It's all happening on a massive Montreal set in March, 2012. On the day Moviefone is on-set, the intimidating Riddick is slowly emerging from a rusty outpost in which he and the mercenaries have holed up. Earlier gunfire suggests they're under attack. Torrential downpours and the nighttime darkness have fully impaired normal vision. No matter for Riddick, who simply adjusts his trademark goggles and cautiously creeps down a ramp. It would be the perfect moment for those slithery creatures to spring from the mucky terrain, until director David Twohy yells, "Cut!"
This could be exactly what the diehard "Riddick" fans have been frothing for, but it isn't until the wee hours of the morning, 3 a.m. to be exact, that a giddy Diesel plunks down to discuss revisiting Riddick and the pressure to deliver the goods on his latest movie.
Moviefone Canada: Can you talk about some of the things that drove you, things that you were willing to sacrifice, in order to make this project happen? It's really rare to see someone revive a dormant franchise.
Vin Diesel: Exactly. I've been lobbying and leveraging for it for nine years, and even after leveraging everything in order to make it rated R ... unfortunately, I should probably care more about making money than I do. And don't tell the people who pay me, because they pay me a lot of money, that I would do all this s--t for free, but I did "Saving Private Ryan" for $100,000. We were shooting in a place called Wexford, Ireland, and I was paid $100,000 and I wasn't insured as an actor, meaning I had never made $7000 in my life in a year. As an actor, you have to make $7000 to be eligible for health benefits. Because I had never made more than that and had been an actor all my life, 20 years at that point, I was insured as a writer. Ted Field, who happens to be one of the crucial elements in "Chronicles of Riddick," was the guy fighting for me in "Pitch Black." He saw my film at Sundance, "Strays," and hired me before Steven Spielberg to write about the bouncer world I had lived in. I wasn't insured as an actor but as a writer, and I'm telling you that because on this picture, I'm basically working for scale. I've never worked for scale in my life. I can't tell you how grateful I am to be a part of all these cool sets, that I don't even think about the fact that it's scale.
You also had "Fast 6" coming up. Is it "Make one big studio movie for them, and then a project for you?"
But not at the cost of integrity. I really mean that and it's a tough load to carry. When they say, "Do '2 Fast 2 Furious' and here's more money than you've ever seen before," and I say, "No, instead I'll do a $50,000 WGA draft of 'Chronicles of Riddick.'" It was so much money the studio says, "You'll be independently wealthy, you'll never have to worry about money again." My father is an altruistic, idealistic artist that was eligible to live in artist's subsidized housing in New York. If you made more than $15,000, you were kicked out. When I told him I'd turned down '2 Fast 2 Furious' and $20 million, even he said, "Are you sure you're doing the right thing?" I thought he'd give me a pat on the back, but that was in service of protecting an integrity, and that's the real deal.
There must be some core elements of the character that has kept you passionate for all these years.
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 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. [Director] David Twohy asked me what I thought a Furyan was and depending on what day you asked, I would give a different answer.
David mentioned that there was a lot more pressure when you were doing the second "Chronicles of Riddick" because there were so many people that had opinions and there was so much money involved. Is there something enjoyable about making "Riddick" at a stripped-down level, more like "Pitch Black"?
Well, the head of the studio was here yesterday, looking at some dailies and just went, "Damn, Vin. This is the future of making movies." I still don't know what she was talking about, but I imagine she's onto something. 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. We're going bare bones." In some ways, 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. Sometimes I actually miss that. I think David's more renegade like that and wants to be his own person. That's more of a director's thing and a director's fantasy. A lot of times, I would be the first to feel the absence of a studio. I went and got a deal, a bungalow, over at Universal because I actually like that partnership. I like having people double-checking everything and putting up a fight for their own cause or their own reason. I appreciate that. But, you're 100 percent right. There is definitely something attractive and something fun about making a movie without parents anywhere around.
What kind of pressure do you feel when you walk out on the set as the star of this film? All eyes are on you; you're Riddick. What kind of pressure do you feel and how do you handle it?
The pressure was on before I even got out here. The pressure was, I'd already leveraged so much to do this movie that the pressure was indescribable. The second I walk onto the set and I know that there's a camera and I know that there's a David Twohy behind that camera, there is zero pressure. There is just me jumping into a pool called Riddick. It's the most free I am. It's like channeling something. It's like taking a drug called Riddick and living in that space. To answer your question, it's the one time that I feel the least pressure. But my process plays to that. My process of Riddick is kind of a bizarre process, meaning I'll go from April of last year or May of last year to October of last year or September, and I'll take three or four months and just go off into the woods. People are like, "What process are you doing for Riddick?" But it'll be a kind of a meditated process that will allow for me to walk on set and be able to pull that character instantaneously. It usually demands a very isolated time, a very reclusive period before coming here. When I finally come on the set, I'm releasing that and I'm almost breathing it in a way, if that makes any sense.
David said you guys have already talked about two more movies and if this one is successful, maybe it will be The Battle of the Underverse?
You've got to go to the Underverse; that's something I talked about at the beginning of our meeting today. It's expected. It's something I firmly believe. Yes, you have to go to the Underverse, you want to go to the Underverse and you'll have to go through the Underverse to get to Furya. So, those are the two stories that are mapped out. The Underverse is a much more costly venture and trying to do a rated-R movie, we went this direction, which is cool and even more interesting because it's so unexpected. Right after "Chronicles of Riddick," the studio said, "Yeah, we're not going to make another 'Chronicles of Riddick.'" And I said, "You know, if I paid you $10 million, if I put my house up, if I put all my houses up and took some loans, would you give me that property back?" And they said, "No." And it wasn't until that "Tokyo Drift" cameo came around that everything changed. It's all ... leverage.
"Riddick" is now playing in theatres.