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The Chronicles of Riddick - David Twohy Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. David, take us into the genesis of this project. Were you mulling over this movie while you were in post-production on Pitch Black?
A.
Yeah, we had finished Pitch Black and I actually sat down and wrote a small treatment for what a follow-up film could look like, and I handed it to the studio, Universal, and they looked at it and said: a) it’s very big and b) much to costly. And by the way, Pitch Black did well, but it didn’t do that well. "Now, go away, darken our door no more."
And we did go away. But many years later, they looked at the number of DVDs they were selling for Pitch Black, and it was doing very well in its after-market life. Actually, it was doing better than expected from its theatrical release, and that meant to them that it was catching on in a grass roots kind of way. People were discovering the film and passing it onto a friend, or telling their friend about it. And so it became more popular like that and only after about three or four years did the studio come back to us and said: "Didn’t you have a treatment or something? Can we read that again."

Q. What is it about Riddick that makes him so popular, that makes him almost an iconic figure? You mentioned the DVD afterlife, but there have been all sorts of special editions, I seem to recall, on DVD and also a Riddick video game?
A.
Well, we think of him as an anti-hero not a hero because he puts himself first, not about other people first, in a very selfish and sometimes dark-hearted way. I guess you don’t see that a lot in American movies. You don’t see that kind of callousness displayed in the leads of mainstream American movies. So it may be refreshing on that level for some people. I think people like their bad boys.

Q. Vin Diesel doesn’t seem like a man who is over-burdened with self-doubt. Could you describe the differences in him between the first movie. Also could you perhaps talk about the increased involvement, as he seems to have retained a certain degree of authorship over some aspects of the character.
A.
It would be true that he has a real investment in Riddick and in that character we go forward as co-creators. But he was very involved in the first one, too, in [the creation of] that character. Even though he was just one guy that we cast from a great succession of guys who came through our door.
He has a lot of ideas, even then about what Riddick should be like, how he should move. So yes, as you might expect, he is very involved in that and with the character of Riddick. We do share sort of a co-authorship in our approach to the character.

Q. And the changes in him? Because from other films he’s become a bigger star - did you observe any changes, particularly relating to the pressures on him?
A.
I guess it’s manifested in that he is actually one of the producers of the film as well. That does not really mean that he is one of those producers who reads budgets and schedules and has to keep us on track. He’s more of a creative producer. He’ll protect the heartbeat of the character and the film. There’s a lot of tidal forces that can sway a film creatively, so he helps me protect the film in that sense. So that’s how he flexes his producer muscles.

Q. Have you noticed any changes in yourself between having a relatively small budget and low expectations from the studio, on Pitch Black, to then getting a bigger toy box to play with and a lot more money. Did you suddenly feel heavy duty pressure as a director to prove yourself?
A.
The funny thing is, to make a big movie, in a very core way, it is just like making a small movie. For me – or any filmmaker – our day is our day, and our day is this many scenes, and we’ve got to get this movie in this day.
It breaks down to shots and it breaks down to set-ups. It is the same technical approach to me making a small movie, or making a big movie. That said, there are just more people around me, more people talking in my ear, more questions that have to be answered.
The great distraction in a movie like this is that I don’t get enough time to spend with the actors because I have 800 visual effects shots to pay attention to; I’ve got a great design side of the show that I have to pay attention to. That can take me away from the heartbeat of the story, or the actors.
So one way to solve it is you sleep four hours instead of eight hours a night, to find those extra hours in the day. And that’s not too far away from the truth about what happens on a big show like this. You can get stretched too thin. It is the danger I faced. It the danger any director faces. But also being the screenwriter as well helps me to answer the actors when they have questions about their character, and answer them quickly.

Q. What was your approach to expanding the character of Riddick in this film?
A.
I guess, because he was a tabula rasa, in the first film and we didn’t know anything about his background, we decided to go there and postulate. As part of the new mythology that we’re creating, we decided he was going to have a rich background that he wasn’t fully aware of.
He was maybe aware of it, on a subconscious level, but he’s not fully conscious of it, so he’s got in this story as he progresses forward, he’s got to journey back a little, too, to understand about his Furion origins. So it was about creating a past for this guy, which he didn’t have in the first film.

Q. Given the size of the film, the title The Chronicles of Riddick suggests it’s going to be more than one movie. Given that it was not quite the slam-dunk in America that the studio was perhaps hoping for, does that mean the international response will determine future movies?
A.
Very much so, very much so. You know, here and Japan and Germany are all very important to us, as well as the DVD. Ten years ago, it was true that on opening weekend, the studio knew exactly what they had.
Sometimes, they would wait for second weekend, but generally they knew first weekend if they wanted to pull the trigger on another film, or a series of films. Now they can’t do that any more. Pitch Black is a case in point. They said, ‘No there will not be a sequel’, and three years later, ‘alright, lets do a sequel’.
In the same way, we are waiting to see how well it does internationally, and how well it does in November, when we come out with the standard edition and extended director’s cut DVD as well.
The difference is, if we are so fortunate to have a big enough audience to support another film, and we don’t know that yet. But if we do, we know where we’re going, as opposed to maybe a film series like Paramount’s Star Trek, for instance.
They seem to be very reactive. Throw one film in the market place. It does well, we’ll do another – what do we do? And start from scratch all over again. If we are fortunate enough to make another, we know story-wise and character-wise where we’re going next.

Q. Why did you decide on Alexa Davalos?
A.
A lot of actors who auditioned for the role… It was written very tough, much tougher than is on screen. A lot of the actors had the ability to play tough, but you didn’t really feel much for them, because that’s all they were.
Alexa doesn’t start from that. She starts out with a lot of sympathy and a softness and, in the flashes of the toughness that she showed me, I thought we could get her there, train her and toughen her up. I think she stepped up to that challenge. So we started with someone that was inherently sympathetic and she is that as a person. And then we asked her to play this tougher role. So we could do both sides of the character.

Q. Judi Dench – bit of a surprise to see her doing science fiction. How did you pitch it her and did she have any doubts about it. Was she up for it right from the off?
A.
Was she up for it right from the off? First of all, it was Vin’s idea to get her here. Because he had long thought of her as one of our best actors, and wouldn’t it be great if we could do a film with her one day.
And I said, well we have this Aereon role, which was written as very androgynous, written for neither sex really, I said, we can offer that to her. Because I wanted to surround him with very good actors to challenge him to rise to that level, and if there are none better than Judi Dench, then let’s start there.
And we both sort of tag-teamed her and went after her on different ways, in different days. Vin would send her flowers. I would come to London and drop by and see her stage show with Maggie Smith and have a glass of champagne with her.
And also I just showed her an artist’s concept of what the character would look like: very diaphanous and flowing and tall and she responded to that, she responded to the picture [imitating Dench], "Could you make me seem taller?", because she was in the show with Maggie Smith and although they love each other, I think there was a little competition. She’s always been jealous of Maggie’s slenderness, I guess.

Q. Why do you have such an anglicised cast?
A.
That aspect wasn’t intentional. We were just going for best available actors at a certain point. Beauty and talent, that’s why I cast Thandie. I didn’t audition her. It was just a mutual coming together. She wasn’t circumspect. I think she was maybe circumspect about doing science fiction and Pitch Black, she didn’t know, but once her agents read the script, it’s kind of a new deal, and it’s a new world and you have a very substantial part in this world.

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