Q: What do you most enjoy about doing the Death Race movies?
A: It is a combination of working with [director] Roel Reine, who has become a dear friend, which gives us a special understanding of each other – also working with Danny Trejo and continuing the same story. The movies are getting better too. This third one, I think, is the best of the bunch and Roel and I are interested in seeing the movies evolve and become more fun – and the studio is behind us. As you step into it everybody is trying to make a fun project and something that is fun to watch. It is nice to be a part of that.
Q: What were the biggest challenges this time round?
A: Death Race 3 (2013) is an action movie but I wanted to make the character a bit more stoic. I wanted him to be slightly larger-than-life, a sort of super-antihero or something, but he is somebody who is more stoic. From the second movie, which was the first for me, I wanted to make him as normal as possible. He finds himself in a predicament. With the third film, he has been in a predicament for a while, so, as I say, I wanted to make him more stoic.
Q: How much of the stunt work do you do yourself?
A: Pretty much all of it, but I paid a price for not having a stunt double. There were a few hits on the head but I guess that is part and parcel of doing an action film. I did most of the stunts on the second film and on a lot of movies I do my own now because it means the camera can get right in there. The audience does not have to suspend its disbelief and viewers can enjoy the action more. I think the audience deserves that. If you cannot do stunts then you cannot, but I always try and do my own.
Q: Do you ever say no to a stunt?
A: As I get older I think ‘That might hurt’ or ‘It might jeopardise the film because if I get injured then we cannot continue’. In Death Race 3 I roll a two-and-a-half ton truck and that was really harrowing. I was genuinely afraid. As the car rolled over for the first time just the noise and the violence of it was really scary. I have also done 30ft falls.
Q: What has been the coolest action scene you have done so far?
A: When I did Blood Out (2011) I was on the roof of a car, with seven city blocks blocked off, and the stunt guy was driving and swerving at 50mph. That was exhilarating but also quite scary. You are in character and you are doing the scene but you have moments where you think ‘What am I doing up here?’ I was attached to the roof but they give you room to slide around. You cannot help but realise the danger of it. On Death Race 2 (2010) we also locked off the main freeway in Cape Town and had all these stunt vehicles. I had two camera rigs on the $300,000 vehicle I was driving and I am on my own in the car weaving through traffic. That was kind of a fun moment, with all the camera crews and helicopters. On this one it is more of the same but in the desert.
Q: How have your driving skills improved through doing these films?
A: They have, yes. The studio insisted I learned stunt driving because the cars I am fooling around in are expensive and they are called ‘hero’ cars because there is only one of them. I am a fairly good driver anyway but once you do those courses or you have the stunt boys showing you how to push through the limits, it definitely helps your driving skills.
Q: Why do you think the Death Race (2008, 2010, 2013) films do so well on DVD and Blu-ray?
A: They are such fun, entertaining movies and we have really tried to up the game and make them evolve. Certainly, with the third one, when I saw it I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it would be good because Roel [Reine] and I had spoken about it before, about making it bigger and better, but he really did put together a great film. It is really entertaining. I am not trying to set it up as, you know, a piece of drama in the purest sense but it is my favourite of the three for sure and it is great to watch at home with your mates, some food, some beer, whatever. People have home cinemas now so you can crank up the volume and enjoy the ride.
Q: Do you have a favourite sequence in the new film?
A: The tie-up at the end is really clever. It illuminates how everything happened and how he got away with it and it is done really well.
Q: You made your name in music but was acting always part of the plan for you?
A: It was not actually. When I started playing the drums that was enough. Then with first play I did, in Hornchurch, I immediately understood the process and also the camaraderie of my fellow cast members. It was more collaborative and did not feel as isolated; in music it is like a one or two link chain but with acting there are hundreds if not thousands of people involved in one project. You are just one of the links in the chain and it feels nice to have that kind of responsibility. What I do for a living now is hugely collaborative and with each movie I make I feel blessed to be a part of it.
Q: Does directing appeal to you?
A: I am going to direct, yes. I am producing a movie called The Offer (date TBC), which I also wrote, and I’ll be the co-lead in it. Roel will be directing that but producing will be fun. Working with the likes of Guillermo del Toro you see these masters at work and you go ‘I think I will wait a while’, but the last few projects I have been part of I have found myself having quite a collaborative input, even on a directorial level so I think it is time to try directing myself.
Q: What is the best thing about living in LA?
A: Living in a city that is kind of the hub of your industry is a good feeling. You feel like you have got the best chance to keep the momentum going. I also love the weather and the food and the optimism. You can have an idea and nobody thinks it is lofty or above your station, it is just an idea that might come to fruition if like-minded people come together and you find a way to make it happen. In this climate – financially, economically, whatever – you need that momentum otherwise it is an uphill struggle every day. LA is a very driven city. The flipside of that is that it can be exhausting because it is always switched-on, but like any city you can find a way to get away from it.
Q: What do you most miss about Britain?
A: I really, really miss the architecture of the city I grew up in. I was in London recently making a movie called Interview With A Hitman (20120 and I was blown away by how beautiful it was. It is such an obvious thing to say, London is stunning, which it is, but I was also in Newcastle and that was incredible too. I miss the familiarity of things that make you feel nostalgic for what I do not have here, but I guess it is just the architecture and the familiar feeling, but then LA feels like home to me now.
Q: Where do you get recognised most?
A: It is happening more and more here in the States but I would say definitely in the UK. There is a different kind of level. I have been sticking around for a couple of decades or more now so it adds up. When I was back filming in England I was surprised the recognition was still there. I was blown away by how lovely people were. I was quite emotional about it, thinking ‘This is amazing’. When I was up in Newcastle, every hundred feet someone would stop me and say ‘Hey’. It was all complimentary and nice.
Q: What’s a great day off for you?
A: I love hiking or driving down to Malibu. Just grabbing some lunch down by the ocean is a nice day off for me.
Q: Is it important for you to stay in shape?
A: It is important for the job I do. It makes sense to stay in shape so I am physically capable of doing stunts. On this movie we shot a fight scene for five or six hours straight, with only a minute between each take. I have got four guys coming at me and I’m on my own in the middle of that. After four takes I was saying to Roel ‘I need a minute to get my breath back and then we’ll go again’, and it was literally one minute between takes.
Q: Who are your acting idols?
A: Clint Eastwood is the epitome of coolness. He is also so gifted and talented on so many levels, as an actor and director. I have also always been a fan of Steve McQueen. Morgan Freeman is a beautiful actor. Anthony Hopkins is flawless. There are lots of actors out there I admire and actresses too, like Meryl Streep.
Q: Who would you most like to work with?
A: Eastwood for sure. I have been a fan of his since I was a boy. I remember my stepfather getting me into spaghetti westerns as a kid and he had such an impact. He is the ultimate antihero in the history of film and as a director he is such a talent.