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NYCC 2011: Neveldine & Taylor Talk the Insanity Awaiting Us in 'Ghost Rider 2'

While this year's Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance panel offered some crazy footage and a few revealing tidbits from the energetic directing duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, it was nothing like my rapid fire chat with the duo moments beforehand.

The two rock n' roll directors behind the madcap action flicks Crank, Gamer and Crank 2: High Voltage are a lot like their movies: high energy, sporadic and fun as hell. Our conversation about Ghost Rider 2 (which hits February 17, 2012) went everywhere—from breaking stuntmen's bones to the ins and outs of Hell demons to Idris Elba's unmatchable badassery to Nic Cage's vampirism.

In short: hang on.

Are you guys New Yorkers or LA-ers?

Mark Neveldine: I'm New York, Brian's LA.

Oh, wow! Other ends of the Earth. Then you come together, smash heads and things explode. Everything goes crazy.

Brian Taylor: Like Milli Vanilli.

Well, less fake than that, I would imagine

BT: No.

OK, just as fake as Milli Vanilli.

BT: Yeah! It's cool!

So, how did you guys end up grabbing the reigns on the Ghost Rider franchise? Why was this the next move and what did you want to do with Ghost Rider?

MN: We were pitching this movie. And a Sony exec, Rachel O'Connor, happened to be in the room. She loved our pitch and energy, and she liked our movies, and she thought, "Hey, these guys would be great for Ghost Rider. She brought it up to us. Brian's a huge comic book guy, and he kind of introduced me to the comic. And we just said, "Hey, this could be fun."

BT: Mark's a big "Guys on motorcycles, lit on fire" guy.

MN: Huge. It was a perfect match.

BT: Yeah. Of all the big comic book characters for us to do—

MN: This is the one.

BT: It's kind of perfect. It had a lot of elements that we really like.

What are those elements?

BT: Well, Nic Cage.

Nic Cage came with the movie!

BT: That's a big element we really like. No, we talked about it. He was on our ultimate wish list for the first Crank movie. To play Chev Chelios.

What do you love about him? I'm sure it's similar to what we all love.

BT: Yeah, it's exactly what everyone loves. There's nobody like him. He has a point of view and a way of attacking a scene with his mania, and…

Where does that come from? How does he muster this energy?

BT: He brings it—

MN: He's not afraid to be free!

BT: He's been alive for a thousand years.

Apparently! I saw that he was a vampire.

BT: He was a vampire.

Were you aware of that on set?

BT: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We saw that.

MN: We felt it.

BT: Going back to Transylvania, that was like a homecoming to him.

My God…

BT: But he was, uh…Vampire's Kiss was actually—

MN: It was a biopic.

BT: Semi-biographical. But no, Nic is fucking crazy. And so are we, so it was a perfect pitch. We loved it.

Awesome. And so, looking back to the first movie, what did you want to change? What did you want to introduce to Ghost Rider?

BT: Everything.

Everything! Does that mean that nothing worked for you in the first movie?

MN: No, the first movie is a great Disney film for kids…our movie has nothing to do with the first movie. Other than Nic. We just said, let's go back to the source material: the comics. Let's go back to how dark and cool this character really is. And we just kind of went from there, you know? And I might have seen…a couple minutes of the first movie…

It's not even important to your vision.

MN: I think it's super important to the fans, and to the awareness of Ghost Rider the comic book character—which is fucking incredible—but as far as this movie, it's not. This is its own beast.

And you mentioned what attracted you. It's got bikes! It has fire! How does that play to your own style, your own interests, in filmmaking? What you were able to unleash here with the toys that come with Ghost Rider?

BT: You get toys, but at the same, we wanted to do a superhero movie where the action was mostly practically based. Based on stunts and driving, blowing stuff up for real, stuff like that. A character like Ghost Rider lets you do that. Of course, everything's enhanced with CG. If you blow something up, you could blow it up bigger. The guy who's riding a bike…his head is on fire, and it's a skull now.

MN: When the stunt guy really broke his leg in a scene, he now broke his neck as well. You can do a lot of things in CG.

Wait, did that actually happen?

BT: Yes.

A guy broke his leg—

MN: Yeah. It's in the movie.

…and you're like, "Wait, why doesn't he just get more broken?"

BT: Let's just break everything! Yeah, so it was an opportunity to do a superhero movie, but have it be more like…not a safe CG movie, but more a kind of grounded, gritty, gnarly, nasty superhero movie. And the Ghost Rider, he's a mean, nasty character. He's not really a traditional hero. He's not going to save your cat from a tree. He might cook your cat.

Click to read the second part of the interview![PAGEBREAK]

I was curious about working with Nic and developing a character in this movie. Obviously, you guys have a real visual style.

BT: Two characters.


BT: Yeah. The idea of the Ghost Rider is that when Johnny Blaze becomes the Ghost Rider—

MN: He's totally different.

BT: —he's possessed by this demon called Zarathos. And that should be a different personality. And on the first movie, that was done by whatever stunt guys, or a combination of CG and stunts they needed for those scenes. It didn't really have the stamp of Nic Cage on it. It wasn't a character, it wasn't a point of view that really had any teeth. But we challenged Nic to become that character as well. We approached this movie as a dual role of Johnny Blaze and Zarathos…with a whole different physical language, a whole different mentality, a whole different way of carrying himself and behaving. So, in those scenes with the Ghost Rider this time, you can feel a strong personality, you can feel a point of view, that is definitely Nic, but it's definitely not Johnny Blaze.

So obviously performance is just as important to you. Did you guys rehearse with Nic?

MN: We were able to talk about the characters, and a little bit of rehearsal, before, in Romania. And then on set, a little bit.

How do you help the actors in your movies to inhabit the adrenaline-infused spirit both of you possesses? How did you make that clear to Nic?

BT: Nic can bring adrenaline to ordering coffee at Starbucks. He can bring adrenaline to anything. That's our kind of actor. We love that.

Did you feel any restraint in doing this kind of bigger superhero movie? I know on the Crank movies you kind of use those rigs where you're running around, doing all sorts of zany stuff. Really stylistic. Did you have to pull it back?

MN: We did that, but then we did more. We were able to afford cranes and rush mobs, and things that gave our movie a bigger look, which was really awesome.

BT: And a lot of it wasn't even necessarily the big studio thing, per say. This was also going to be a 3D movie. So, from the very beginning, we wanted to know: Can we bring our same style of filmmaking? Which is a lot of movement, a lot of fast camera and handheld stuff. Getting into the middle of the action. Is that going to work in 3D, or is that going to give people headaches, like they say, or make people vomit?

And if it does, then great. We want to do that. Because giving people headaches and making them vomit is kind of what we live for. That's our hallmark as filmmakers. So, though some testing, we figured out ways to do all of the stuff that we normally do, bring it through the pipeline all the way to 3D—

MN: With only minimal vomit.

3D is your weapon.

BT: It really is a weapon, but we loved it, you know? We think we pushed the boundaries on this movie of what you can do in 3D and get away with.

So you planned it as a 3D film. How much of it is about layers and depth, and how much is about throwing crap at the audience? Do you play a lot?

BT: It's a little bit of everything. We want it to be, at the end of the day, an immersive experience. Where you get dropped into this claustrophobic arena with the Ghost Rider. And you're maybe not even that comfortable about being that close to this thing.

Nic is a big part of this franchise, but you have so many good supporting actors in this movie. Can you talk about finding some of these perfect people to team up with—or against—Nic?

MN: Yeah, well, Idris Elba teams up. He plays the French drunk monk. He plays Moreau.

Every movie needs one.

MN: You've got to have it. And what a great guy. We knew about him from The Wire, we knew about him from the Guy Ritchie films, but when we got the chance to work with him, we really saw the potential that this guy has. And we're super excited to sort of reintroduce him to the film world.

You think he's bringing something new that we haven't seen?

BT: You will definitely see a side of him that you haven't seen. He's known for being real badass and grim. You'll see this charismatic…he is a full:on action hero. And this is going to be a breakout movie for him. People are going to see this guy in a whole new way. He can carry that mantle.

Does his character in the movie have powers of some sort?

BT: No.

No. He's just a friend? A drunk monk who punches people in the face?

BT: He's just a badass.

MN: We hint that he might have something behind all that.


BT: But he's ruthless. He's a guy who's ruthless. He'll do whatever he has to do. But he's a hero. He's just such a cool guy. You know, we think in the Crank movies, we were able to bring a side to Statham out that normally people don't see. Because he's very monosyllabic and kind of grim.

Sure. He's hilarious in those.

BT: Right? So we had him doing broad, slapsticky comedy, and being charming. We like to bring a lot of that out. And that's the way Jason is in real life. He's not a real grim, boring guy. He's a super, fun guy! And we feel like it's kind of the same thing with Idris. We encourage these guys to show us the real kind of personality that you have. Let it come out. Love it.

And from what I've seen, it seems like the studio is putting a lot of investment into you, with this franchise, kind of rebooting the whole thing. Was this the beginning of something bigger for you guys? Was it planned to be multiple films?

BT: Not really. I think they want to see how this one goes, and see if they were crazy to hire us or not.

MN: We think they were right.

What about Crank? Are you going to come back and do a third Crank at some point? I think we're hoping. I can understand if you're all Crank-ed out.

BT: Well, no. The thing about it is, if we say, 'Yes, we're definitely going to do a Crank 3, we just don't know when it's going to be,' then everybody's going to be all, like, 'Crank 3 is coming! It's coming!' 'Cause that's what happens. You make one little comment.

That's true.

BT: People who like Crank—you know, all twelve of them…these hardcore fans—they want nothing more than Crank 3. And we want to give them that. But, you know, we want to be able to do it right. And so far, we haven't really had an opportunity. For whatever reasons, the pieces—the availability of the actor, the studio—whatever it is, the pieces haven't fallen together. There's definitely a conclusion to the trilogy out there.

First you have to do your slow-paced, talky drama.

BT: All right. You just blew our whole idea for Crank 3.


It's just going to be sitting around, musing existentially…

BT: Yeah. It's My Dinner with Chelios.