’t delivering the next chapter, we had to make a conscious decision to find a way to tell the next chapter and continue the story and the mythology even if it meant we weren’t going to get the size budget that we had 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: it ruled out all possibilities of a studio backing it—R-rated movies are few and far between nowadays—which meant that we had to take a more independent route. 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 got the bulk of the financing for this movie. Then it was up to us to take those somewhat limited means and to tell a story with those limited means.
Q: David Twohy says he would like to make two more films in the “Riddick” universe. Will you come back and do them?
Diesel: Tell David to give me the g**** script for the next one right now. It’s late. I was expecting it yesterday. Would you want me to make another “Riddick?”
Diesel: You don’t know how good you’ve made me feel.