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
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
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
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.