To Hell and Back, An Interview with Larry Bishop


Director, writer, star talks Hell Ride

Clad in a black leather jacket, dark shades sitting below a proud coiffure, Larry Bishop looks dressed for rediscovery. With Quentin Tarantino’s assistance, he just might get it.

This year, Bishop stars in, writes and directs Hell Ride, a roaring, gasoline-chugging, bullets-flying nod to Bishop’s ’60s and ’70s grindhouse biker cinema days (The Savage Seven, Angel Unchained, Chrome and Hot Leather – all titles that vaguely sound like XXX fare). “Hell” is executive produced by Tarantino and sitting idle awaiting release by Dimension Films. Bishop plays Pistolero, the leader of a biker gang tearing up the blacktop on a quest for revenge. Co-stars Michael Madsen, Eric Balfour and Dennis Hopper join him in this mission.

Bishop meets me within a giant white party tent near The Lift in Park City, Utah where Hell Ride premiered at the Sundance Film Festival the night before. He’s tanned, but not so well-rested (his “Hell” troupe regaled me with stories of partying until the crack of dawn). Still, this former Jersey boy recounts his early days in Hollywood and the origins of his second directorial effort following 1996’s Mad Dog Time with too-cool-for-school vivacity.

As dark as the tent we sit in is, he doesn’t take his sunglasses off once. As I understand it, this is a project you’ve had gestating for a few years.

Larry Bishop:
It actually turned out to be beneficial in a couple of different ways that the gestation period was long. The difficulty most people have is ‘Am I ever gonna make this goddamn film?’ I didn’t have that problem because six and a half years ago, I met Quentin Tarantino. The actress who plays Dani in the movie, Laura Cayouette, called me and said she’s standing next to Tarantino and he said he was my biggest fan. I didn’t even know he knew who I was. He loved the motorcycle movies I had done thirty or so years ago. [laughs] Nobody loves those movies. There were a certain group of motorcycle fans who liked those movies, but doing them, when I was young was like bringing shame to my family.

Shock: And so you and Quentin eventually connected?

Yeah, he asked me to come up to his house to see a print of “The Savage Seven” which is a motorcycle film I did in 1967. You gotta realize, this blew my mind as I was listening to him ask me this. Growing up in the ’60s, when you took acid they always said it’d eventually catch up to you, and in talking to Quentin I thought it was catching up to me! It was surreal, Salvador Dali-esque. So I went up to the house to see the film and it was cool because he has a forty or fifty-seat theater in his home. He’s also got a lobby that we pass through and it had all of my posters up in the lobby. They were behind glass and everything! Before we see the movie he’s got trailers of Larry Bishop films. Eight trailers spliced together. So, at the end of the film the lights come up, and by this time I’m no dummy, I turn to him and say, ‘What do you wanna do?’ And he says, ‘Let’s make the greatest motorcycle movie ever.’

Shock: How long ago was this?

Six and a half years ago. He said, ‘Larry, it’s your destiny to write, direct and star in a motorcycle movie.’ Quentin Tarantino and the word “destiny.” I couldn’t get it out of my brain, so it took about a year for me to write it. He was going to go off and do “Kill Bill.” I knew I didn’t want to give him my script until he was done with that film. What ate up another year – the Weinsteins split from Disney, but that was good because I had the security, the luxury of knowing that I was going to do it.

Shock: You probably also had that time to finesse and tweak the script…

Exactly. I also wanted to take time to cast, like Leonor, I wanted actresses that…I must have interviewed a thousand actresses. That was one of the benefits of the gestation period.

Shock: I’m sure…

But I knew what I wanted in terms of the look. This is an American story, but I wanted a melting pot of different type of people, and I used the girls to bring that point across. And it’s interesting, all of the actresses I met, it’s amazing the combinations that are out there ’cause all you need is one man from one place, one woman from another. When you start to analyze a person’s look, the more exotic it gets and that’s what I wanted.

Shock: But the focus of the film is on the male camaraderie, so can you talk about the casting process? Michael Madsen told us you two met on “Kill Bill.”

I had met him ten years before that, actually, and we’ve been actively trying to get movies made together. All I did was call him and told him Quentin and I were making this film and he was in right away. I wrote the part for him. Eric [Balfour] I had come in and read for his part. I auditioned a bunch of guys. The minute Eric walked in…I’m also an actor so I can tell you right away if someone is excellent. There are a lot of directors who are fantastic with a lot of things but, in a way, you have to be a director who is an actor or was an actor to understand how good a person is because what’s going to separate everything is the nuance. And you’re only going to know that truthfully…another actor will know that in four seconds. Eric I knew was it, same with Leonor.

Shock: And getting Dennis Hopper must have been a no-brainer.

Someone had mentioned it during the casting sessions. Fantastic. He was cool when I met him. I had seen him once when I was nineteen years old. It was bizarre. I had gotten kicked out of Barney’s Beanery, know where that is?

Shock: Very well.

Barney, God bless him, was a really cool guy and he kicked me out for life. He said, ‘Son, you are banned for life!’ because I was doing some sort of bravado in front of a bunch of girls. Cursing and stuff. I was really loud. He lifted me up and escorted me out of the place. No one had seen anyone get kicked out of that place like I did. Usually someone would get a warning like, ‘Go home and sleep it off.’ But I was 86’ed! Here’s the weird thing, the last person I see as I’m being escorted out, with a stunned look on his face, is Dennis Hopper! Dennis was a legend in those days as having been blacklisted, so I’m thinking, how am I getting kicked out of a place Dennis Hopper is welcome. I always wanted to tell Dennis that story because his face was the last one I saw on the way out.

Shock: Did you eventually return to Barney’s?

I went back the next night. [laughs] Barney didn’t say one thing to me.

Shock: What was your creative dynamic like with Quentin?

We were both really enchanted by Sergio Leone. We loved those Westerns. We both like French gangster movies and Leone stuff. Of course, Quentin has an encyclopedic knowledge of film. I guess how I stack up to him…what he did as a boy intuitively while watching film was memorizing shots and scenes whereas I was focusing on actors. I know actors like he knows film. As I always say, I can hold my own in several areas regarding filmmaking, but Tarantino knows more in his pinkie finger than I know in my entire body. Once we established I was going to do this film, Quentin and I met for one night where he gave me my character name Pistolero. I told him I think Michael Madsen should play The Gent. And we had a story log-line that gave me a starting point. I said, ‘So, tomorrow night we’ll come up with the next line of the story’ And he told me, ‘No, go, I want to see what you do with the script.’ That was it. He left me alone.

Shock: What about the Weinsteins?

Bob [Weinstein] told me if I made it for a certain budget, he will not interfere one iota with me creatively. Quentin, it was a matter of honor, he respected another filmmaker’s thing. He was really curious with what I was going to do. The conversation on the greenlight with me, Quentin and Bob – Quentin really went to bat. I thought I was going to have to prove myself to Bob. I don’t think I said one thing except when Bob asked what it was going to be rated because the script was very graphic. It reads NC-17 but we’re getting an R for the theatrical version. Quentin and I agreed that I shouldn’t censor myself during shooting and we’ll worry about everything in the editing room. We’re going to have an unrated version on the DVD.

Shock: For a guy who had not directed in over a decade, what was the most daunting thing about this project?

I had done motorcycle movies and I know they can be problematic. In the days I made motorcycle movies, if your motorcycle did not start, you were not in the shot. It was as simple as that. If you were one of the two leads in the movie and your motorcycle didn’t start, then someone scooted over another bike that had nothing to do with the movie and you rode that. So you ride in on one, and park another altogether. We had a great motorcycle person, but I kept stressing we had to stay to stay on top of these bikes. Because in order to do it for the budget I agreed to, I had to shoot this film in 20 days. Not 21 days. 20 days. I was not going to call Bob Weinstein to tell him we need an extra day, because if I did say that, then he’d say, ‘Larry, we’ll have to change a few things.’ I was really paranoid about this, so I was over-prepared for any problem that came my way.

Hell Ride does not have a release date set at the time of this writing.

Source: Ryan Rotten