Interview date: 12/19/2008
Run date: 12/22/2008
Film critics may not always be kind to Paul W.S. Anderson, but those who enjoy their action-packed popcorn flicks have thrilled to his work ever since he helmed “Mortal Kombat” in 1995. Since then, he’s been responsible for several other video game adaptations, serving as writer, director, and producer of the first “Resident Evil” film, a writer and producer on its two sequels, and producer on “D.O.A.: Dead or Alive.” He’s also the man behind “AVP: Alien vs. Predator,” “Event Horizon,” and “Solider.” Bullz-Eye talked to Anderson in conjunction with the DVD release of his latest film – “Death Race,” starring Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen, and Ian McShane – and in addition to asking him about several of these films and actors, we even dared to ask how he feels about being mentioned in the same breath as Uwe Boll…and lived to tell the tale!
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Paul, how are you?
Paul W.S. Anderson: Very, very good. Nice to speak with you.
BE: So I know that “Death Race” was a film that you’d had your eye on for quite some time before it finally got around to being made. What took so long?
PA: Oh, just the typical Hollywood development process. I’m sure you could talk to most filmmakers, and they say they want to make a movie, and it rarely happens immediately. Look at Tarantino with “Inglorious Basterds.” How long has he been talking about making that movie? For me, I got involved with “Death Race” because Roger Corman released my very first movie, “Shopping,” in North America, and so I had a relationship with Roger, and I’d always loved “Death Race.” So we started down this path about ten years ago, which seems like a long time, but you talk to a lot of filmmakers, and they’re still trying to make their movies, and it’s fifteen years later! (Laughs) So it’s slower than some movies and faster than others.
BE: In this case, I suppose the delay was rather fortuitous, given how popular reality TV has become in recent years.
PA: Well, definitely, we made a different movie now than we would’ve done ten years ago. That’s for sure. I mean, it would’ve been a different film that we made. The one we made now was very much infused with concerns and issues that are kind of taken from present day, because I think that’s a truism about science fiction. Science fiction is, more than any other genre, about the concerns and issues of the time in which it was made.
BE: So why “Death Race” as opposed to another of Corman’s films? Were you just a particular fan of the original?
PA: Yeah, I mean, obviously, I’m a big fan of Roger’s movies in general, but “Death Race” just left such a huge impact on me. And, also, there are a couple of things that I took away from Roger’s movies that I really felt that I could expand upon. I mean, one thing was, y’know, in Roger’s films, clearly, I just fell in love with the idea of these killer cars, these cars that were built as much for warfare as they were for transportation. And in Roger’s movie, although the characters hate one another, they never attack one another with their cars. They’re never trying to run each other off the road. And there’s a really simple explanation as for why that is: Roger could only afford to build one of each car. So if he ever crashed the cars, there would be no movie! And another thing is that a lot of the cars have machine guns latched on the front of them, but the machine guns never fire…because they’re made out of wood! Again, for cost reasons. So I was always fascinated with the idea of, “What if I could build these machines of war for real and really let them have at it in a way that Roger was unable to because of the cost constraints of the film he made?” And, also, I was always very fascinated with how Death Race had become the national sport of America, and what was the genesis of the Death Race? And that was really what my movie became about. It almost functions as a prequel to Roger’s movie rather than a remake. I’ve never referred to my movie as a remake. It’s always as a reimagining or a prequel. It’s a very different film from Roger’s movie.
BE: Whose idea was it to slide the voice cameo from David Carradine into the proceedings?
PA: I always wanted some kind of continuity with the original film, and that would’ve been…I mean, it was an obvious idea to get David to re-voice the masked figure, because for David or for Stallone to have appeared in the movie, I think, would’ve been wrong, because they are part of the fabric of “Death Race 2000,” and the events in this movie kind of…well, although we’re now in 2008, the events of “Death Race 2000” and the future of America haven’t happened yet, so clearly my movie takes place 10 or 15 years before Roger’s movie. So for an older Stallone to have appeared in my movie and a younger one in that movie would’ve just screwed up, at least in my mind, the fabric of the “Death Race” universe. But to have Carradine do the voice of the masked figure at the start was, I thought, a cool little thing. And it was really fun for me to work with him, even if it was only for a day.
BE: How was it to work with Ian McShane? I’ve seen him interviewed, and he seems like quite a character.
PA: He was a joy to work with, particularly for me, because he was a very big British television star when I was growing up, even before anyone knew who he was in America. He was a huge star in Britain. And as far as my mother was concerned, he was the only star in “Death Race” as well. (Laughs) Forget about Tyrese Gibson and Jason Statham. She had no idea who they were. But Ian McShane…? He was the big deal in “Death Race.” So it was great fun to work with him. And it was very funny, actually, because his American accent was so good in “Deadwood,” and that’s what most people seem to know him for in America, so you could tell that the crew were kind of shocked when he would talk with this rather upper-class, plummy English accent off-camera. ‘Cause they thought the real Ian McShane was obviously the American Ian McShane.
BE: Well, I’m a big “Lovejoy” fan, so I’m well familiar with his real accent.
PA: You know what? He was a real trooper. He signed so many box sets of “Lovejoy” during the movie. He was so great.
BE: So how did Joan Allen come to be in the project? Because one of our writers said that she looked so unhappy during the proceedings that he was convinced it was a contractual obligation for Universal.
PA: (Groans) She’s supposed to look unhappy! She’s an evil woman! (Laughs) I wrote the role with her in mind, I flew to New York to go meet her and have a cup of tea with her, and by the end of having a cup of tea with her, she was in, and she was doing the movie. And she was hugely excited to do it, and she couldn’t wait for the scene where she gets to swear like a trooper and say “shit” this and “cocksucker” that. In fact, when we were shooting, we were scheduled to shoot that scene and she had caught a bit of a cold. So she came to me and said, “Paul, look, I’m okay, I can shoot it, but my voice is a little…I don’t have the full power of my voice, and when we do this, I really want to kind of give it my all. So would you mind if we shoot the scene later in the week?” So we kind of rescheduled things, and that’s what happened, because she really wanted to yell “cocksucker” at the top of her voice.
BE: Well, who doesn’t?
PA: So far from it being a contractual obligation, it was something that she was very, very pleased to do, and very excited to do.
BE: I have a few questions about some of your other projects. I didn’t realize until recently that “Soldier” takes place in the same universe as “Blade Runner.”
BE: I was actually just going to say that “Event Horizon” is a highly underrated and very creepy film.
PA: Oh, thank you.
BE: There aren’t that many sci-fi / horror films out there, but it’s definitely one of my favorites.
PA: Well, it’s coming out on Blu-Ray this Christmas! The perfect Christmas gift: “Death Race” and “Event Horizon”! It doesn’t get much more seasonal than that!
BE: Nothing says “merry Christmas” quite like those two films.
PA: Or “happy Hanukah” as well! It’s just the perfect seasonal double pack: sci-fi horror and car races!
BE: Were you happy when the DVD of “Event Horizon” came out, to be able to tweak it a bit more?
PA: Um, I mean, we did the special edition last year or the year before, and, y’know, I was happy to kind of do more work on it, because when “Event” came out, the first DVD of it, DVD was not as big as it is now, so there were very few additional features on it. So when the special edition came out last year or whenever, I was very pleased that we were able to do two hours’ more documentary stuff about the making of the movie. Because the movie has gone on to become a real cult favorite, so I was pleased to do all the extra stuff, and also to revisit some of the footage and, at least in deleted scene form, put in some of the stuff that we’d taken out to get an R rating rather than an NC-17.
BE: Were you pleased when James Cameron said that “Alien vs. Predator” was one of his top three favorite “Aliens” movies?
PA: Yes, I was very pleased. I noticed he was very politic in not saying which was his favorite, but I don’t care whether he considers himself or Ridley to be #1, I was very happy to be #3 behind those two guys!
BE: Were you pleased with how the film turned out yourself?
PA: Yeah! I mean, I’m very, very proud of the movie. Yeah, I’m very pleased. I think you can…I don’t think you can talk to any filmmaker who wouldn’t want to go back and change things and tweak things. I think that’s just the process of filmmaking. I can’t remember who said it, but some god of cinema said, “Films are never completed, just abandoned.” And, y’know, obviously, we didn’t abandon the movie. We worked very hard on it. But I think the process of filmmaking is one where you can always look at movies and say, “Wow, wouldn’t it have been interesting if I had done this instead?” Like, “Solider” is a movie where I had an idea which I wish we’d done, and I would love to see what it would’ve been like, and that’s to start the movie with Kurt Russell on the planet and then tell his entire back story in flashback. I think that would’ve completely and radically altered the structure of the film, obviously. But we didn’t do it, and to this day, I keep thinking about how great it would’ve been to re-cut the film like that.
BE: Given that you’re almost a go-to guy for video-game adaptations, do you cringe when someone uses your name in the same capacity as Uwe Boll?
PA: Um…well, I mean, we’ve both done video game movies, so I kind of understand, but, y’know, I don’t think anyone who’s seen Uwe’s movies and seen my movies can seriously consider us to be on the same level. I…I put a lot of effort into the movies that I make, which is why I don’t make that many movies, and each one takes a long time. I really put my all into them, and I try to deliver the best possible movie that I can
BE: So what’s your next project? I’ve heard “The Long Good Friday,” “Spy Hunter,” and “Man with the Football” all mentioned as possibilities.
PA: Well, I’m developing a whole…I’ve really just come out of the process of making “Death Race” and promoting it, but I’m actively producing a movie right now, which is called “Pandorum,” which stars Dennis Quad and Ben Foster. And that just finished shooting in Berlin. And, y’know, I’m involved in doing another “Resident Evil” movie as well. We’re developing another “Resident Evil” film. So it’s kind of too early to say what the next film that I’ll be directing will be. I’ve got several I’m very excited about?
BE: Do you have a preference for what the next one would be? All things being equal, of course.
PA: You know what? I’ve learned not to lock onto it, because it never…you know, for me, if you’d talked to me ten years ago, I would’ve been saying, “Man, I want to make ‘Death Race’!” (Laughs) When I had lunch with Roger Corman, and this was right after the release of “Mortal Kombat,” which was a number-one movie in America, he said, “It’s great that you’ve got a number-one movie, kid! What do you want to do next?” I said, “I want to do ‘Death Race’!” And he said, “That’s great! We’ll make it your next movie!” And that’s coming off the back of a huge number-one hit, number-one for three weeks, so you’d think I’d just be able to go and do “Death Race.” But I’ve learned that Hollywood doesn’t really work in that way. So I’m involved in some movies that I’m really excited about, and I know that, once I put my mind to something, they get made, even if it takes ten years, like “Death Race.” So I’m going to be making all of these movies I’m talking about, but which order they get made in, you never have any real control over that.
BE: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Oh, and please tell Milla that you spoke to a writer today who’s a big fan of her The Divine Comedy album.
PA: I will do, and you’ll be pleased to know that she’s doing more music.
BE: That is indeed excellent news. I very much enjoyed that record and still play it once in awhile.
PA: Great! Well, cheers, then!