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Drive Angry: Interview With Director Patrick Lussier

In the action film Drive Angry, Nicolas Cage plays an escapee from hell determined to protect his daughter. In many ways this is a throwback to '70s actions films, and in this interview with director Patrick Lussier discusses its making.
What follows are Drive Angry excerpts from the interview. For the rest, follow the link.

How did Drive Angry come about?

It was something that [co-writer] Todd Farmer and I were just spit-balling after Valentine had just opened; deciding on what kind of movie we wanted to do next. It was right around Groundhog Day. We were talking about different kinds of movies that we liked and car movies came up. We thought of Groundhog Day and Bill Murray saying, "don't drive angry," and things like that. And then we just thought it was a great title: Drive Angry. From Drive Angry we started concocting a story. "What was this story going to be about?" We wanted to do something that was a little High Plains Drifter. Something that had characters with varying degrees of villainy and, at the same time, characters you still rooted for; still cheered for; were still compelled by their actions. The idea of exploiting that excited us; coming up with a car movie with supernatural overtones. One thing led to another and, eight weeks later, we had a script in our hands and went around town knocking on doors.

Did you have a hard time getting a studio to bite? Or did the production companies that jumped on board basically say, "Cars? Gun fights? Hell? Go for it!"

(Laughs) We felt that, given the extreme nature of the script, a studio probably wasn't the way to go so we had it financed independently via Millennium Films. But the first step was getting a producer on board. We went to Mike De Luca, who is an amazing producer, and he so loved the material. He told us this was exactly the reason he wanted to get into movies. To make this kind of film. He completely backed it and sent it to Nic Cage. He said, "Nic will love this character! This is exactly what he likes. Supernatural stories, fast cars… he'll be in!" And Nic was. The second we got Nic, he had to deal with Millennium Films. He owed them a movie and, when they started talking about a different script, he said, "no, I want it to be this one." Nic spearheaded Drive Angry getting made. Suddenly, we were committed to making the film. It actually happened very quickly; we were incredibly fortunate.

What did he bring to Drive Angry that other actors might not have?

Nic has this great ability to take the hard-edge, sociopathic killer elements that John Milton has and still find the humanity, vulnerability and compassionate streak that makes the character so watchable and entertaining. That's Nic. Nic has that in him. He's incredibly clever. Plus, he came up with the idea of drinking beer out of somebody's skull. You can't go wrong with that!

Milton could have easily been the villain in a different movie. What was appealing about that?

Absolutely. We wanted to tell a story about a bad man doing a good thing. He's a vicious guy. He's not in Hell by mistake. He's in Hell because he deserved it and, as such, he is a villain in somebody else's story. If he came knocking at your door, he would be the villain. In Drive Angry, he knows he's [frick]ed up a major part of his life and he has the chance to try and right a wrong and redeem himself in some way. He'll never be forgiven for his sins, but he can save somebody and some fragment of his family in the process. That's what's really compelling: to tell a story of a bad man seeking redemption.

Drive Angry plays things surprising straight for a supernatural actioner, treating more fantastical elements with a certain seriousness. What balance were you working to strike?

We wrote a lot of humor into the script, particularly for William Fichtner's character, but it was never really schtick. It wasn't ever wink-winking at the audience. It was humor that came out of the character, what that character does and that character's view of the world. It was those elements of humor that allowed us to treat the fantastical with some elements of gravity. To us, it was important that we had that gravity intact so that there was jeopardy. It's especially tricky to make a movie about a -- as Nic calls him – Terminator Poe Ghost that comes back for revenge and still have there be jeopardy in the story. Hence the inclusion of Amber's character Piper on his journey. She's very vulnerable and yet still a total badass as the real human component of the story. As Nic's character bonds with her, he becomes protective of her, even if she doesn't need a lot of protecting. She can throw a lot of punches! A lot of the movie is revealed through her eyes, and the seriousness with which her character approaches things helps the audience to embrace that.

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