Director Paul W.S. Anderson talks to us about his career so far, right up to this weekend’s ‘Death Race’.
Paul W. S. Anderson broke
through in 1994 with his ultra-violent film Shopping, starring Jude Law
and Sean Pertwee. The film was banned in some British cinemas and
became a direct-to-video release in the US. The film’s notoriety saw
him secure Mortal Kombat (1995), an adaptation of the hit video game,
and he followed that with Event Horizon (1997) and Soldier (1998), the
latter starring Kurt Russell. In 2002 he shot Resident Evil and he has
overseen the four-film franchise – which stars his wife, Milla Jovovich
– as a producer and writer. His latest film, Death Race is his first
directorial offering since 2004’s Alien versus Predator. Next he hopes
to shoot a remake of the British crime classic The Long Good Friday…
Q. Almost 15 years after you had the idea, you’ve finally made Death Race. Is it everything you’d hoped it would be?
I love the movie. What can I
say? I am really proud of the film and I am in love with it. You get to
this point when you are making a movie, and you have seen it so many
times, that the last thing you want to do is to sit down and watch your
own film again. But I’ve got to say with this movie, whenever we screen
it for the actors to see I am happy to sit there and watch it again. I
think it is fucking cool. I really love the movie and I really am proud
of making it.
Q. What was the first audience reaction that you saw to the film?
When you have worked as long
and as hard as I have on this film, the first time you show it to an
audience, it’s terribly nerve-wracking, because for all your efforts –
and it doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked on it – it’s 300 strangers
who sit and watch it and tell you what they think of it. They don’t
care how hard you have worked. You have got to entertain them and
especially when you show a movie to an American audience, and to a
Californian audience in particular. If they don’t like it they are
going to boo it. They don’t care about your feelings. They are going to
let you know.
Q. That’s very different from a European audience…
With a British audience,
when they leave you have no idea what they feel! Do they hate or like
it? The reaction is the same, and so the first time we showed it to an
audience I was so nervous. The movie starts with an action scene, which
is about two minutes long. At the end, a car crashes and it goes blank.
In that moment of blackness and silence this guy stood up, just an
audience member, and goes, “I fucking love this movie!” The whole
audience erupted, cheering, because he’d given voice to what they were
all thinking. And from that point on there was cheering, people
hollering, leaping, whooping and a massive applause at the end of it.
And when Joan Allan swears people went crazy. They laughed at the
jokes. It just went great and for a filmmaker it’s the best thing in
the world. That’s when you know you have done your job.
Q. What feedback have you had from the original film’s creator, Roger Corman?
He loves the movie. He’s
seen it. He really likes it. Basically, it’s been like Roger’s come
along for a drive with us while we’ve been driving his car. We could
never have made the film without Roger. He gave me the rights to make
the film 14 years ago. It took a long time to make and there were
plenty of opportunities when he could have taken the rights away. He
didn’t. He stood by me and believed in my vision for the film; I am
very grateful for that. And now that the film is finished he really,
really likes it. Now he’s produced both the Death Race movies. He
produced the one in 1975, shot in 15 days and he’s produced the one in
2008 which was shot in a lot more than 15 days – and we spent a lot
more money – yet they both are his movies and he is proud of both.
Q. You first spoke to
Roger after the success of Mortal Kombat. At the time, was your vision
for the film closer to Roger’s original?
No. I was in a different
place, actually, from Roger’s and from our new movie. I saw it at the
time as a more futuristic film. I am glad that we took 14 years to make
it, because I think we made a better movie because of that. Basically,
my head is in a different place and my taste is in a different place. I
think if we’d made the movie 14 years ago, or even 10 years ago, I was
more enamoured of CG images, as I think everyone was, and I would have
made a more futuristic movie. It would have had tons of visual effects.
We’d have been drowning in them. I’d probably have made a movie more
like Speed Racer, which is very visual-effects heavy. And as my taste
developed and as I made more movies with CG in them I really started to
hunger for a return to bone-crunching reality that they had in the
movies from the ’70s and ’80s, where it was real violence done for real!
Q. You’re a very savvy director, did you spot that there was a backlash against CG in the current action film climate?
It’s a bit of both. This
summer, look at it! Hulk, Wanted, Batman. It’s not like people are
saying, ‘I’m not going to see anything with visual effects in it’.
People still love that stuff. Look at Iron Man: visual effects up your
arse! They still love it, but for me, for this movie, and for cars, I
wanted to go back to the visceral thrill I got when I went to watch Mad
Max II: The Road Warrior for the first time. I was really caught up in
it because I really believed it; it felt real.
Q. Do you think some critics will lambast the violence?
Yes. Probably. And that’s
what they did with Roger’s original movie. For some people it’s going
to be a hard movie for them to wrap their head around, enjoying a film
that enjoys running people down. Like the scene where Grimm dies. It’s
a great moment. All these people go nuts and they cheer. But I’m sure
there’s going to be a 60-year-old critic who going ‘That’s not very
nice, is it?’ And even if they enjoy it they are not going to write
that it’s a great movie. You just can’t. You can’t be seen condoning
Q. But you don’t care because you don’t make films for critics, right?
Exactly that. I make them
for audiences. Hearing an audience cheer is, for me, better than
picking up a paper and reading that I’ve done a good job. I know I’ve
done a good job because I’ve heard an audience reacting to this movie
and I know I’ve done a good job because I feel I’ve done a good job. I
gave up a long time ago trying to please critics or to even care what
critics say. It would be great to have a good press. Who doesn’t want
good things written about them?
Q. So do you feel as though critics have been too hard on your films?
I learnt an important lesson
when I did my first American movie, Mortal Kombat. The press was mixed.
Some people loved it; some people didn’t get it, the video game,
martial arts type of thing. It was 50/50. I remember at that time I had
this apartment that had no furniture in it, apart from a bed, so we
always sat on the floor. Then I had all the press breaks and I had two
piles on the floor, almost level height, good press and bad press. I
read all of them and one month later I couldn’t remember for the life
of me one good thing they said about my movie. I could only remember
the negative criticism. I think that’s human nature. You only remember
the bad things so I thought, ‘Why am I going to beat myself up about
this? I made this movie and it was number one for three weeks. How much
more successful does it have to be? Why should I care what some guy in
Seattle is writing about my film?’ So with this movie, when Joan Allen
says, ‘Okay, cocksucker, fuck with me…’ it’s not exactly The
Notebook. I can’t imagine some older critic is going to love it. I
think if you are young and hip you will think it’s the coolest thing
ever, but cool and hip is not describing the majority of broadsheet
Q. You’ve enjoyed great
success by adapting video games. When making this were you conscious
that the film translates well into a potential video game?
Obviously, I have played a
lot of video games and I thought that in the modern world, if I were to
design this Death Race a sporting event, that kind of video game
involvement is a vital thing. One of the things about a Nascar, for
example, it’s that it’s just an oval track, so you are basically
waiting for the crashes, because that’s the exciting stuff. If I’m
designing there has to be three levels to this; three days of events.
It’s like in Gladiator: if it’s just Russell Crowe going out and
stabbing a guy each time he goes into the arena you’d get bored. Each
time in Gladiator he goes out there’s a new foe, and that’s what makes
it exciting, you are not sure what’s going to attack him.
Q. How you do feel about a sequel right now?
I don’t want to curse this
movie by commenting on that before we’ve even gone out first time. But
I will say that I have started three franchises, Mortal Kombat, AvP,
and Resident Evil and yet I’ve only stuck with one of them. I did the
first movie in AvP and the first movie Mortal Kombat and then I had
nothing else to do with the franchises . The only one I’ve stuck with
and developed is Resident Evil, and that’s been by far the most
successful. Death Race is a movie I love and it would certainly not be
one of the ones I would want to share!
Q. Do you have a favourite film of your own, or are they all like children to you?
It’s impossible. I’m very
proud of Event Horizon and I love Resident Evil for so many different
reasons. It was where I met my wife, and it was the movie that pulled
me back from the brink of having no career at all! After Soldier they
dug the hole, threw my body in it and started to fill it up with dirt.
That’s a difficult place to come back from in Hollywood and Resident
Evil was my comeback, big time, so that’s a particular favourite of
mine. But this movie, I’m very, very proud of – the script, the action
and the way it’s executed. I’m immensely pleased.
‘Death Race’ is at Irish cinemas from September 26th 2008