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June 2004
The Chronicles of Riddick: An Interview with Vin Diesel

By Todd Gilchrist

The Chronicles of Riddick: An Interview with Vin Diesel

When Vin Diesel's name became dinner-table discussion fodder two years ago with his ascendance to the top of Hollywood's "hot list" on the wings of marquee pictures like "XXX" and "A Man Apart", it almost became easy to forget that he'd already starred alongside many of the industry's most promising newcomers. After a memorable turn in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan", Diesel boosted the street cred of such underground efforts as "Boiler Room" and "Knockaround Guys" before landing himself atop the heap of Hollywood hopefuls.

One of those one-off projects, 2000's "Pitch Black", found a surprising number of fans as the film progressed to ancillary markets like video and the expanding universe of DVD, and before long, Universal studios came calling, asking him to return to the laconic world of Riddick for a new series of films. "The Chronicles of Riddick" is the first of a proposed trilogy about the character, and on the eve of the picture's release, Diesel sat down with blackfilm.com for a discussion about his return to the big screen, and his prospects for future success in the moviemaking business.


WHAT QUESTION HAVE YOU BEEN ASKED THE MOST?

DIESEL: I've blocked it out of my mind entirely. What question have I been asked the most that I don't want to be asked? You want to know something? On some press junkets, you get questions that you don't want to be asked. For whatever reason, on this one, I've been asked wonderful, intelligent, incredible, insightful questions.


DO YOU REALLY PLAY 'D&D?'

DIESEL: No. I've never played 'D&D.'


THAT'S A RUMOR?

DIESEL: Yeah. For some reason, they thought that I played 'D&D' for twenty years. They thought that I spent years playing 'Barbarians; Witch Hunters From the Arcanum.' They thought that I started playing 'D&D' back in the '70's when it was just a basic 'D&D' set. They thought that I played 'D&D' and continued to play 'D&D' when it became the advanced 'Dungeons and Dragons.' They thought that I played 'D&D' when there was only three backs, 'The Players Handbook,' 'The Monsters Manual,' and 'The DM's Guide.' They thought that I played 'D&D' as it continued on to the 'Unearthed Arcanum,' 'Oriental Adventures,' 'Sea Adventures,' 'Wilderness Adventures.' They thought that I played 'D&D' when 'Deities and Demi-Gods' was the brand new book. They thought that I played 'D&D' when I used to go to a place called The Complete Strategist in New York. I dont know where they got this from. Then, for some reason, there was some sighting that I was Wizard's on the Coast buying $800 worth of books. That's been the training ground for a lot of my imagination.


IS THAT WHERE YOU GET YOUR FANTASY ELEMENTS?

DIESEL: A huge fantasy, and where do you think elementals come from? Air elemental? 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. '


WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO REVISIT THIS CHARACTER AND WHY'D YOU REALLY WANT TO DO IT?

DIESEL: Because he's the coolest fucking hero I've ever come across. He's an anti-hero. He's the quintessential anti-hero. We all know how much I love anti-heroes. It takes you forty five 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. He doesn't care what anyone thinks about him, and wants to be left alone. He's a guy that thinks that anything that's happening with the universe has nothing to do with him and he doesn't care. That's kind of cool.


DO YOU RELATE TO HIM?

DIESEL: Somewhat.


HOW SO?

DIESEL: I relate to his defiance. You know that I have a problem with authority. That's no secret.


SO NOW THAT YOU'VE PASSED ON THE 'XXX' SEQUEL, HOW MUCH IS AT STAKE FOR THIS TO TAKE OFF FOR YOU?

DIESEL: 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' 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. Call me crazy.


IS THAT SOMETHING THAT YOU BROUGHT TO THE SCRIPT?

DIESEL: Sure.


I HEARD LAST NIGHT THAT YOU HAD A LOT OF IDEAS. SO IS THAT CHARACTER SOMETHING THAT YOU BROUGHT?

DIESEL: Well, we all know that David Twohy is incredibly proficient in the sci-fi world which I don't know much about. I'm a fantasy guy. So I brought the fantasy element to the picture and he brought the sci-fi and we came together for 'The Chronicles.' But 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 a ???Frisetta book. When you see Riddick flying, it may as well be a ???Frisetta painting.


WHAT IS YOUR RIDDICK WORKOUT?

DIESEL: The Riddick workout started before I went up there. I was training with the UFC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters. I got up there two months early and started training in a fighting style called (sp?) Kali which originated in Spain and then brought to the Philippines by Spanish traders. It's a fighting style that is just now beginning to catch wind. It's a fighting style that calls for ambidextrous, two handed fighting. That's what we studied. I went up two months early to learn this fighting style.


YOU DON'T FEEL ANY PRESSURE TO MAKE THIS WORK FOR YOU AFTER YOU'VE HAD YOUR UPS AND DOWNS IN YOUR CAREER?

DIESEL: Well, I was, for some reason, I was more nervous last night than I had ever been on any premiere, but I was nervous because it was something that I'd been working on for five years that was so close and such a labor of love. That made me anxious for some reason last night. I was telling someone, 'I don't know why I'm more nervous on this than I've ever been.' Having said that, the second that I finished my first day of shooting with Judi Dench, I won. I had accomplished a real goal. The second that I was able to get the studio to green light this epic that didn't spawn from a book that was in existence for fifty years, that didn't come from a comic book character, was completely an original project, I felt like I was satisfied.


SO WHETHER THE FILM SUCCEEDS OR FAILS AT THE BOX OFFICE, YOU'RE SATISFIED?

DIESEL: Exactly, exactly, for this 'Chronicles.'


AT ALL THE PREMIERES I'VE SEEN YOU AT, YOU NEVER BRING A GUEST. WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO COME ALONE?

DIESEL: Because if it were up to me, no one would even see me before the movie because I want you to enjoy the experience and I want you to buy into the character as much as possible. I don't want to bring any of my personal stuff and cloud anyone's mind before they sit down and get into the experience. I feel like it would only cheat. So I try to stay away from that.


HOW FAR SHORT DID THE FILM FALL FROM YOUR ORIGINAL CONCEPTION OF WHAT IT WOULD BE?

DIESEL: Thank God I created a company called Tigon Studios which created a videogame where I was able to add twenty five minutes of story so that you can see what he's been doing on the UV planet, on the snow covered planet for five years. You witness the point in his life where his eyes are transformed and how that happens. You experience part of the Johns/Riddick relationship. You further get to understand that.


BUT WERE THERE THINGS THAT YOU REALLY WANTED TO SEE IN THE FILM THAT GOT CUT?

DIESEL: There were things that I wanted to see in the film that, thank god for DVD, that you can incorporate into the DVD. The theatrical experience is dictated by so many elements and if it were up to me, it'd be a four hour movie. Of course, there's 'C2' and three. YOU WROTE AND DIRECTED A SHORT?

DIESEL: 'Multi-Facial.'


RIGHT, WHICH GOT YOU RECOGNIZED AT

DIESEL: Cannes in '95 and Steven Spielberg saw it and wrote a role in 'Ryan.'


THINKING BACK TO THE GUY WHO MADE THAT MOVIE AND THE MAN WHO'S SITTING IN THIS CHAIR NOW, CAN YOU REFLECT ON THE JOURNEY AND HOW IT FEELS TO BE HERE NOW?

DIESEL: Well, for anyone who would ask me for advice about it all or to comment on the journey, I started acting at seven years old. It took me twenty 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-sufficient. 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 the theatrical play that I was in, you would never know.


SO THE SHORT WAS A TOOL?

DIESEL: The short was an artistic _expression. At that point, after that long, I wanted to make movies. That was the release of that desire of 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 fifty thousand dollars and I didn't have the money. So what successful people know and what I learned if you can't do it all, do what you can. So I wrote a short film, a twenty minute film. I wrote it in five days and I used the means that I had accessible.


BUT THE MAN WHO'S SITTING HERE IS CLEARLY NOT THE SAME MAN WHO WROTE THAT FILM.

DIESEL: That's debatable.


WITH 'XXX,' I REMEMBER YOU WERE NERVOUS ABOUT THE FAME. ARE YOU STILL NERVOUS AND IF SO, HOW ARE YOU DEALING WITH THAT?

DIESEL: That's a very good question. It's a double edged sword. The more successful your film is, the more famous you become. We all think of fame as, 'Oh great, wonderful.' The wonderful thing about fame is the bank-ability that comes with it and the ability to do things like 'The Chronicles of Riddick.' And to tell someone, 'Hey man, there's this cool idea, "The Chronicles of Riddick" that could incorporate all of these fantasy elements and these sci-fi elements.' The tricky part is that your private life is that much more threatened.


SO HOW HAVE YOU DEALT WITH IT?

DIESEL: I've remained a workaholic. I live in it. Every time that you talk to me, I'm always talking. There are probably very few people that you sit down and talk to and you always hear about a project that's to come, right? Everyone is always sitting down and saying, 'This film was blah, blah, blah.' I'm always, if you remember years ago when you sat down to talk to me, I was talking about 'The Chronicles of Riddick,' before Universal knew about the 'The Chronicles of Riddick.' You knew that I was talking about 'The Chronicles of Riddick.'


SO WHY DID YOU PASS ON 'XXX'?

DIESEL: I never do sequels in a reactionary way. I don't mean that to be holier than thou. I had to do 'Chronicles of Riddick.' I waited a year to do it. I didn't do anything for a year just to make sure that everything was right with 'Chronicles of Riddick' and just to make sure that the cast was right. And the script was right. And the mythology was right. When I was done doing the first 'XXX,' at the end of the production, when I'd brush my teeth at times, I would see these two blue eyes staring back at me in the mirror which was indication that it was time to revisit 'Chronicles of Riddick.' I wanted to, again 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 'Chronicles of Riddick.'


WHY COULDN'T YOU HAVE DONE 'XXX' LATER?

DIESEL: Good question. Because at the time, I had to continue with 'The Chronicles of Riddick' and I don't do films in a reactionary way.


BUT THERE IS A RUMOR THAT YOU MAY GO BACK AND REVISIT 'THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS.' IS THAT JUST A RUMOR?

DIESEL: I haven't seen a script.


WOULD YOU CONSIDER IT IF YOU SAW A GOOD SCRIPT?

DIESEL: It'd be unfair for me to say that I would rule something out without seeing the script.


WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT THE SECOND ONE DID AS WELL AS IT DID?

DIESEL: No. I think that the first one was good enough. [Laughs]


IS 'THE PACIFIER' THE ONE THAT WAS ORIGINALLY A JACKIE CHAN PROJECT?

DIESEL: No. 'The Pacifier' is a comedy with kids.


WHAT IS THE JACKIE CHAN PROJECT AND HOW DID THEY ADAPT IT FOR YOU?

DIESEL: They made my character, they had my character direct a stage performance of 'The Sound of Music.' Maybe that's because of my love of musicals. I don't know.


WILL WE EVER SEE YOU DO SOME STAGE?

DIESEL: See, I've told you that. I've told you that and you know this.


IS 'HANNIBAL' FINALLY HAPPENING?

DIESEL: Why are you saying is it finally happening? Have you heard me talk about that?


I KNOW EVERYTHING THAT YOU WANT TO DO.

DIESEL: Well there you go. That's proof of what I was saying before. I can tell you some production people that I'm working with if that means anything. Who knew that I was riding elephants? No! Okay, did you know that I was riding elephants? Did you know that David Franzoni wrote the script. David Franzoni penned an incredible script and you know what Franzoni has written, 'Gladiator' and 'Amistad.' Did you know that Silvane Dupree who is Ridley Scott's storyboard artist and storyboard 'Gladiator' has been working with me for the last month?


DO YOU HAVE A DIRECTOR?

DIESEL: [In Character Voice] You're about to get me in trouble. [Laughs] Did you know my intentions of doing it were to plan on doing a multi-lingual version of 'Hannibal The Conqueror?'


IN THE ORIGINAL ARAMAIC?

DIESEL: Not just in Aramaic. First of all, in ancient times, they're all speaking Greek. But Italian, obviously, for the Romans. And an ancient version of French for the Gaul. An old ancient Latin for Spain. An Carthaginian based language that I may use a Maltese language for. All that is in service of speaking to Hannibal. One of his greatest attributes was that he was able to amass a polly-got army of all these broken people to defy tyranny at the time.


DO YOU FEEL A RESPONSIBILITY TO YOUNG PEOPLE WHO LOOK UP TO YOU TO CHOSE ROLES CAUTIOUSLY?

DIESEL: I think that I have to chose quality pieces and I think that my responsibility is to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to these pictures which isn't hard because I'm a workaholic and I've got this tunnel vision. But also, for me, I like to work on a picture over a long period of time and exhaust the possibilities. It was five years for 'Chronicles.'


HOW DO YOU HAVE TIME FOR LIFE?

DIESEL: That's a good question.


ARE YOU AWARE OF THE BREAK-DANCING VIDEO OF YOU?

DIESEL: Oh yeah. I was a street performer.


WERE YOU AUDITIONING FOR SOMETHING?

DIESEL: No, no, no. I used to be a street performer in New York. I swear to you, when 'Flashdance' was out, I was doing that in the streets.

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