'Pitch Black' director: Vin Diesel saved me from 'fate worse than death' with Steven Seagal (exclusive)

Tom Beasley
·Contributor
·15-min read
Vin Diesel in the sci-fi sleeper hit 'Pitch Black'. (Credit: Arrow Video)
Vin Diesel in the sci-fi sleeper hit 'Pitch Black'. (Credit: Arrow Video)

Pitch Black director David Twohy says it would have been a “fate worse than death” if he had been forced to cast Steven Seagal as the lead in the movie instead of Vin Diesel.

Twohy told Yahoo Movies UK the studio were keen to hire the action man for the ambitious sci-fi story, but the director fought to bring in someone else instead.

“I fought hammer and tongs to make that not happen, even though somebody along the line had promised [Seagal] the role,” the 64-year-old said.

Read more: Steven Seagal stops people watching movies

He added: “I had to unwind all that nonsense. Then once I won that battle, it was like ‘okay motherf***er, who are you gonna cast?’.

Vin Diesel and David Twohy attend the premiere of "Riddick" on August 28, 2013. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Vin Diesel and David Twohy attend the premiere of "Riddick" on August 28, 2013. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

“Vin came along at just about the right time. He read in the room and he wasn’t great, because that is not his gift — reading in a room, off a page. He really wants to inhabit a role.

“But by the time we brought back our lead candidates, Vin was off-book and you could tell he was the right choice at that point.”

Read more: Vin Diesel teases Riddick 4 and TV series

Pitch Black, which is being released in a new 4K Blu-ray edition, would go on to become a sleeper hit and helped cement Diesel’s rising stardom.

Diesel would reprise the role of notorious killer Richard B. Riddick for two sequels in the noughties, with Twohy recently completing work on the script for the fourth movie, which is currently titled Furya.

The current plan is for the new movie to go in front of cameras in 2021, with Twohy teasing a story that will take Riddick back to his roots.

'Pitch Black' has been restored for a new 4K edition. (Credit: Arrow Video)
'Pitch Black' has been restored for a new 4K edition. (Credit: Arrow Video)

Twohy said: “We have a man who’s searching for a home world that he barely remembers any more.

“It’s a world he fears might be a dead world, ravaged by Necromongers. That search finally leads him to Furya.

“What he finds there is that it is a living world and there are the Furyans there, but they are in a fight for their very existence against a new enemy.

“He also finds that some of those Furyans are more like him than he could have imagined.”

Read the full interview with David Twohy, in which he discusses the ambitious visual style of Pitch Black, what he’d change if he could wind back the clock and his opinion on the second film’s controversial PG-13 rating...

Yahoo Movies UK: When you made this film, did you think for a second that we’d still be talking about it 20 years later?

David Twohy: No. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t thinking about anything but survival. I wasn’t thinking about sequels. I wasn’t thinking about legacy. I wasn’t thinking about 20 years later. I was just thinking about the day in front of me.

We got off to such a bad start with this movie. We were filming in the Outback of Australia on day one. We thought we were in a location that would give us a hot, arid, sort of moon plain look and, in fact, we were in a place called the “Moon Plain” of the Outback. Then it started raining. It started raining three days before production and it was a mud pit out there. What happened to all the hot, arid stuff that all of the locals promised me?

Read more: Da 5 Bloods stars talk gruelling shoot

So everything slows down. Trucks are getting stuck in the mud, I can’t stage the scenes outside that I want to and I’m already running inside the crashed ship for cover and to do my interiors. It’s out of schedule and out of whack for the actors. So it was a kind of disastrous opening for the movie. I was just thinking about how I could make my days, and I wasn’t even making my days at the start of Pitch Black. Two weeks intro production, we were one week behind schedule, and that’s disastrous for a production.

Vin Diesel as Riddick in 'Pitch Black. (Credit: Arrow Video)
Vin Diesel as Riddick in 'Pitch Black. (Credit: Arrow Video)

One of the things that really comes across now is the level of ambition. It looks completely different to any other film, with the different colour grades for the different suns. There are loads of big ideas in it. Was there ever pressure to compromise that, particularly as you were behind schedule?

There always is. There is always pressure on you to take out pages while you’re shooting and then there’s pressure on you while you’re editing to take out scenes. When you get into post, the first cut is almost always pushing three hours. And then you look at your contract, which says two hours, and you go “oh f***, something’s got to give, how do we lose an hour?”. But somehow you do it. It’s like death by a thousand cuts in the editing room to get it down to size.

So I’m writing shorter and shorter scripts now. I just finished Riddick 4, as a matter of fact, and its fighting weight is 94 pages, I think. To go in with a 120-page script these days, for me anyway, is just death because I know I’m looking at a first cut that’s over three hours long. So I just don’t do that. I’m wasting money on production days for things that aren’t gonna be in the money and I’m wasting money in the post process on visual effects that I’ll only get to start and they won’t show up in the movie.

I always look back on the first Alien script. It’s like 82 pages long. That’s what Ridley [Scott] shot from, 82 pages. So I try not to be over-ambitious in that way. But to get back to your original question, it was quite ambitious for the time. We were pretty ballsy.

Cole Hauser as William J. Johns in 'Pitch Black'. (Credit: Arrow Video)
Cole Hauser as William J. Johns in 'Pitch Black'. (Credit: Arrow Video)

We were on film, this is pre-digital days. To get those daytime looks, we did a process called skip-bleach process where you skip one of the tanks at the laboratory when you develop the original negative. That keeps the silver content in the film. When you project it, it spreads the light and highlights the light. So that’s why some of the daytime sequences — especially the gold and the blue — the highlights sort of bloom in a beautiful way.

We achieved that photo-chemically whereas, today, you’d achieve that digitally, after the fact. We had to alter the original camera negative to do that and a lot of people were telling me at the time that you can’t do that. I said “f*** it, let’s go for it” and we pushed it through.

It’s interesting that you mentioned having this big, unwieldy cut and having to pare it down. You look now at things like the Snyder Cut and fans seem to be quite interested in seeing these original three or four-hour cuts of movies.

I don’t know economically how you pull it together though, because they require a lot of unfinished visual effects, right? People have to pony up real money to get those really long versions done. Typically my director’s cuts vary from the theatrical cuts by maybe six, seven or eight minutes. It’s just a few connective tissue scenes that I wanted back in the piece, and that’s really the difference with Pitch Black. But the 4K version reflects the director’s cut, so we’re in good shape.

In the whole process of you making these Riddick films, Vin Diesel has been there not just as your star, but also a huge advocate for the movies. You got him on the cusp of super-stardom too. How important is he to Riddick then and Riddick now?

Vin Diesel in 'Pitch Black'. (Credit: Arrow Video)
Vin Diesel in 'Pitch Black'. (Credit: Arrow Video)

Very important because he saved me from a fate worse than death when the studio wanted to cast Steven Seagal as Riddick.

I don’t know if we’d be talking about that movie 20 years later.

Exactly! I fought hammer and tongs to make that not happen, even though somebody along the line had promised him the role. I had to unwind all that nonsense. Then once I won that battle, it was like “okay motherf***er, who are you gonna cast?”. Vin came along at just about the right time.

Read more: Diesel reveals biggest career regret

He read in the room and he wasn’t great, because that is not his gift — reading in a room, off a page. He really wants to inhabit a role. But by the time we brought back our lead candidates, Vin was off-book and you could tell he was the right choice at that point.

He was completely instrumental in the subsequent films and it has now got to the point where he controls the intellectual property.

Vin Diesel attends the premiere of Sony Pictures' "Bloodshot" on March 10, 2020. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
Vin Diesel attends the premiere of Sony Pictures' "Bloodshot" on March 10, 2020. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

You mentioned Riddick 4. Where are you with it now?

I finished the script about three or four days ago and passed it on to Vin and his camp. They love it, so I think we’re going to make it in 2021 this time.

You’ve talked about this one again being R-rated. Looking back on Riddick 2 [2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick], do you think the PG-13 rating was a mistake?

Well, that was the film that was financed in full by the studio, as opposed to Riddick 3, which was independently financed. When you do it for the studio and you’re swinging for the fences and being more aggressive with our storytelling and mythology, you need a bigger budget.

Read more: Hugh Jackman took pay cut for Logan R-rating

With a bigger budget comes more input from the studio and their input at the time was: “If you’re going to spend this much money — $105m (£80m) at the time — then it needs to be PG-13.” There was no two ways about that. As creative filmmakers, you realise that you can make it an R, but you have to roll back to like $70m (£54m). Suddenly I saw a lot of the great sequences I had in my head just vanish. That’s the devil you pay sometimes.

Is it easier for you to make an R-rated Riddick movie now than it was then?

I think, yes, because that is the expectation. Isn’t that the version you want to see?

2004 sequel 'The Chronicles of Riddick'. (Credit: Universal)
2004 sequel 'The Chronicles of Riddick'. (Credit: Universal)

Absolutely! It’s really interesting to watch Pitch Black now, because it feels like the sort of movie we get now — this dark, anti-hero story. Comic book movies are beginning to tend towards R-rated stuff now. How do you feel about where we are now, given what you were doing 20 years ago?

Is the question whether we were ahead of the game? I guess, but I’m not in charge of the industry so it’s hard for me to chart the ebb and flow. I just did what I felt was right.

They gave me a script that was written by the Wheat Brothers and it was about a group of people that crash-landed on an alien planet and had to fight for their survival. It’s not a particularly novel idea. But I said that, if we were going to use that premise, that entrée, then I think we need to really look at the characters and do surprising, unexpected things with the characters. That’s what was going to elevate the movie, if it had any chance of being elevated.

That’s what the studio, Interscope, was asking me to do at the time. Take this script, which we think has a good idea to it, and elevate it. I did all that and I worked on the characters and, wherever possible, I reversed expectations. Your expectation is that Johns, played by Cole Hauser, is our square-jawed hero — the guy with the shiny badge who’s going to lead us through all this and come out at the end with the girl. If that’s your expectation, I’m gonna f*** with it and turn him into a morphine addict and a coward. He’s a guy who’s willing to kill the kid, cut up the kid and put her on a sled to drag just so he can get through this.

Radha Mitchell as Carolyn Fry in 'Pitch Black'. (Credit: Arrow Video)
Radha Mitchell as Carolyn Fry in 'Pitch Black'. (Credit: Arrow Video)

Then the guy who everyone thinks is the worst killer in the world hasn’t killed anybody yet. And he can turn into your saviour. The guy who you’re fearing most can be your saviour. That’s a hell of a reversal of expectations. Then the Fry character, played by Radha Mitchell, is posing as the captain, but she’s not really the captain and the secret she carries is that she was quite willing to kill them all. She’s potentially the worst serial killer here.

You just keep twisting like that and you come up with a great twisty tale, which I think we did. That’s what I was trying to do. What the Marvel universe is trying to do these days, I’ll leave up to them.

So with Riddick 4 coming down the pipe, is there anything in it you’re prepared to tease that you’re excited for the fans to see?

Well I’ll give you the logline for it and then you can surmise whether there’s anything teasable in that. In the character of Riddick, we have a man who’s searching for a home world that he barely remembers any more. It’s a world he fears might be a dead world, ravaged by Necromongers. That search finally leads him to Furya.

Read more: Vin Diesel devised punch-counting measure on Fast & Furious

What he finds there is that it is a living world and there are the Furyans there, but they are in a fight for their very existence against a new enemy. He also finds that some of those Furyans are more like him than he could have imagined. That’s sort of the tee up for Riddick 4. It’s the return to Furya — a world he barely remembers and barely knows what to expect of.

That’s really interesting. Is Furya still the title it’s going by?

That’s what I slapped on the script. Riddick 4: Furya. We’ll see if it lasts. You know, these things change. The working title for Pitch Black was Nightfall, but Isaac Asimov had a short story of the same name. He had a big eclipse in his story and we had a big eclipse in ours, so I thought we had to change.

I think Furya is all yours! Just as a final question, if you were able to go back and make Pitch Black again, is there anything you’d do differently?

I would not be so worried about being fired. Here’s the way it works in filmmaking. There’s a group of guys whose job it is to get you through production on time and on schedule. But then they go away and they aren’t around for the editing process. So their job is to push you and push you and say “you don’t need that shot”. Their success is rated by whether you got out of Dodge on time and on schedule.

So for the first half of the show, those guys were behind me pushing and pushing. All kinds of compromises are being asked of you when you fall behind schedule and even, on other shows, when you don’t fall behind schedule. So I would listen less to those guys now and make sure I got out of Dodge with the footage I needed to make a great film.

There’s nothing worse than getting back into the editing room and realising “oh f***, I need that shot and that shot”. Then you have to go back to the masters and say you’d like to do a week of reshoots. That’s what you don’t want to do. There’s pressure on you to get back on schedule and I’d listen less to those voices. Those are the voices that may help you make a budget, but they’re not voices that will help you make a good movie.

Pitch Black is available on Blu-ray and 4K UHD from 17 August.