Jumping Into The Xander Zone For A Few Minutes With Director D.J. Caruso as we talk a little ‘xXx’

Posted in Blu-Ray/DVD, Interviews, Movies by - May 17, 2017
Jumping Into The Xander Zone For A Few Minutes With Director D.J. Caruso as we talk a little ‘xXx’

It can be a little interesting getting into the trenches with a veteran and experience director.

In advance of the release of xXx: Return of Xander Cage on DVD, Blu-Ray, Digital Download and On Demand I got the unique pleasure to sit down with veteran director D.J. Caruso.  We talked about the challenges of jumping into a franchise, the dynamic that Asian stars like Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa brought to the table, shooting as practically as possible and so much more…

Dave Voigt: When you are coming into a cinematic universe that has at least to some extent been predetermined does it cause you a little hesitation going into a project or does it provide more of a readymade structure for you to tell the story inside of?

D.J. Caruso: I would have to say that I lean a little more towards the side of hesitation.  Ultimately you have to find the reason for yourself to want to make this movie and find a style that you as a filmmaker can infuse into it but at the same time to not disrespect any of the work that went on in the installments that preceded the one that you find yourself working on and the fans of those films as well.  It was a little more apprehension because being locked into any given kind of style can be very dangerous as a filmmaker.  The second xXx movie was a little more of a standalone affair as it didn’t have Xander, but I still obviously watched it because I had to understand the character of Darius (Ice Cube) but I ultimately decided that it was OK to take this leap because when watching the first one which came out in 2002 it all really felt like an action movie from the late 1980s which I truly think is a complement to the film so stylistically I felt OK and combined with the fact that I knew we’d be opening this thing up with a lot of different things I was very confident that I’d be able to infuse my own personal style into it all.  Especially with all these new characters that we were surrounding Xander with I was confident that this movie would have its own unique stamp while still paying respect to the films and the characters like Darius and Xander of course that came before this one, I knew we’d be OK and of course having someone like a Samuel L Jackson as Gibbons who is just an absolute rock who can carry people through is such a great thing as well.  That might have been too long winded an answer though… (laughs)

DV: But it’s a good answer and I have to imagine that having Vin Diesel as a producer as well on the picture certainly does ease that transition.

DC: It was great but it could be a blessing or it could be the kiss of death as well especially if we had a movie star who kept wanting to do something a different way (his way) and then the whole thing would have been in absolute chaos.  Thankfully Vin and I developed and trust and chemistry from a very early stage and the funny thing about Vin as a producer isn’t the type to count coins and is more concerned about getting things right and it makes for a good collaboration and partnership.

DV: You were right in saying earlier in how the first one reminded you of an eighties action flick because the action set pieces were just so great and on this one you do open things up with guys like Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa and I am curious to know how it was with those guys and really meshing a Hollywood style of action with the Asian style of action?

DC: That’s a great question because I feel like we were able to accentuate and celebrate each character and the specific action that they brought to the table.  For me as an action director you have the quick explosive movement from Donnie Yen, this acrobatic style from Tony Jaa, the power from the likes of a Michael Bisping which makes you cringe because you could hear the sound of his fist going by and I was able to tap into each one of those styles and for me it was a lot of fun.  You have Vin doing this MMA style fight with a motorcycle and I shot that one way and I could shoot Donnie in another different way entirely as all these different tools and camera techniques that I had at my disposal to help it all come together.  Granted when you have someone like Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen together in a movie it’s going to bring a unique dynamic not just for the bottom line even though the business we did in China was ridiculous, it was really about a celebration especially about Donnie’s character in making sure that he was an equal to Xander and just as big of a star rather than someone that we just brought in to shoot the movie.  We were very careful to respect that dynamic in the film, especially in those Asian markets.

DV: Now I can imagine that there is always going to be an issue between the practical and the digital effects, especially with guys like Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa being on set and used to doing most everything themselves.  How often did you have to reign them in from doing something that you knew you might not be able to let them do?

DC: There is always that element of them wanting to push it a little further and I mean even some of the cable jumps and the distances were quite dangerous and there is always that line but the good news is that Vin can actually ride a motorcycle, Donnie is used to running on top of cars, Tony can jump through almost anything so it’s about maxing out the skills that your guys have but making sure to pull them back just enough so nothing bad happens, especially with those three guys.

Tony used to always look at me and go “Oh no boss, I can’t do that” And then the second the camera was rolling Tony would always do the stunt about 100 times better then the stuntman did it and you realize that you are just getting sandbagged by these guys and it made for some good laughs.  (Laughs)

There is always that fine line but at the end of the day safety comes first, but also in order to execute a shot the right way there are times when it’s better in a controlled environment in front of the green screen rather than out in traffic as well.  It’s all about the blending, our mission on this was to do everything as real as we can until we absolutely needed the help, like during the bike chase and having it stay underwater, that we needed to go digital for because we just couldn’t pull it off and the wave kept swallowing us up.

DV: Action doesn’t always get the respect it deserves especially when you are trying to do things the right way and I am curious for you how important is it to have a crew that is experienced in these kinds of shoots and is on the same page with you from a very early stage.

DC: It’s vital and I mean the great thing about the crew that I had in Toronto is that they had just come off of Suicide Squad and allot of them have worked with the likes of Guillermo del Toro so they all knew what they were doing and then some.  Plus when we down to the Dominican Republic and we had some Canadian’s with us it was fun as we we’re all taking off our shirts, of course we were all white and pasty just relishing in the sun and I’ll tell you the most fun that we had on this shoot was just in the water with the waves crashing all over us, it was a blast.  But yeah I am thankful for what an experienced crew we had as everyone knew where to have the camera and plus when you are doing big action set pieces, you don’t necessarily get a lot of takes so I was very thankful to have a crew that knew when to speak up to me to try something a different way in order for it all to come together.  Especially on an action movie set in can be incredibly frustrating when you have an inexperienced crew and you are doing extra takes of things that are dangerous when you really don’t need to be.  You can take it for granted but it always important to staff up the right way.

DV: You have established yourself pretty well as an action director over the years, but is there any kind of story or any genre that you’d love to try one day.

DC: Well, even though enough of my movies have had some comedic moments in them, I tend to shy away from comedy, it scares me a little and I try to leave that to people with more experience than me, but I think ultimately I’d love to try a razor sharp film noir, with the light and the shadow and the compelling character ambiguity, I’d love it.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, On Demand and Digital Download from all major retailers and platforms.

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David Voigt, has been a lover of cinema all his life and an actual underpaid critic for a solid 5 years covering everything that the city of Toronto has to offer. He was a content manager in video distribution industry before that and his love of all things cinema goes back to his first moments in awe looking up at the big screen. His 12 years of experience on the home entertainment side of the business have provided him with a unique view on what is worth spending your hard earned entertainment dollars on. Combine that with his unquestioned love of film, David should be your only stop to find out about the best in film, not only in Toronto, but worldwide.