The writer/director/star of this biker flick talks about the unique inception of the film, working with the cast and the biker culture as a whole
I can't imagine many people can say they've been to Quentin Tarantino's house for a night of movies, but Larry Bishop might be the only one to ever make a movie from that fateful encounter. That one night essentially resulted in Bishop writing, directing and starring in the first true biker flick in many a moon, Hell Ride, which hits the road to DVD and Blu-ray on October 28. I had the chance to talk with Bishop over the phone and here's what the colorful filmmaker/actor had to say.
So I read that the whole movie came about after you met Michael Madsen on Kill Bill Vol. 2.
Larry Bishop: There are a couple of different stories, but I'll give you the straight story about how it transpired. Michael and I had actually been good friends for about 10 years before Kill Bill Vol. 2. We consolidated things when we did Kill Bill Vol. 2, however, what happened was in August of 2001, I got a phone call from an actress named Laura Cayouette, who was in Hell Ride. She plays Dani of Dani's Inferno. This was around midnight and she said, 'I'm standing next to Quentin Tarantino and Quentin Tarantino is your biggest fan.' This is what she's saying to me at midnight, OK? So, I'm thinking, I had done a bunch of gangster flicks prior to that, so I thought it was those and she said, 'No, he loves those motorcycle movies you did 40 years ago.' Then he got on the line and he said, 'Do you want to come up to my house' - he's got a theater in his house - to see a movie called The Savage Seven, which is a movie I did in 1967. I said, 'Yes, of course. I'll come right up.' So we had a screening of this movie called The Savage Seven and it was the coolest night ever. This phone call came completely out of the blue. I had no idea that Quentin was a fan or what he knew about me or anything else. He said he owns all my videos. He has a big print collection and he owned all of my films. What happened was he put together a trailer of films. It was an amazing evening. He put together a bunch of trailers from movies I'd done years and years ago and some of the trailers I had never seen before. Before The Savage Seven, we watched about eight trailers of my movies. The Larry Bishop Trailer Collection. It's just the way he is. He's just really enthusiastic and very generous. Very very generous. We watched The Savage Seven and when the lights came up, I said, 'Well what do you want to do?' He said, 'Let's make the greatest motorcycle movie ever.' And that's how it came about. That was exactly how it came about.
Wow. That's awesome. Was that before he even signed you on for Kill Bill Vol. 2 as well?
Larry Bishop: Yeah. Well, what happened was he had phrased it in such a crazy fashion. He didn't just say we're going to do this, he said, these are his exact words, 'Larry, it's your destiny to star, write and direct a brand new motorcycle movie.' Those were the words that he used. Him using the word 'destiny,' and I had been a big fan of his stuff too. At that point, he had only done three movies, but I really enjoyed all three of them. I thought he was really really talented. What became apparent to me was he was very aware. He was more aware, in like a Jack Kerouac, Neil Cassidy sense. A very Beat sense. He was very very aware, and that was one of the first things I spotted when I got to his house. I didn't know anything about him, regarding that. All I knew was his films. I was really impressed by his personality and his awareness. Since I was a boy, I'd been in the company of only a handful of people that I thought were really really aware. It has nothing to do with fame or success or money or intelligence - I mean, awareness is a form of intelligence, but I know a lot of intelligent people who aren't particularly aware. When I was around 18 or 19 years old, I spent a day with Muhammad Ali and he was like really aware. It just jumped out at you when there's an awareness factor, he was really really aware. I felt the same way about Marlon Brando when I met him, and Frank Sinatra. Immediately, when I met Quentin, and he's even the youngest of the group we're talking about, when I met him, it caught me off guard for a second, because that's the same thing. You don't see it that often, but I know how to spot it. He's taking everything in really really quickly and... I don't really know how to explain it, but I was really really impressed. When he starts using words like "destiny" and things like that, I'm taking what he's saying really really seriously.
So I went home and I started writing that night, I started writing Hell Ride that night because I was intoxicated by the way Quentin Tarantino had extended himself. About a week later, I got a call from him and I thought that maybe he was just checking up and seeing how Hell Ride was coming, but no. He said, 'I wrote a part for you in Kill Bill Vol. 2.' I said, 'Great. Yeah. I'll do it. Whatever you want me to do.' It was about a week after I started writing Hell Ride. It was a really really cool six or seven years here with Quentin. I was hell-bent on making sure it was as pure as possible, because I realized this was a very unique situation. I'm lucky in certain ways, a lot of things come to me, but because it was Quentin, it was just one of those almost divine intervention type of scenarios. I wanted to do the Kill Bill Vol. 2 thing for him then I wanted to do Hell Ride and I didn't want to mix up too much else. I had a couple of other scripts before I got the call for the Quentin get-together. I was ready to go with another movie, but I put everything aside. In fact, we were up at Sundance together, because Hell Ride got selected at Sundance. I told him I don't think I've ever did that for anybody. I tabled, I put everything off to the side, the second he said that to me. I didn't want anything else going on in my brain except the idea that I was going to do these two things with Quentin Tarantino.
That's how it worked out. It's been about 7 years from that first night, so it's been a very exhilarating seven years. It took a long time to do the Hell Ride thing, for a variety of reasons, one of them being I didn't want to disturb him when he was doing Kill Bill Vol. 2, then when he asked me to be in Kill Bill Vol. 2, of course I wanted his confidence. I wanted it to be the greatest movie ever, Kill Bill Vol. 2, so I didn't want to disturb him with Hell Ride until he was completely done with it. I said I wouldn't give him the script for Hell Ride until he was completely done with FIGNBHHHkjk1KG||Kill Bill Vol. 2}, but I didn't know it was going to take that long. At that point, it wasn't two films and the shoot was shorter on paper than it turned out to be, then there were two premieres, it went on for a lengthy period of time. My brain was really in a good state because of Quentin, so that's what was moving me forward.
So you did have the script written before Kill Bill Vol. 2 was done?
Larry Bishop: Yeah. I told him that, when you're done with Kill Bill Vol. 2, at the wrap party, I will have somebody come over and give you the script. I wasn't involved in Kill Bill Vol. 2 at that stage, but, anyway, like a schmuck, I don't know if anybody's ever did this, but I wanted to keep my word to him, because he really kept his word to me. I actually showed up, I'm the only person in the universe that actually shows up with a script at a wrap party. I'm actually bringing Hell Ride to the Kill Bill Vol. 2 wrap party. On one level, part of my brain is going, 'I'm really keeping my word to Quentin,' because that's exactly what I told him I was going to do. On the other hand, I'm carrying it with me. Everybody wants to know what the hell I'm carrying. So I felt like a schmuck in one way, but I thought I was doing the cool thing in another way, because I was keeping my word to him.
I remember seeing one of our guys, Paul, did some interviews for the film and I believe it was David Carradine who said that there weren't really any good guys in this movie at all. Is that kind of easier to write with that mentality?
Larry Bishop: Actually, particularly with my character Pistolero, I didn't want him to be perceived as a good guy necessarily either. When we were watching The Savage Seven, the lead character, the reason why Quentin and I really liked the movie, was that the lead character in one scene is a good guy then in the next scene he's a totally bad guy. Then he totally flips around and is a good guy again then he's a bad guy again. That's something that I was interested in doing where the audience couldn't get a hold on whether my character or whether Michael Madsen's character are good or bad. Some of the guys you know are just straight-up bad guys, Vinnie Jones' character, you know. David Carradine, of course, is playing him so charmingly that the audience, they have to get a kick out of him. They'll have to like him. What I was really f*&%ing with was the notion of my character and Michael Madsen's character, I didn't necessarily want the audience to like Pistolero, like you would like the leading character in a movie. I felt like I had carte blanche to do that and the way the movie system is set up, there are certain rules and regulations that everybody kind of follows. In other words, you have to root for a good guy and the good guy is the one with the most lines and he's the lead guy and that type of thing. I felt that I had a real great opportunity here to really overturn a lot of things and I got Quentin's blessing to do it and no one is going to mess with me. No one is going to tell me that I can't do anything that I want to do with this thing. I feel like I had a great opportunity to really f*%& with the notions of what a good guy is in a movie. The Pistolero character is nasty. You can't be the leader of a motorcycle gang and live for that long. In other words, you can be the leader of a motorcycle gang for eight days and not be nasty, but you'll be dead. Let's say my character has been doing this for 40 some years or so, there are certain survival techniques and it's going to get into some really nasty areas. I felt like I could go further than Clint Eastwood did. Clint Eastwood, there's a certain likeability, like the Sergio Leone westerns. He's not begging for the audience's approval, which is part of what I wanted, but I'm going further with it, in the sense that the audience should, at some point in the movie, maybe many points in the movie, go, 'Wait, who am I rooting for here? Am I rooting for Pistolero to live through this movie?' What I'm really interested in doing is a psychopathology of cinema where you don't give a f&^% about the normal rules that are set up. Because a motorcycle movie, more than any other genre, is very dark and very nihilistic and very existential and I don't have to do anything I'm supposed to do. I couldn't have pushed through a lot of this stuff, though, if Quentin hadn't been on my side. It was a combination of him being on my side, and the idea that I was going to keep my word to Bob Weinstein to keep it at a certain budget. The budget we were at was not a dangerous budget, because they know that, no matter what happens, because it's Quentin Tarantino presents Larry Bishop in a motorcycle movie, they're going to do OK on the DVD's and all that stuff. For me, I had really a license to do whatever I wanted to do, without any interference. Provided I kept it at the budget we agreed to, no one was going to interfere with that. It was like a really really cool situation.
It's pretty rare, too.
Larry Bishop: No, it's extremely rare. We wound up shooting in 20 days, which is a difficult thing to do, but all the motorcycle movies I did in the 60s and 70s, they were all shot on four-week schedules. Although I didn't direct those, I only starred in those, I knew what the rhythm was. I knew it had to be done in the course of the day and how fast you had to move. I had a great DP on this, Scott Kevan, and we really developed a great shot list and he was really fantastic. I didn't see him blink an eye once. With me acting and directing, I can go off in my trailer and relax every now and then, because it takes about an hour to set up shots, but, especially on a 20-day shoot, he didn't blink an eye. That was an amazing thing. I had put him through quite a bit. We had taken many many walks before I told him he had the job, because I just wanted to see if he had the stamina to go through what I was going to put him through. I kept saying, 'You really don't want this job.' I told everybody they shouldn't do this. 'You don't want to be a part of this. This is going to be so brutal. It's going to be impossible.' I never could shake anybody off though. That was the weird thing. I never could shake anybody off of this project, but I really laid it out for them saying, you're gonna get really sick on this because you're not going to get any sleep and you won't have time to eat and anything. Everything is going to be on the run and you don't want to do this. But no, I couldn't shake anybody off. I put everybody through a lot, before I gave them the job, but everybody did rise to the occasion, I have to say.
You have quite a great cast here. Did you write with any of them in mind?
Larry Bishop: No, the only one person I wrote for was Michael Madsen. Madsen and I were buddies and the first thing after Quentin said it was my destiny, I called Michael the next day. I said I'm writing this thing and its going to be 'Quentin Tarantino Presents' and I'm going to write a part for you and we're going to call it The Gent. Quentin actually gave me my name, Pistolero, the night that we met. He said, 'You should be Pistolero.' I said, 'That's good enough for me.' I said, "Michael Madsen should be in this movie. Let's call him The Gent.' He said, 'That's a good idea,' so I called him the next day and told him he'd be called The Gent. He said, 'How bout I wear a tuxedo on this thing?' and I said, 'Great.' So he was on board right away. The other part I wrote was for Laura Cayouette, because she introduced me to Quentin so I wanted to make sure that she was definitely in the movie, so I wrote that part for her. That was it. As I was writing it, because I didn't know David Carradine until we started on Kill Bill Vol. 2, I got to be quite friendly with him. There were a lot of premieres, a lot of parties, a lot of things to do for Kill Bill Vol. 2, so I really dug David Carradine. In the mix of it all, that's when I started to say, 'I think you should be in this movie and I got an idea for you in this thing.' He said, 'Pretty much anything you want me to do, Larry.' That was cool. Everybody was really realy cool. Dennis, when we were in pre-production, came to my office and we took a walk and he told me he liked the script, but we talked about everything but the movie when we took that walk. At the end of it, I just said I'd love for you to be in it and he said, 'I'd love to be in it,' so he was in it! That was about the easiest conversation I've ever had.
I can't even remember the last true biker movie. Was that kind of part of the desire to get this out there, because there hasn't been a true biker flick out there in awhile?
Larry Bishop: Well, Quentin is a big fan of this genre. The genre itself, outside of The Wild Ones, the Brando thing that you can't count, they were made between 1967 to 1973. That's when they biker phase happened in motion pictures. I was lucky. I was under contract at AIG at the time, because a couple of years before that was when they had the horror movie cycle. Jack Nicholson was a part of that and I'm glad that I was part of the motorcycle movie thing, rather than any other genre. People, when I initially did them, though I was f%&*ing nuts, that I was crazy for doing these things. My family and friends of mine, like I went to high school with Richard Dreyfus and Rob Reiner. They thought I was nuts. They thought I was throwing my career away by starring in these things, but nobody but me was really working, and I was starring in these things. Also, I liked the rebellion of it. It wasn't that the movies were about rebellion, it was they were so anti-mainstream, these movies, because they were so cheap. They regarded them as a relative you didn't talk about. That's the way everybody in Hollywood talked about these things. That really intrigued me because it was in the late 60s, when rebellion was really really in the air, with the sex revolution, the drug revolution, the Vietnam thing. It made me feel like I was really a rebel, that I had really said the ultimate f%$& you to everything by doing these motorcycle movies. Of course, it's a little grandiose that I was thinking so, but I was 19 years old and I thought that I was outdoing Marlon Brando. He actually fit into the mainstream of movies eventually and maybe I'm outdoing him. Who knows, but that's the way my brain was working, delusionaly or not, that's the way it was working. But no one ever said anything positive to me about those movies, then or for the next 40 years until I met Quentin. Quentin was the first person that said anything of a complementary nature to me about these motorcycle movies. The only person! I mean, think about that one, saying it's like divine intervention. Truthfully, it could've been anybody who said it. I knew there had to be somebody, somewhere down the line that would like these, but it could've been a television director or something. Somebody that would've done me no good whatsoever, but it was Quentin Tarantino.
I see that you have a movie called Forgotten Pills coming out. Is there anything you can tell us aout that, or is there anything that you're working on writing right now?
Larry Bishop: Yeah. That's a film that David Hefner asked me to be in. Ever since Kill Bill Vol. 2 came out, I get about two scripts a week sent to me by younger directors who want me to be in their movies. A lot of it has to do more with the part than with anything, but when David Hefner sent me this, I liked it very very much so I said I would do it. I'm open to doing that, but the part has to be right on the money, and the attitude has to be right on the money. He actually wrote this for me, which I've had a lot of young directors sending me stuff who have written stuff for me, but it just has to be right on the money for me to do that. So that's why I did that one. I'm doing my stuff, I'm doing the four jobs again with starring, writing, directing and I'm producing, a movie called Sweating Bullets that I wrote. I'm producing it with Judith James, who's Richard Dreyfus' partner. We did a movie called Mad Dog Time together a few years back, so we're doing that one. That's the next one that I'll do. We're in pre-pre-production and we're hoping to be shooting sometime in January.
Do you have a cast lined up for that yet?
Larry Bishop: I do. I don't want... I'll keep you posted. The best way to do it is I'll keep you posted about it. I'm talking to a lot of people and a lot of people want to do this, but we haven't set everything yet. We're only a month or so away from that and I'll keep you posted about that.
Excellent. Finally, Hell Ride didn't exactly catch on that well theatrically, but this definitely seems like something that could really catch on and have a cult following on DVD. Was that kind of the hope all along for this film?
Larry Bishop: I think so. The thing with the motorcycle movie, it's psychopathic in a sense that it's not interested in what anybody thinks about it. The movie itself is not interested in what anybody thinks about it, so it's psychopathic in that sense. It's not particularly interested in... it wants you to come to it, rather than it come to you. A lot of movies come to you. When the movie starts, you know that they want you to like them. That's not what a motorcycle movie is and that's really not what Hell Ride is. That doesn't mean you can't like it. It's more like a take it or leave it, if you want to personify it, it's like take me or leave me, which is really the way I feel a motorcycle movie should be. That concept is not for everybody. A lot of people want you to be desirous of their approval, but that's not a motorcycle movie. I've done movies where they were desirous of the audiences approval and some of them turned out really really good and they got the approval. But a motorcycle movie really has to draw the line. It's almost like a motorcycle gang in real life. It's not looking for your approval. It's just a take it or leave it. That doesn't mean that movies that want to please you aren't good. there are plenty of movies that want to please you, and are really really good. But a motorcycle movie isn't that. Quentin and I knew that and that's the line that we drew. Obviously, as a filmmaker, I'm hoping that as many people really dig it, but digging it and wanting approval are two different things. I don't think this movie asks for anybody's seal of approval. Either you want to give it, or you don't, and that's just it. Either you love it or you hate it. That's the bottom line. We had that information when we went to Sundance. We had a lot of fans and we had a lot of detractors, right off the bat. The polarity was like staggering, almost. You can't do this if a film costs $80, $90, $100 million, but I think that, for the budget that we got, a few million dollars, that's what it should be. It should be just the people that really really dig it. A core audience that really really digs it and it's not everybody's cup of tea. We don't want it to be everybody's cup of tea. I guess that's the best way of phrasing it.
Well, that's about all I have for you, Larry. Thank you so much for your time today and I'm looking forward to your new projects.
Larry Bishop: OK, take care. Bye.
Hit the road with Larry Bishop's Hell Ride when it comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on October 28.