Welcome to the final leg of our three-part Death Race set visit. Back in September, we journeyed East to Toronto, where we got to catch a glimpse of Jason Statham hard at work on his latest action thrill ride, a "reimagining" of Roger Corman's 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000. This newer, sleeker, faster, gooier, and gorier version is being directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and it promises to end the summer filmgoing season with a bang of machine gun fire that could rip a cast iron train to shreds. To read the first part of our set report, where we chat with Anderson, (click here!). In the second half of our visit, we held court with the film's star Jason Statham, which can be seen if you (click here!) Now, in our third and final segment, we take a look at one of the many car crash scenes that Anderson is committing to celluloid, as well as talk with actors Max Ryan, who plays villain Slovo Pachinko, and Natalie Martinez, who plays Case, Frankenstein's (Jason Statham) navigator.
It was mere seconds after lunch that we were invited to watch one of the film's bigger scenes: The demise of villain Slovo Pachinko. When we arrived, thick black smoke polluted the air, pouring from the underbelly of Slovo's overturned 1966 green Rivera. The Monster did not survived a clash with Jensen's vehicle, which was nowhere to be seen. Out from under the wreckage crawled Pachinko himself, actor Max Ryan. Slovo is a Neo-Nazi responsible for killing Frankenstein's wife, and then setting it up to look like Jason Statham did it. A bad guy to the core, this is his moment of truth. His swan song.
Ryan pulled himself out from the window and quickly got to his feet. The man was covered in soot from head to toe. A massive cut stretched across his forehead, raining a gallon of blood down onto his face and clothes. He stumbled about, trembling and wiping the debris out of his eyes. He is one tough cookie, but this just might be too much crash for his blackened Mohawk to handle.
The club cart hurried past the horrific panorama. Happy to have it away from the area, Anderson screamed out, "Let's go!" The P.A. put the hose to the side, out of view of the camera. He then went to work, spinning the wheels of the upside-down car. "Max! Get ready! Get in position!" With that, the actor crawled back underneath the car. "Action, Max! Reset!"
At this time, we are able to pull Ryan aside for a quick chat about his character in Death Race. Here is our conversation:
You look pretty scary. What's the deal with your character?
Max Ryan: Well, he's a neo-Nazi. He's got an entourage of neo-Nazis around him, all kinds of deviant types. Basically, I'm Jason's nemesis. What I have to do is kill his wife, frame him and get him into this event, so he can become this Frankenstein character. When he finds out it was me, naturally he wants to kill me. We have three, maybe four, fight scenes throughout the film. He's not a particularly easy guy to fight. Even when it's stage fighting, it still gets pretty hairy out there. There's been a lot of stunt stuff, and a lot of really hard, aggressive fighting. It's not any kind of form of martial arts. It's brutal, steel on skin, with some pretty hard blows to the head.
What scene are you guys filming today?
Max Ryan: It has to do with my character's demise, and as you can see, it's very realistic at the end. The demise of Slovo Pachenko! That's me. I'm racing "The Monster" against Jensen's (Marcello Bezina) car. He's trying to get past me and he's swerving across the track. We are hitting at each other side by side. Then he rolls into me, and suddenly we're ramming each other. He manages to get past me, and that's when he uploads his machines guns. Because he got to the "Death Head" on the track that energizes your guns before me. Those machine guns go off and it's total annihilation. He then does a one-eighty in his car, which is quite tricky. He is then going backwards at sixty miles an hour. I'm going forwards. And we're blowing towards each other. Then he spins around, releases all this smoke, and I lose sight of what's happening. And where I am going. Then I hit the wall. The car flips over four or five times in the air, and then lands upside down. I crawl out, barely alive. He hits reverse, the door opens, "CLUNK!" I flip around and around, still alive. He comes over, and I say, 'What, hey, it's wasn't me! I had nothing to do with it." He goes, "Oh yeah?" CRACK!' The guy just knocks my jaw off.
How did you end up in this film?
Max Ryan: I was in Warsaw, Poland, doing a TV series. Then I got this audition. I put myself on tape in a similar industrial area like this. I e-mailed it across to the States. To my manager. Then they sent it over to casting, and casting sent it over to Paul and the studio. They showed some interest in me. About ten days later, I got the call that said, "Yeah, can you get on a plane?" I said, "Yeah, I can get on a plane! Just tell me where to go!"
What's it like wearing all of this gory make-up?
Max Ryan: This stuff? You ought to see my girlfriend. She's got a problem with it. It helps tremendously, along with the clothes. It makes this all seem very realistic to me. First I did the murder scene, which is at the start of the film. Now I'm doing the finale. So, throughout the movie, the make-up has been building in layers. When you get to this point of the film, you almost become...Well, I won't say part of the character, because he's a mass murderer. I think you know what I mean.
How long does it take to get all dolled up like that?
Max Ryan: How long does this take? Maybe an hour and a half? We have tattoos to do as well, but this particular facial make-up is about an hour and a half.
Is all of this facial scaring from the wreck you just described?
Max Ryan: No, I had a fight as well. I have a fight with Jensen and Frankenstein. We're in the garage and I trick him. I walk past his bay where he's having a conversation with one of his guys. He walks out, and I coax him into my garage. As he comes in, I have three other guys with me, which is kind of handy. They club him on the back of the head, and he just goes off. It gets really nasty. One of his guys comes in and helps him. He manages to get free, takes out two of my guys, and then we have another brawl. I get quite a few bruises from that as well.
How much actual driving are you allowed to do in this film?
Max Ryan: I do a lot of simulation, because in a movie like this, it's all about insurance. But we do everything we can do. I don't think I'd want to stay in that car and flip through the air four times, to be completely honest with you.
After speaking with Max, we were ushered over to a Duck pond that overlooks the backside of Damnation Alley. It was here that we found actress Natalie Martinez, who plays Case in the film. Case is Frankenstein's navigator in all four Death Races that we see throughout the running time of the movie. Martinez is best known for her role as Pilar Martin on the hit series Saints & Sinners, and she is hoping that Death Race will be her breakout project. Here is our conversation:
Natalie Martinez: Hey, we can do this Indian-style next to the pond with the ducks. We'll have beautiful Montreal behind us.
So, how did you get this role?
Natalie Martinez: I auditioned a lot. My manager's agency sent me out on the audition. Basically, I just went out, studied for the part, did the audition, then went back for the callback. Then, I met the VP of casting. Then I did the chemistry read. Then I met Scott Bernstein. Over the course of a month, it took four or five auditions.
Did you have to do some yelling?
Natalie Martinez: Well, I had my own vision of her. So when I talked to Scott, one of the producers up there at Universal, we talked about my vision, and we agreed on certain things. She is a certain type of character. She has to be able to hold herself up, because she is in peril. That doesn't mean she's a bad person. She killed her husband, he cheated...What could she do? You know? On things like that, we had to have the same point of view. I had to show that I could carry her. I had to learn my lines, and I had to do a scene out of the movie with Jason as well. It was a scene that involved a lot of nerves and tension. Because I could die at any minute. It was kind of hard at times, because I didn't have the environment around me. It worked out good. They knew what they were looking for. That's the craziest thing about auditioning. They know what they want. And we don't have any idea what we are doing. But it worked out.
Did you spend time at a woman's correctional facility to get a feel for your character?
Natalie Martinez: When I was a kid, yeah. Wait, no, I'm joking. I know what you are talking about, though. No. I didn't have to. Just having the experience of where I grew up was enough. I grew up in Miami. Having that kind of hard knock life, growing up in not-so-great neighborhoods, and having to battle that, and knowing how to handle myself, and be strong so that I wasn't taken advantage of, was enough. You have to be strong in certain types of situations, I believe. You can't be seen as weak, and you can't show vulnerability. That is common amongst women in prison, because you can't let your guard down. You never know what is going to happen. And that happens in life, too. So I didn't have to spend too much time studying it. I'm a lot more street smart than I am anything else. I think that's what helped me get the part as well. I wasn't weak.
Can you talk a little bit about the language in the movie and how you speak? Do you talk really tough?
Natalie Martinez: Basically, I do. We are in a race that is life or death. So you go around this crazy course. There are booby traps, people are firing guns at you, there are missiles flying at your head, there is this huge eighteen-wheeler with machine guns. There are so many things, I can't even tell you about all of them. Basically, there is a lot of action. So all of the words are quick and to the point. Its like, "Pay attention!" There are a lot of discussions about the cars, like, "This is napalm oil." Things like that. Its short and to the point. I only have a limited amount of time to talk, because I am in a women's prison. He's in a male facility. We only have a limited amount of time to get to know each other. Also, there is no bond with these people. You don't bond. You have to have that look, and those short words, where the other person knows where you are coming from. You have to understand that they are coming from the same place. That's where our bond kind of hits. You'll never say, "I love you, you love me." But there is that sort of bond in the air. There is a hint of romance. Or at least the hope. I think our relationship is based more on hope.
What is it like to be filming inside that car?
Natalie Martinez: It's fun, man. It's all raw, and I don't have a seat half the time. I'm sitting on these metal beams, with just a little cushion. Its all greased up, and you are dirty all of the time. Its fun, because you don't have to worry about it. You don't have to worry about your nails being clean. "Oh, my God! My nails are going to be seen on TV!" Or anything like that. And when you are inside the car, you really feel it. Just the fact that everything is visible. There is no dashboard, so you see all of these cords and stuff. You could hit the wrong thing. You could set off this, or you could set off that. It's a lot of fun working in there.
Do they let you drive at all?
Natalie Martinez: No. I don't know how to drive stick. (Laughs) I learned when I was about thirteen. I learned how to drive stick. But now, I don't remember how. I don't. The car is towed sometimes, and I'm in it while it's moving. We haven't really gotten into the stuff where Jason is driving. He has obviously driven a lot, so I trust him with his driving. If I don't, it still makes it more fun. You know?
What is the back-story on your character? She went to jail for killing her husband?
Natalie Martinez: Yeah. My story is that he was cheating. So I killed my husband. She was just your normal average woman, married, and it just so happened that her husband was a cop. That made her ten times worse in trouble. I think she was just normal, you know? She was a hard knock. Since he was a cop, she had to deal with him not coming home at night. And things like that. I believe that he cheated, or whatnot. And, not straight away, but I killed him. I think I just blacked out and did it. I didn't mean to, but I was just mad. You know? So its not like I'm an evil person, I don't believe. Shit happens.
How did it happen? Is he chopped up into little pieces?
Natalie Martinez: Yeah, and he's buried all over Florida. No...But I do feel that way about her. And now she's in prison. She is a young girl, and she got carried away with what she did. She has to live with that. Due to circumstances, she is here. What is she going to do? Bitch and complain? No, she is just going to deal with it. Now, we have this race to go through. I am young, and the Warden finds it very easy to manipulate me. She can just throw freedom around me. I'm only twenty-five in the movie, so it's basically the idea that I will do whatever it takes for me to get back out there. I don't necessarily think I belong here. But this is me now. I'm in prison, racing cars, and doing what the Warden tells me to do.
What is the job of a navigator?
Natalie Martinez: Basically, we keep the driver focused. He has so much to concentrate on. There are so many tricks, and booby traps, and things he has to be aware of. There are so many things to look out for. We've got the napalm, we've got the oil, we've got the NOx. Something might happen to the gun, or somebody needs to talk to Coach. There are so many things that are going on. We are lightweight, because we are all women. It's also for the ratings. This race is being televised on the web. So, with that, our job is basically ratings. Because our outfit is all boobs, and short tops. This is for the movie, and for the web. Its that, and the fact that we are light weight. We don't compromise their racing skills or how slow they can go. It's basically about that. You know? We go through the switches, and fix things, and look out. Four eyes are better than two. I can look all around while he is focusing on driving. I can tell him that someone is coming up on his back. I know the road just as much as he does. It's just another mind to tell him to take this short cut, or to go through here. He is also new, so it helps out with him. He is just thrown into this race.
In the original, the navigators disrobed. Do you have to do that as well?
Natalie Martinez: No. I do at one point get undressed, but I have another shirt on underneath my clothes. So I never show anything. Yeah, there's no nudity.
Do you get in a fight with any of the other navigators?
Natalie Martinez: No. There is so much going on. You get off that bus, and you walk through these cars, and you don't know if you are ever going to get out again. I don't think there's enough time to fight with these girls later. We're not friends. We don't talk. We just do what we have to do. That is the theme. Do what you gotta do. Kill or be killed. Because, that's how it goes. On-screen, we haven't fought. Nor off-screen either. (Laughs)
Outside of Joan Allen and Jason, who did you have the most scenes with?
Natalie Martinez: I didn't have many scenes with Joan, actually. But I had a lot of scenes with the Monster Crew. Ian McShane, Jacob Vargas, and Fred Koehler. That was the whole crew. And me and Jason Statham. I had a lot of scenes with them. I had some with Pachenko. Which is Max Ryan. We just exchanged looks. The same thing with Tyrese, just while I was in the car. But I did most of my talking scenes amongst the Monster Crew.
What is Ian McShane like to work with?
Natalie Martinez: Amazing. I mean, he is so cool. He tells so many stories, which is a lot of fun. And he knows his shit. He knows what to do. We'll be doing stuff, and he'll give little hints. He'll say, "You look really good over here." So of course I'm going to go over there. Its true, it makes a lot of scenes sometimes. That kind of stuff just puts it all together. He shared his ideas with us, and he was really, really welcoming. We hung out, and we went to dinner. Me, him, and the whole crew. We hung out. He was a real joy to work with. He's a kid. He's great. I have nothing but good things to say about him. I liked him a lot.
What is it like working with Paul Anderson?
Natalie Martinez: Paul is awesome. Paul knows what he wants. Which is really cool. Because you feel sure of it. And I can go up to him and ask him anything. The fact that you can do that makes your job a lot easier. If you have any views about your characters, or anything you think, you can always ask him. That's the really great thing about working with Paul. Also, I just love watching him work. He'll walk, but he's not walking. He is off, somewhere in race land. And you can just tell. I think that is awesome, because this is his baby. And he cares about it. Anything anybody has to say or contribute, he listens to it and he understands. He gets it. I like that. I think he is great to work with.
Does he put you in a lot of scary situations?
Natalie Martinez: No. He definitely says that he is going to scare me. And I am waiting for it. But I like the speed. And I like the ejector seat. I did that, and I came back to him and asked if it could go faster. He told me, "Yes!" So, it's fun. There aren't too many things that scare me. I'm looking forward to being scared, though. I think I'm getting in a car today or tomorrow, and I will be coming out of the window. I'll be holstered by these things, and it will be while I'm racing. I like that, though.
Have you ever been into cars?
Natalie Martinez: Yes. I never got to crazy about them. But I like muscle cars a lot. My dream car is a '69 Barracuda. But that was when I was fifteen. That was something my dad and me had in common. I like big trucks, and stuff. I know some things. I can change my own tire and battery. And I can change my oil. I like cars.
What sort of training or prep work did you have to do?
Natalie Martinez: I did a lot of Googling. I needed to know what napalm was, and what all of these other words were. I spent some time with everybody showing me the cars. Like sitting in the Monster. That was going to be my home for awhile. I needed to know where everything was. I had to practice with the belts, because they were race belts. There are all of these buckles, and all of these trick ways to do it. Then there was also training to stay fit. As far as anything having to do with the movie, I was just basically looking things up to understand what they were. Things about the race, and especially about the car. I needed to know the function of certain things. That's pretty much it.
Do we get to see you kill your husband on screen?
Natalie Martinez: No, but that would have been fun, though. (Laughs) No, we didn't shoot anything. That's just a back-story to get a feel for it.
You didn't act it out in your bedroom, alone, at night?
Natalie Martinez: No, my boyfriend is still alive. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He is still alive and well. He hasn't cheated.
Are there going to be some graphic death scenes in the film?
Natalie Martinez: Oh, yeah. There are a lot. There are some pretty cool ones, too. I don't want to say too much about them. But you do see a lot of blood. The scars are amazing. I was touching this one guy's scars, and they felt real. It's really gnarly. It's very graphic. You'll have some good stuff to watch.
Do you see yourself doing more action movies in the future?
Natalie Martinez: I love action stuff. Oh, yeah. Anything that gets the adrenaline going, and makes you more hands on with it. I like that. I like the fact that I get dirty, and get to touch things. And race, and the wind. You don't have to worry about anything. It's just in the moment. I like that aspect. I like the action. Its fun.
That's it for us on the Toronto set of Paul W.S. Anderson's Death Race. The film opens August 22nd, 2008.