Although fueled by a desire to push the envelope of 3D technology, the spark for director Patrick Lussier’s high-octane revenge thriller Drive Angry was a relatively simple idea. “Patrick suggested, ‘What if we do like a 1970s road movie, back when the hero wasn’t exactly squeaky clean?'” said Lussier’s co-writer Todd Farmer. “And that’s sort of what started the ball rolling.”
The two were joined Wednesday by stars Nicolas Cage, Billy Burke and William Fichtner at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, where they spoke to the press about the making of the film.
Opening today nationwide, Drive Angry 3D follows Cage’s Milton, who escapes from Hell to exact revenge on the cult leader (Burke) who murdered his daughter. Along the way, Milton meets up with a few classic American muscle cars and several colorful characters, including a tough-as-nails waitress played by Amber Heard, and the impishly demonic Accountant (Fichtner) tasked with returning him to Hell.
Lussier and Farmer had collaborated on another 3D movie, 2009’s My Bloody Valentine, an experience that made them eager to revisit the technology. “After everything we learned on Valentine we wanted to really get back into the format and exploit it further and use all the knowledge we had gained there and try and push the limits of it even further,” Lussier said.
Cage, too, was intrigued by the possibilities of 3D. “I wanted to see if I could get my tongue into the fourth row of the audience in one scene,” he joked, explaining, “There’s a scene in the diner where I kiss a young lady, well, thankfully they cut that out of the movie, but I wanted to try to do anything I could to mess with the format.”
The star praised Lussier’s expertise with the 3D camera, saying, “He knew where to put the camera at any time so that the actors didn’t blow out the effect, because you can do that very easily.”
Much of the movie is a love letter to the muscle car genre of the 1970s, a time when there were no computer-generated effects to enhance the action. However, Lussier noted, much of what we see in Drive Angry 3D was accomplished without CGI. “A lot of it’s real,” he said, citing an impressive stunt in which Heard’s character Piper leaps from a speeding RV onto the hood of a ’69 Charger driven by Cage. “When Piper lands on the hood of the car, yes, she was tethered in and we had her, you know, wired, but he is free driving that and reaching out and grabbing her hand and pulling her in,” he said. “You know, that’s Nic that does that.”
Another hallmark of the film is the over-the-top gunplay. In the now-infamous sex scene/gun fight highlighted in the red band trailer, a fully clothed Milton smokes a cigar, drinks a bottle of Jack Daniels, and has sex with a waitress named Candy (Charlotte Ross), all during a frenetic shootout with several cult members.
“If that scene works, it’s really because of Miss Ross — Miss Charlotte Ross,” Cage said. “What she does in that sequence is sexy, but it’s more than that, it’s actually quite tragic and heartbreaking, the nervous breakdown that she goes through, and it’s a total credit to her acting ability to take us on that ride.”
He also spoke about the inspiration for the scene. “The idea of being in the clothes before a gunfight, enjoying all the vices — the cigar and the Jack Daniels and the sex — to me, seemed like it would ring true for a guy that just broke out of Hell, so that’s how that scene came together,” Cage said, before quipping: “And then Miss Ross and I enjoyed a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken after the scene.”
If Cage’s own choices in roles have come under fire recently, it’s probably because his cinematic tastes are pretty extreme. “The movies that I enjoy watching personally are movies that really frustrate my wife and, uh, you can’t really get on Amazon,” he admitted. “It’s an interest in Roger Corman movies and the Midnite Movies. I like Ray Harryhausen. I like fantasy. I like horror, science fiction because I can get avant garde with those performances and those movies.”
Jonah King, the velvet jacket-clad cult leader with creepy, manicured fingernails, is played with showy panache by Billy Burke, probably best known for playing Bella Swan’s father in the Twilight series. When asked about his inspiration for the character, Burke said, “Jim Jones immediately came to mind when I first read the script as did several ‘rock gods,’ one being Morrison, so yeah, the two ‘Jims’ were big influences.”
Scene-stealing character actor William Fichtner plays the Accountant, a puckish bloodhound sent by Hell to track down Milton. Fichtner had fun explaining to the press the mythology behind his enigmatic character. “When people are bad, like several people in this room,” he joked, “they go to Hell, and the accountability of everyone that goes there, it’s my responsibility to make sure that they stay there.”
When asked to what extent a really nice suit informed the performance of an agent of the underworld, Fichtner replied, “It’s everything.”
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