Breaking out of the direct-to-video dungeon can be a difficult, if not insurmountable task, but Patrick Lussier has done just that. Originally a successful editor working on many of Wes Craven’s films, Lussier began his directorial career helming sequels to Dracula 2000. He followed those up with White Noise 2: The Light. But when given creative control, he turned out 2009’s spectacularly fun 3D gorefest, My Bloody Valentine 3D. Now he’s working with Nicolas Cage, William Fichtner, and David Morse on Drive Angry, a film that looks to be his best yet judging from the fairly spectacular Comic-Con reel.
Read on for our one-on-one interview where he talks about demons, muscle cars, shooting Nic Cage in the face, and getting co-writer Todd Farmer naked and dead, for the second time in a row.
I saw the concept art the other day, and I thought it was interesting, but I wondered if you were going to be able to get that look in the film. But then I saw that last shot in the trailer where the Charger blasts through one of the sets you showed pictures of, and it looks exactly the same.
Lussier: It’s exactly. Yeah, our production designer says, ‘Every time I do production art, I want to be able to shoot that. We have to be able to shoot that.’ And that’s exactly what we’ve done. The production art you will see exactly in the film.
So the concept of the film expanded a lot for me recently because I saw the early press releases, because I follow every movie Nic Cage does, but I didn’t know that this was going to be a supernatural film. I thought it was just that he broke out of prison.
Lussier: Well, if you look at the original press release, it’s worded very carefully. It says he broke out, but it doesn’t say from where.
Lussier: Todd and I wrote the original one to very specifically tell that if you look at it, it doesn’t say, it implies, and you infer what it actually is.
So, were you purposefully trying to hide that?
Lussier: In the beginning, before we made the movie, it felt like a little early to reveal that. so we wanted to wait until we were further down the road. And then, when we were shooting it, that element became such a powerful and fun element of the storytelling that, you know, that Nic plays this character who is just a force of nature. He’s not just, you know, a guy. He’s beyond that.
On the set interviews with Collider, Nic Cage mentioned that he was reading the screenplay and realized that they were going to shoot his eye out and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do this movie.’ So, can you tell me a bit about that? Because the footage you showed showed some bruising around his eye. So can you tell me a bit about that? About him getting his eye shot out?
Lussier: Yeah, there’s a scene in the movie where he gets shot in the eye.
At the beginning or the end?
Lussier: Umm…it’s, it’s, you know, I’m not going to tell you. You have to see the movie. But in the movie he does get shot. Yeah, he definitely gets shot.
So, it’s interesting that you have a character who has escaped from hell as the main character, but he seems to have a righteous path. Cage described him as a, ‘Protector of children.’ Can you tell me about why he might have gone to hell?
Lussier: Yeah! Yeah. Amber [Heard’s] character throughout the story, she discovers more about him. She asks him specifically, ‘Are you a murder? Are you this? Are you that?’ His response is, ‘Yes.’ Milton is a bad man doing a good thing. He is seeking redemption, he is seeking retribution. He is trying to make up for some of the inadequacies of his life before he ended up getting sent away. But you know, when Todd farmer and I wrote the movie, we wanted to make a film about a guy who was a total badass who was a bad guy, who was ruthless and relentless but who’s goal and cause were noble. Whose mission you could completely support. And the people he’s up against are so brutal and vile and terrible that any methods that he uses in order to thwart them, or to combat them, or whatever, you would cheer as opposed to being mortified at. That was one of the real challenges.
Obviously his character is named Milton, which I’m assuming is a literary allusion.
Lussier: Yes it is.
Is the film itself, dealing with religious cults and zealotry, it is sort of a social commentary? Or is it just sort of a cool villain?
Lussier: Umm, you know…there’s a little commentary, but you know, it’s very subtle, that wasn’t our agenda. Again, in writing it, our agenda was very much to create a iconic villain, which Billy Burke plays, and he plays it beautifully. You know, when Billy came in, he auditioned and his audition was strong and so powerful that we ended up rewriting part of the script based on how he had performed just the audition. He just knocked it so far out of the park. He was amazing. And then, as we shot the film and that character became more realized, it was fascinating to see someone who was capable of such charisma and such violence. And who had a mix of being so psychotic and powerful and he was the perfect counterpart to Nic’s character.
So, your cowriter, Todd Farmer, does he get naked and killed in this one too like he did in My Bloody Valentine 3D?
Lussier: Well of course! Hahaah. It is Todd’s signature. I hear he’s going to write Gandhi II, and he will be naked and killed, by Gandhi.
Like in the Weird Al movie, UHF?
Lussier: Yes, exactly.
But seriously, does he have a part in the movie?
Lussier: Yes, absolutely. I wasn’t kidding…except about the Gandhi II part.
So, are you guys planning on working together more?
Lussier: Yeah! Yeah. Todd and I get together so well. We actually started working together way back in 2002. And just in the last few years things have begun to come together.
Anything you can tell us about?
Lussier: Well, there are a few things that we’re working on. A couple things maybe down in Australia, and then maybe a couple of things that are in the early stages. So, we’re just waiting to see which one of them sort of gels and clicks and is in the right place before we announce anything. But yeah, we have a stack o’ crap that we work on. And it’s so much fun to work together because Todd’s so smart, and so funny, and we have so much fun bouncing off each other.
So, as the filmmaker with two 3D films under his belt, I think you’re currently the most experienced 3D filmmaker in the world. Well, if you discount James Cameron’s documentaries, I suppose.
Lussier: Well, of course we can’t do that!
So, what mistakes did you make on My Bloody Valentine that you’ve rectified or improved upon? What did you learn from making Bloody Valentine?
Lussier: Well, a lot of things that we learned on Valentine had to do with some of the limitations of the technology at the time. And how to push for advances in the technology that would help us do a film like this, you know? Because this is not a movie with CG cars.
And it looks great as a result.
Lussier: Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? This is a movie with real vehicles. Real metal on metal. And by virtue of that there are some limitations, some physical limitations of the format that you have to prepare for. As simple as, you know, how do you, when you have so much light kicking around when you’re shooting outside, how do you film a car chase? How do you make sure that, stereoscopically, you get the right image in both eyes? That you’re not getting one reflection kick here, one reflection kick over there. So, so much of it had to do with technically, how do you improve that? How do you make sure you can make the film? We did a test early on of how to do the stuff about the color of the cars. Which was test after test after test that would actually look good in 3D and wouldn’t reflect in one eye but not the other. So those type of challenges. And other than that, Valentine is a very specific kind of movie. It’s a very specific genre piece that is designed to be very aggressive and very in your face. Drive Angry is much more of a, you know, supernatural thriller. It’s much more of an action road movie. While there are those moments to have the sheer audacity to come flying out at you, a lot of it where we really just wanted to put you in the story. We wanted you to be part of it.
Well, there’s one shot in the trailer you showed where Nic Cage cocks a gun and a cartridge flies out. Is that CG or is that practical?
Lussier: It was on set and a total accident. Nic shoots this guy, who you don’t see on camera, and when he cocks the gun, it just flies at the camera. And the 3D was just amazing. And the cinematographer was like, ‘ooooooh! That’s fantastic!’ and it wasn’t planned, it wasn’t designed, it just happened.
So, did you get a second take of that, or?
Lussier: Every take he did, it did that so that it just lined up. The last two takes especially were amazing.
So, you have Nicholas Cage as the star of your film, and this is my last question because they’re telling me I’m out of time, but you have Nic Cage and his characters are always very odd. Is like that off set?
Lussier: Oh, no no. Nic is a total pro. Completely professional. One of the most prepared actors I have ever worked with. He comes in very focused, knowing exactly what it is he wants to do and how he’s gonna work, and what the different moments are for the character. He’s just an incredible professional. We were really fortunate to work with him.