In the first installment of SPEED ZONE, CBR News spoke with “Speed Racer” producer Joel Silver about the live-action adaptation of the classic auto racing anime television series. We then spoke with co-star Matthew Fox, who portrays Racer X, and we bring you now an interview with actors John Goodman, Susan Sarandon and Christina Ricci about the hotly anticipated Wachowski Brothers film, which opens May 9.
Despite the technical wizardry on display in “Speed Racer,” actor John Goodman dismisses the notion the film is a light pop confection. Goodman, who plays the title character’s father, Pops Racer, says the story is deep, explaining, “You have a son that sacrifices the rest of his life with his family to clean up something his family has a passion for. You got a kid with a deep passion for the same sport that has the potential to be corrupt but [he] chooses to be pure. And that’s based on family love.”
Each actor said their primary motivation to work on the film was the opportunity to collaborate with the Wachowksis. Christina Ricci plays Speed’s girlfriend Trixie, and said when she reads scripts she asks, “Does anything in the movie seem like it’ll be fun? Is there anything about this character that’s challenging?” In the case of this film, “I didn’t think twice about it.”
Mom Racer Susan Sarandon confessed it did take “a couple of phone calls” to sign on. She was ultimately sold on the project because of the important role the Racer family plays in the story. She says the directors told her, “We really want that to be part of the story.” Sarandon says the political undertone also appealed to her. In the film, aggressive corporations who stop at nothing to win profit pursue Speed, and are agitated by his refusal to sell out. “Certainly we see that big corporate hand in all the sports these days,” Sarandon remarked.
The cast found the Wachowskis to be unlike the serious cloistered image associated with them. Ricci says she did not know what to expect from the pair, but was surprised to find them funny and warm. She said they are the “two people at a party who are probably the most interesting guys you get to talk to.” Sarandon said, “If you’re going to do that kind of a film, then these are the guys you want to do it with.” When filming began, she gave the brothers a vintage “Chip 'n’ Dale” figurine which they placed on their monitors for the rest of the shoot. The comparison to the Disney characters is not far off. “They have a code and way of speaking to each other.”
Goodman agreed, “They both have strong visions and they’re good writers.” Asked to compare them with his frequent collaborators the Coen Brothers, Goodman joked, “The Coens are Jewish. They’re from Minnesota.” Sarandon added, “They don’t play video games.” Ricci summed up the Wachowskis as “genuinely affectionate people.”
“I didn’t get a car until I was eighteen,” said Goodman. Growing up poor, he read hot rod magazines and could talk the talk. Now able to afford cars, the actor finds he is not nearly the gearhead Pops Racer is. “Trying to tune up my own cars, it was not unlike a chimpanzee,” he laughed. Goodman does enjoy speed, though. Traveling from LA to Texas a few years ago, Goodman drove his Impala SuperSport up to 140 mph. Sarandon also feels the lure of the road. “I drove pretty fast on 'Themla & Louise’ and I couldn’t stop.” Though she finds herself annoyed by slower drivers, she claimed, “I’m a pretty good driver.” Goodman says she is “amped for speed,” and for her part, Ricci doesn’t love driving. “My car’s kind of broken right now,” she confessed.
Of Ricci, who was a child star, Goodman remarked, “I’m sure she had it tough growing up.” Ricci said growing up in front of the cameras was not easy, but that it is certainly harder now. “I went through the same growing pains and partying in my late teens and early twenties, but there wasn’t the level of scrutiny and media attention and paparazzi then that there is now. So I got to go through all that without people taking pictures of me and judging me.” To her, that attention amplifies a fairly normal stage of development. “You’re a teenager; you do stupid things, really dumb things, and if people are their documenting the whole thing that’s going to add a whole level of self-consciousness.” Her dedication helped her through that period. “Moviemaking’s my life,” she said.
Ricci enjoyed her role in the film. “It’s fun to play someone who’s a little bit cartoonish,” she said. Ricci had been hearing about “Speed Racer” for ten years. Mainly, it had to do with a certain resemblance: in all that time before the part was offered to her, she often heard, “’You should play Trixie. You look like Trixie.’ People have told me I look like anime.” Ricci calls the character mix of fashion and attitude “The ultimate feminist kind of thing.” She explains it as being “as girly as you want to be, but you’re still as capable.”
As for Sarandon, she once resembled her character in at least one respect. “I had that same hair-do at my eighth grade prom,” she said. Sarandon brought in a picture to the set to prove it. Goodman remarked, “She was dreamy” in that photo. When asked if she had anything else in common with Mom Racer, Sarandon admitted she has a habit of become den mother on her films. “I always brought the Easter egg dying kits,” she said, and characterizes her tendency to bring various crafts to set as being “a very hippie Martha Stewart.” Also, she added, “I make excellent pancakes and waffles.”
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