We chat with Emile Hersh, Christina Ricci, and Matthew Fox about this highly anticipated adaptation of the popular cartoon series
This Friday, The Wachowski Brothers return with their highly anticipated big screen version of the popular 1960s cartoon Speed Racer. The duo responsible for The Matrix have crafted a high speed, candy coated confection suitable for the entire family. Based on Tatsuo Yoshida's classic anime series, this big-screen adaptation of the hit television show follows the adventures of a young racecar driver named Speed Racer and his quest for glory in the thundering gadget-laden vehicle, The Mach 5.
We recently caught up with the cast behind this summer's craziest family film. We spoke with Emile Hersh, Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox, John Goodman, and Susan Sarandon. Here is what they had to say about the making of the film:
Why were you attracted to this particular project?
Christina Ricci: I loved the idea of working with the Wachowskis. I've wanted to work with them for a while. Speed Racer was always something that people mentioned to me. Like, "Oh, you know they're gonna make Speed Racer. You'd be a good Trixie." The Wachowski Brothers are great. They're so much fun. They're just wonderful people. They're so smart. They're the most interesting people to talk to. Working with them was great because they want to have a good time and they want everyone to be happy . On set, it's just everyone hanging out, having fun, and laughing at what's happening. We were all just having a very good time.
Matthew Fox: It was The Wachowski Brothers that led me to the project. I had a meeting with them and heard their thoughts on what they wanted to accomplish with this movie. They wanted to make a movie that their nieces and nephews could see, and they had never really done anything like that before. They wanted to make a family movie. That really hit a chord with me. I have kids and I haven't done anything that I would feel comfortable having them watch. Larry and Andy wrote a script that I thought was just absolutely amazing. It was the only project I wanted to be in. I was looking at a few things last spring, but the minute I met with Larry and Andy and started going down the Racer X route, I didn't want to do anything else. I said, "If I don't get this role, I'm not going to work this hiatus."
Susan Sarandon: For me, it was The Wachowskis. I'm a huge fan of The Matrix. I just thought they were brilliant. When they called me I said "I don't even understand what you are talking about, but I want to do it." They were telling me about what they were going to be doing technically. Me? I just learned to text a month ago. I'm way behind the learning curve. What they said was also very seductive. I thought, "If I'm going to do a big film, these are the guys to do it with." Right? If you are going to do something really cutting edge instead of some old green screen movie, you should do it with the Wachowskis. Plus, Berlin's not a bad place to spend the summer.
Did you watch the cartoon in preparation for this?
Emile Hirsch: I watched it as a kid. I was a big fan of the show. I watched it on Cartoon Network. I then watched all fifty-two episodes of the show in preparation for this part. It was a big waste of time. I can't get that time back.
Matthew Fox: I went and did some research on the original source material. I had definitely seen those images. I recognized them. They were familiar to me. But I don't think I'd ever really seen an episode. I went out and got a bunch and watched them. I got a feel for what made that series so catchy.
Christina, you've said in the past that you like to play characters that are afraid, and maybe even a little ashamed of who they are. This character seems the complete opposite of that, doesn't it?
Christina Ricci: I don't think I like characters that are afraid and ashamed of who they are. I like complex characters. The people who do the most dramatic things are the people who have personal problems. I have grown up and become a little less afraid of sincerity. I have a real vested interest in women's issues and the next generation of girls. Just looking around, I see all of the negative images that are out there for young girls. What are they supposed to grow into if the only images they have are the Bratz? It's crazy. I really like the fact that Trixie is the ultimate feminist character. She's as girly as she wants to be, but she does everything the boys do. There's no commentary on it. The Wachowski Brothers are very much responsible for that kind of thing. They have a very strong sense of equality and an interest in leaving the world a better place than they found it. I was really excited about that.
Matthew, sitting in a gimbaled racecar in front of a green screen with the leather mask and goggles, do you have to put all of your trust in The Wachowski Brothers in order to be comfortable in the skin of this character?
Matthew Fox: Yes, you hit it on the head. Through the entire process I had complete and utter faith in the Wachowskis. I knew they would make me look good. I really did. There were moments where I said, "Wow, this is pretty intense." Honestly, this is one of the most terrifying experiences I've ever had. There are so many ways that wearing a leather suit can be very bad. The comfort level is one thing. It was incredibly hot. Doing the fight sequences in the suit was incredibly difficult. I was very dehydrated. On a creative level, there are a lot of things that can go terribly wrong. But I had complete faith in them. I had a really strong idea immediately after the conversations of what they were going for tonally. What this world would look like. What I wanted to try to do within that leather suit. I was trying to create this mysterious thing with a voice that was sort of anime. It had to go along with that. The way that Larry and Andy wrote Racer X's dialogue, and the rhythm of his speech, gave me all these hints. You're just gathering hints as much as you possibly can. They did an amazing job of bringing those elements to me so that I could understand it.
Christina Ricci: I liked working with the green screen because it immediately created a bond amongst all the actors. A lot of it was family stuff with all of us together. You walk into this big green room and you look at everyone else dressed in their various hilarious costumes. We're laughing. It's ridiculous, but we're committing to it. We don't know what's around us, but we're going to do what they tell us to do. It creates a bond that is really wonderful. Also, these two directors inspire such confidence and such trust. You can tell that they have this complete vision in their heads. You would be doing yourself a huge disservice to not trust them. You just do what they tell you to do. How are you going to know if what you are doing matches what is in their heads? They have to tell you.
John Goodman: It hearkened back to a time for me without money. Back when I was doing off, off Broadway. When I first got into college, I did a play in a church basement by Thornton Wilder. The directions were, "There are no props. There are chairs, tables." You use whatever you can. You just don't hone in on whatever props are supposed to be there. People will start paying attention to the actors. After awhile you don't care. That's what it was like for me. It was like going back to off, off Broadway. In that environment, you concentrate more on the person you are working with.
Emile Hirsch: He's right. There were no sets or props. It was like doing "Waiting for Godot". There was just this green wall. You had to talk to it, think about it. It was really weird doing the car scenes. We did it on a hydraulic pump called a gimbal. All of my anger in the film is so authentic because they were just slamming me around in the simulator for hours. It was green and hot. There are lights on you. You can't move because you're strapped in. You get literally frustrated to the point where you want to rip the thing apart. I have a drawing of me breaking it. I'm serious.
Matthew, it has been reported that you suffered the worst injury on the Gimbal. What happened with that?
Matthew Fox: The Gimbal was really intense. Thank god for that gimbal. As an actor, you just got in there and hung on for dear life. Because that's what would happen with these cars doing what they're doing. Obviously the driver would be giving the input to the car. That would create the scene. But once the car did what it was told, your body would just be reacting to the forces around it. As an actor, you didn't have to do anything other than create the input. But then you'd have to react to what the gimbal was doing. It was amazing. It made everything a lot easier. On X's part, he has to be the harbinger of boom. He has to be kicking some hard butt. He's got to be doing big moves. I was getting thrown up against the door really intensely, to the point where my shoulder was pretty sore and bruised and that kind of thing, but I really had a good time doing it. It was fun.
Christina, you also got hurt on the Gimbal, right?
Christina Ricci: I did get a little hurt. You get banged up in the gimbal thing so much. You end up with bruises. At one point, I had to get out and throw up. Then get back in because it's a lot of shaking and craziness. It was just really fun. I had a good time.
Emile Hirsch: I think Matthew got it worse. I don't know why. I don't think he paid off the gimbal guy like I did.
Matthew, did the mask affect your acting style?
Matthew Fox: There's no question about it. During the first meeting that I had with Larry and Andy, they gave me a bunch of warnings on their part. They told me, "This is why this is going to be very difficult. Its this green screen, this new technology that we're using. The way we're shooting it is going to be tough. Are you comfortable playing a role where the audience isn't going to see your eyes for a majority of the movie?" I was really intrigued and challenged by that. It was an incredible experience. It really was. It was just a lot of fun, and the wardrobe is always really important for me to get into something. It allows me to find my way into it. It informs my performance in so many ways. I got two weeks into filming, and when I would put the suit on, bam, I was right there in it. It was so cool.
Did you enjoy getting to use your martial arts training?
Emile Hirsch: The training was the fun part. The stunt coordinators were such badasses. We'd ask, "Hey, Chad and Dave, how many Hollywood actors' asses do you think you could kick at once? Twenty? Thirty?" Chad would say, "No, probably more than thirty." He'd be dead serious. Then Dave would say, "Yeah, it would be more like forty." I learned from them that when you get punched in the face, you have to roll with it. When they hit me, I learned how to fall. They toughened me up real quick.
Matthew Fox: I enjoyed it very much. That part of shooting was really rewarding for me. I did all the stunts in the movie myself. I'm proud of that. I worked really hard to do that. They wanted to see how athletic I was. What I could do and what I couldn't do. They felt that I could do it all. I wanted to make it look good and they were like, "Trust us. We'll tell you if it doesn't look good." If I could do it all, Larry and Andy would be able to shoot it in a much cooler way. Which was the case.
John Goodman: I was actually worried because my knees and my shoulder. They are pretty heavily riddled with arthritis. When I'm are working in a stunt fight, I've got to slow down a little bit and admit to myself that maybe I can't do this because somebody else could get hurt.
Did you guys have fun off set in Berlin?
Christina Ricci: Yeah. We had a great time. The brothers threw a lot of parties. People on the crew threw parties. A lot of the actors went out and socialized among themselves. We were all staying at the same hotel, so we spent the evenings together. It was really fun. It was summer in Berlin. That didn't necessarily make it warm but there were some warm days. We went outside and had a good time.
Speed Racer opens this Friday, May 9th, 2008.