Paul W.S. Anderson wears many hats; writer, producer and director. Anderson has been away from behind the camera since Aliens vs. Predator back in 2004. This August, Anderson reimages one of the most popular B-movies of all time. In taking on Roger Corman’s cult classic, Anderson has quite the challenge to satisfy rabid fans. Paul took some time away from shooting Death Race in order for us to get the scoop on his latest feature film:
ComingSoon.net: Can you talk how you became involved with the picture?
Paul W. S. Anderson: I guess I became involved with this when I first saw “Death Race 2000” when I was young. In England, it was considered this video nasty. It was one of those videos that your parents did not want you to watch. And so we all watched it religiously many times. And I just remember it being an insanely cool movie. You look back at it now and it definitely is very campy but when I was a kid, I just thought it was the best movie ever made. All this gratuitous violence, I just thought it was awesome. So it left a big impression on me and I just loved the movies it influenced. Like George Miller of “Mad Max” and “Road Warrior” were heavily influenced by “Death Race 2000.” And I am obviously very influenced by “The Road Warrior.” So I always liked the movie and after I directed “Mortal Kombat” and it was number one in America on its opening weekend, on that Monday I had lunch with Roger Corman. And he said “its great kid, and you just had the number one movie and what do you want to do next?” And I said, well Roger, what I would like to do is get the rights to one of your old films and do a version of that. And he said “That is great kid! We will make it your next movie.” So cut to 12 years later, we are finally shooting it, which is about how long it takes to develop movies in Hollywood. I thought it would be so simple I thought “Great I would make it my next movie,” but it didn’t quite work out like that.
CS: Can you talk a little about the changes you have made to the story? Because there really isn’t that much in common with the original.
Anderson: It’s a reimagining of the original “Death Race.” It is not a straight remake. It keeps a lot of the original concepts in tact. It has the masked racer named Frankenstein who appears to be indestructible but who is not what he appears to be under the mask. It still has Machine Gun Joe. It is still a Death Race, or a race to the death where the drivers can kill one another and are encouraged to do so. And just like the original movie, it had a political message in the 1970s, this does not have a massively overt political message it is about reality television and the Internet run rampant.
CS: No annoying reporters in this one?
Anderson: Nope. Well, we are going to line you up and Jason is going to get those mini guns. It is a lot more contained than the original, which makes it a lot more intense. It is not the trans-America road race. It is a giant track but it is still is a track. Then again, it is so much bigger than the original that it’s got a lot more money in it.
CS: One of the more popular elements of the original, even if you did not see the movie
Anderson: Scoring the points?
CS: Yeah, can you talk about doing away with that?
Anderson: It was a very tough decision. I did a couple of drafts that still had the points system intact. But in a way, I kind of saw this as a prequel to the original. The original was set in the year 2000 but clearly it was set further into the future than that because 2000 was not anything like that. I see this as the genesis of the original Death Race. The “Death Race 2000” trans-America race was more of a progression 10 years on from Joan Allen’s version of the Death Race. This will be the genesis of the race that was portrayed in Roger Corman’s movie.
CS: Can you talk about the challenges about coming up with car chases and coming up with something new.
Anderson: It’s really difficult. I have not directed a movie since “Aliens vs. Predator,” which was four years ago and the reason for that, is to get ready for this film as a director. Probably because the pressure to come up with something original with cars is sort of immense. And also we made the decision very early on to make a movie that is entirely practical. I did not want any CG cars. I did not want any CG environments. I wanted to go back to the old school style of car chases which is you build cars, they go really fast and you get the best stunt men in the world at the wheel , you mesh them together and when they hit concrete blocks, they hit concrete blocks and they fly through the air. So that is a much more difficult way to make a movie. It is much more satisfying in a way because it is much more visceral what I am trying to do is give the audience the visceral thrill I had when I came out of “The Road Warrior” because it was all real. When you see that car mashed underneath that big truck, it was really getting mashed. And for me, that is much more satisfying seeing. But it is a much more difficult way to make a movie that requires a lot of planning. Just to give you an idea, the stunts you see here are just over a year in the making.
CS: I heard you decided against any cameos from the original “Death Race.” No impulse to go with Carradine or Stallone?
Anderson: Yeah like I said, we wanted to suggest this Death Race was the genesis of that race. So it stays true to the spirit of that race. And there is sort of a reward system in this. In the original movie, you had the points system for the deaths, This movie sort of has a reward system with the swords, the shields, the death heads, you see embedded into the track. It is like the first person to the sword gets the offensive weaponry in the car activated. Defense comes with the shield and deaths head equals a nasty surprise. So there is sort of that kind of origin reward system and will develop into what Roger Corman had in his movie.
CS: How much gore there in the movie. I can see the action.
Anderson: I mean it is a pretty bloody movie. People get pretty mangled in the film. It is an R-rated movie. It is no “Hellraiser” in terms of buckets of blood but it’s a very violent film with the real cars smashing comes the real type of reality of that. And that extends to the fight scenes as well. When I first met Jason, I said we are not making “The Transporter.” We are not doing any martial arts movie. It is all kind of realistic street fighting. The choreographing of the fight scenes took a few days, which was inside a container that has been turned into an auto shop, and it is pretty bloody. Jason may have told you this already but he jams a guy’s head into a vice, and it is pretty gruesome. But it is realistic. There is no slow motion. It is all done in real time. It is very fast and very vicious. And the car racing is like that as well, no slow motion, all shot in real time. The idea is to make it all very practical scenes.
CS: Do you have a favorite gory moment in any movie?
Anderson: I guess my favorite moment that involves blood is in “The Shining” when the doors open with the two twins standing there. That was fun.
CS: Getting Joan Allen in the movie seems like such a different role for her to play. How did she get the role?
Anderson: I mean, she was my first choice. The warden of the prison is named Hennessey and is also sort of the instigator of the death race. And she is very much the backbone of the movie and she was definitely my first choice in the movie. The center of the script. When she first read it, she loved it. She said she loved my vision of this. And she really wanted to do it. And I obviously really wanted her to be in it. She is just a terrific actress with the three Oscar nominations although this film will get her to win it (laughs), and what’s great about her performance is that she is very cold in that she just gets to f*cking swear like a trooper and it is fantastic so it was kind of a treat to have all this filthy language come out of Joan Allen’s mouth. Just watch her in “The Upside of Anger.” And this is “The Downside of Anger.” (Laughs)
CS: Videogames have always been a big influence on the films you have done in the past and this seems to have a big video component to it with the death heads and the weapons and the shields.
Anderson: It kind of is. It definitely has been influenced by that. But I think that goes back to Roger Corman’s film. The whole points system is that videogame idea as well.
CS: Did you work with Corman in developing the ideas for the shields, death heads as well?
Anderson: No, Roger has been very hands off. We always send him the scripts and he has always liked the drafts we send him. But he has not been actively involved in the film, no.
CS: Are you going to be doing that remake of “Long, Good Friday”?
CS: Is that going to be your next one after this?
Anderson: I hope so yeah.
CS: Any role for Jason in it?
Anderson: Well, it is set in America. Maybe if it was set in England. But I am loving working with him. He is a terrific guy to work with. He is really, really great. He is the only guy who spends his days off on set. Like yesterday he had the day off and I could not get rid of him. He is an absolute joy to work with and very professional about it. He is a tough guy. Some guys talk about doing stunts. He goes and does them.
CS: The original “Death Race” had sort of a terrorism element to it. Is your version going to have that?
Anderson: No nothing like that. And the French are not involved. Well, only in making the movie.
CS: What type of challenges do filming these cars present.
Anderson: It is difficult in that it is dangerous. You race these cars at 65 miles per hour and crash them it is unpredictable. We have ruined the dozens of cars involved. It is even more difficult in having heavy outer plating. So in a sense, we have created tanks. We drive into one another that are driven 70 miles an hour so it is even more dangerous than driving normal cars into one another. And you mix into that real machine gun fire, it’s not a race movie but more of a war movie.