Vin Diesel of The Chronicles of Riddick (Universal) Interview
You haven't really arrived in Hollywood until you've arrived late. Starving artists and young starlets arrive on time. Punctuality, we all agree, is decidedly B-List. Not that anyone wouldn't wait for Vin Diesel. He of the gravel voice and chiseled features, the man who first caught our eyes in Saving Private Ryan and our ears in The Iron Giant and who vaulted into superstardom with roles in The Fast and the Furious and xXx, is A-List enough to take as long as he damn well pleases. He waited five years to unleash upon the world The Chronicles of Riddick, a follow-up to the successful sci-fi film Pitch Black. And if I was going to have to wait an hour for an interview, well, that suits me just fine.
QUESTION: How are you?
VIN DIESEL: Oh my God, I'm shot. I'm shot.
Q: What question have you been asked the most this junket that you're sick of?
VIN: At some press junkets you get questions that you don't want to be asked. For some reason, this press junket, I have been asked wonderful, incredible, intelligent, insightful questions.
Q: Is it true you're really into Dungeons and Dragons?
VIN: No. I never play D&D. For some reason, they thought that I played D&D for 20 years. They thought that I spent years playing Barbarians, Witchunters, The Arcanum. They thought I played D&D back in the '70s when it's just the basic D&D set. They thought I continued to play D&D when it became Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. They thought I played D&D when there were only three books - the "Player's Handbook," the "Monster's Manual" and the "Dungeon Master's Guide." They thought I played D&D as it continued onto the Unearthed Arcanum, Oriental Adventures, Sea Adventures, Wilderness Adventures. THEY thought I played D&D at the time when "Deities and Demigods" was the brand new book. THEY thought I played D&D when I used to get up to a place called The Complete Strategist in New York.
[Mouths: "I'm into D&D a lot."]
Q: Did you bring that fantasy element to Riddick?
VIN: Where do you think Elementals come from? From Air Elementals. Of course, the attributes have been augmented a little bit for Dame Judi Dench, but the concept of Elementals came from Dungeons and Dragons. The concept of creating a world of neutrality. We all know that David Twohy is incredibly proficient in the sci-fi world, which I don't know that much about. I'm a fantasy guy. So I brought the fantasy element to the picture, he brought the sci-fi, and it came together. You see that in every aspect of the film. If you watch the film, the very movements and mannerisms and fighting styles and lurching through the air is right out of that.
Q: Why was it important for you to revisit this character?
VIN: 'Cause he's the coolest character I've ever come across!
Q: What makes him so cool?
VIN: He's an antihero. He's the quintessential antihero. We all know how much I love antiheroes. It takes you 45 minutes in the movie just for Riddick to understand the word "heroism," let alone for anyone to hope that he can be heroic. That's cool. That's real. You can invest in this guy's spiritual growth. He's a guy that embraces that indifference and doesn't care what anybody thinks about it, who wants to be left alone. He's a guy that thinks that anything that happens with the universe has nothing to do with him and he doesn't care. That's kind of cool.
Q: What is your Riddick workout?
VIN: The Riddick workout started before I went up there. I was training with a UFC guy, Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter. I got up there two months early and started training in a fighting style called Kali, which originated in Spain and was then brought to the Philippines by Spanish traders. It's a fighting style that's just now beginning to catch wind. It's a fighting style that calls for ambidextrous, two-handed fighting. And that's what we studied. I went up two months early to learn this fighting style.
Q: Having passed on xXx 2, how much is personally at stake for this franchise to take off?
VIN: I don't see it like that. I see it - like going back to the D&D - this wasn't like creating a movie. This was like creating a universe. I've already won. The idea that I was able to do this from nothing is - I mean, I was literally playing Dungeons and Dragons with Judi Dench and Karl Urban at nights after shooting. I will tell you that I was showing her Dungeons and Dragons books and showing her the different properties of Elementals. Call me crazy.
Q: So you don't feel any pressure to make this film work, with the hype of your career?
VIN: Well, for some reason, I was more nervous at the premiere than I have ever been on any premiere. I was nervous because it was something that I had been working on for five years that is so close, been such a labor of love and that made me anxious for some reason last night. I don't know why I'm more nervous at this than I've ever been. Having said that, the second I finished my first day of shooting with Judi Dench, I won. I had accomplished a real goal. The second I was able, the second the studio greenlit this epic that didn't spawn from a book that was in existence for 50 years, that didn't come from a comic book character, that was completely an original project, I felt like I was satisfied.
Q: Why did you pass on xXx 2?
VIN: I never do sequels in a reactionary way. I don't mean that to be holier than thou. I had to do The Chronicles of Riddick. I waited a year to do it. I didn't do anything for a year, just to make sure everything was right with The Chronicles of Riddick, and just make sure that the cast was right. The script was right. The mythology was right. When I was done doing the first xXx, at the end of production, when I would brush my teeth at times, I would see these two blue eyes staring back at me in the mirror, which was an indication it was time to revisit The Chronicles of Riddick. I didn't have the rights to the wonderful Tolkien books that inspired us all to play D&D. I didn't have the rights to comic book characters. I wanted to create a modern day futuristic mythology, so I dedicated everything to The Chronicles of Riddick.
Q: How did the cut of the film fall short of your original conception?
VIN: Well, thank God I created a company called Tigon Studios, which created the video game where I was able to add 25 minutes of story, so you see what he's been doing on the snow-covered planet for five years. You witness the point in his life where his eyes are transformed and how that happens.
Q: Were there things from the game, then, that you wanted to see in the film?
VIN: There are things that I wanted to see in the film, but thank God for DVD, [where] you can incorporate them into the DVD. The theatrical experience is dictated by so many elements. If it were up to me, it'd be a four-hour movie.
Q: What has the journey been like for you, these last 10 years? What would you say to people aspiring to follow a similar path?
VIN: Well, for anyone that were to ask me advice about it all or to comment on the journey - I started acting at seven years old. It took me 20 years to understand that if I was going to make my dreams a reality, I had to take the reigns. I had to learn something about being productive and being self- - what's the word I'm looking for? Self-sufficient, but I had to be productive at all costs and I had to make product. Because I was going around, telling everyone I was an actor and unless you were coming to a theatrical play I was in, you would never know.
Q: So your short film, Multi-Facial, was a tool?
VIN: The short was an artistic expression that at that point, after that long, I wanted to make movies. And that was the release of that desire, that drive. And something that people don't know is that I wrote Strays a year before I did Multi-Facial. But I couldn't get Strays made because it cost $50,000 and I didn't have the money. So what successful people know, and what I learned was, if you can't do it all, do what you can. So I wrote a short film, a 20-minute short film. I wrote it in five days, and I used the means that I had accessible.
Q: Is the man sitting here different than the man then?
VIN: That's debatable.
Q: Are you considering The Fast and the Furious 3?
VIN: I haven't seen a script. It would be unfair for me to say that I would rule something out without seeing the script.
Q: Is your elephant bracelet for Hannibal? Is it finally happening?
VIN: Why are you saying is it finally happening? Have you heard me talk about that? Okay, well, there you go. Proof of what I was saying before. I can tell you some production people that I'm working with. Did you know that David Franzoni wrote the script? David Franzoni handed in an incredible script, and you know what Franzoni has written? Gladiator and Amistad. Did you know that Sylvaine Dupris, who is Ridley Scott's storyboard artist and storyboarded Gladiator, has been working with me for the last month?
Q: Is there a director?
VIN: You're about to get me in trouble. Did you know that I was planning to do a multi-lingual version of Hannibal the Conqueror?
VIN: First of all, in the ancient times, they weren't all speaking Greek. But Italian obviously, Roman for the Romans, an ancient version of French for the Gauls, an old ancient Latin for Spain, for new Carthaginia, a Carthaginian based language that I may use a Maltese language for. And all that in service of speaking to the fact that Hannibal, one of his greatest attributes was that he was able to amass a polyglot army of all these broken people to fight tyranny at the time.
Q: It must make Riddick preparation seem like child's play.
VIN: Crazy, crazy, crazy.