Our review of the film will be up tomorrow, along with Dave’s chat with Johnny Blaze himself, the indomitable Nicolas Cage.
In my chat with Neveldine we talk about their take on the character, how Nic Cage got into the character of Ghost Rider and why burning hundreds of people to death is fine as long as you don’t swear too much while you’re doing so.
HeyUGuys: It’s not a subtle film, but I guess that suits you – can you tell me why you chose Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance to be your next film?
Mark Neveldine: We were pitching a film to Sony and they said ‘That’s a cool pitch, but we have a go movie right now with Nicolas Cage, I don’t know if you guys know anything about the comic book series Ghost Rider’ and Brian [Taylor] was immediately ‘Woah, really?’ and they said they wanted to do something totally new and exciting with it. I knew nothing about it, Brian knows comics inside out and he pitched it to me like ‘There’s a dude on a motorcycle and his head’s on fire. With Nic Cage.’ I said ‘I’m in.’ They had a script but they wanted us to come in and do our thing and go crazy with it.
Did you have complete control over the reinterpretation?
We did over the aesthetics and we did a little polish on the script but there wasn’t a lot of time and we added a little flavour to it. We him to look more demonic, with a charred skull and Nic loved the direction we took it. When he turns into Ghost Rider in this movie everything reacts, the jacket turns into tar bubbles, the motorbike becomes this melting molten machine of Hell. We had a lot of fun with the shoot. Hanging off of cars filming, throwing people off of cliffs, we do a lot of fun shit. And we were able to calm down and do some of the dramatic scenes.
How was it working with Nicolas Cage, who had done the character before, on the new direction?
He was completely on board. We flew down to meet him when we had the project and we said ‘Last time you didn’t play the Ghost Rider, that was a stunt man and we need you to play the Ghost Rider’ and he was gung-ho about taking on the dual role of Johnny Blaze and the Ghost RIder. Nic is a method actor, he wanted to define who the Ghost Rider is so we were online, on Youtube looking at insects and praying mantises and weird creatures of that nature and then we moved into African tribal dancing. We wanted to work out how a creature who was spawned from Hell sort of translates on the Earth. We had all these movements and attack modes. As far as Johnny Blaze he’s a much darker character this time, which is exactly how we wanted to do it. He talks about how the day after when you wake up as Johnny Blaze again it’s like the worst hangover of your life. Nic is this Oscar-winning actor right, and it can be intimidating when you first meet him but he loves direction, he wants collaboration and he embraced everything we did.
You bought Idris Elba into this one…
Yeah, I had seen Idris Elba in The Wire and a Guy Ritchie film and he has this gravitas and weight to him and for this character we said to him ‘This guy is a nutcase’ and when you meet Idris he’s very cool and like Nic Cage actually, he has that stature and that weight and he had to play what we called this French Drunk Monk and he came at us with this wild accent and everyday we were in stitches.
Did you feel under pressure from fans of the first film and of the comic book to deliver something other than your own vision?
There’s always pressure but the studio really wanted to do something differently and our film is a darker version of Ghost Rider and we’re really proud of it. The risk is always there with the money but we made our movie for half the money of the first one so we’re in a good position to put it out there and even if it does 60% of the first one then we’re still in great shape. It’s just going to be a darker, cooler, more bad-ass version of Ghost Rider.
Did you have a rating in mind when you were developing it?
Well, it’s a PG-13 and we were a little surprised because we drop the F-bomb in it, and Ghost Rider obliterates probably two hundred and fifty people in it but what we learned is that if you don’t show blood and just incinerate people you can get away with a lot more.
I can’t imagine the violence is more subtle though?
Oh no, the violence is not implied, it’s very blunt and in your face. He wraps his chain around people’s necks and incinerates them, but because you don’t see blood they let you get away with it. We thought we’d have to fight them on it, and it’s a weird thing. You can swear a little and obliterate people but if you don’t show blood… It’s a video game world we’re living in where you see violence and see people getting burned to death but just not shot to death.
When you consider that Steve McQueen’s Shame gets an NC-17 and is almost perceived as being too provocative…
It’s crazy. I’ll never understand the MPAA, we just try to make these things and put them out there. Our Ghost Rider isn’t gratuitous as the Crank films which we had to worry about the NC-17 rating with so we had to cut some things. Shoving a shotgun up a guy’s ass was a tough one…
Will there be a director’s cut of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance coming out on the Blu-ray?
We would like to do that, but here’s the issue. The reason they don’t do director’s cuts with big CGI films is that it costs a shitload of money to finish the extra stuff in HD quality to put out. We are thinking about putting out a version of the movie where it’s Nic playing the Ghost Rider but we don’t use the CG head, so we have all these scenes with him doing these crazy antics – I thought that would be so hilarious for people to see. Nic actually put on this tribal make-up over his face when he did the Ghost Rider scenes because he didn’t just want to be Nic Cage in a leather jacket. He felt that wouldn’t be intimidating enough. So he put on this black orb contact lenses, this tribal make-up and just got in people’s faces. And he also wouldn’t talk – he would only whisper to you. He wanted to stay in character, he wanted to stay in Hell the whole time.
The film was post converted into 3D, did that affect the way you shot things, or was it easy to do everything in post?
You can do a lot more in post-production now, we had a stereographer on board and his feeling was that if we were nailing our exposure we can do what we wanted to do. The studio didn’t want us to change our style just because this was going to be in 3D. It’s meant to be an immersive experience, not used as a gag. Maybe we do that a couple of times to cash-in on the 3D but we want you to feel like you’re in that world with the Ghost Rider. There’s maybe one scene where people will puke. And I hope they do!
We’re always developing the crazy sequels to Crank and there are talks of Crank 3. We want to do it, Jason [Statham] wants to do it and the studio does too, so we’re looking at that.