BEVERLY HILLS, California — He's rugged, charismatic, muscular and bald. And once, while imprisoned, he had his eyes surgically altered to better kick ass in the dark.
He's Riddick from "Pitch Black," and in just a couple of weeks, Vin Diesel will start work on the first of three sequels built around the dark anti-hero.
"I'm ecstatic about this project," Diesel said with a wide grin as he relaxed in his hotel room. Neatly dressed in a collared shirt and slacks, the gravelly voiced action star became more and more animated as he spoke of what's being called "The Chronicles of Riddick." "I'm ecstatic about the size and the support of the studio to really create this mythology. I go in a couple of weeks to Vancouver to start rehearsals. We'll do a month of rehearsals, and I'll go into shooting next month."
Before "The Fast and the Furious" pushed Diesel's box-office might into the stratosphere, "Pitch Black" was one of the surprise hits of 2000, thanks to its dark and stylish blend of sci-fi and horror. Richard B. Riddick was part of a larger ensemble, but director David Twohy has said he now sees "Pitch Black" as merely a prequel to the larger trilogy about Riddick, which he's envisioned as a sort of dark "Star Wars."
When audiences last saw him, Riddick was hauling ass off a doomed planet overrun with flesh-eating nocturnal aliens who had torn through many of his shipmates. Riddick was a criminal but performed increasingly heroic deeds as the movie progressed.
"I think we're gonna go through the motions with Riddick," Diesel said of where the character's moral compass may lie in the trilogy. "Riddick is definitely not an evolved person. He's still a killer in his own right. And I think we're going to find him after he's isolated himself and become this recluse for five years. So when we see him, they are awakening Riddick."
When he heads to Canada, Diesel will be taking his "Fast and the Furious" buddy Ja Rule with him (see "Ja Rule Talks 'Pitch Black' Sequels, Nas Collaborations"). And he'll bring a dame — Dame Judi Dench, the Oscar-winning actress last seen reprising her role as M in the James Bond flick "Die Another Day."
"She's playing an 'Air-Elemental' ambassador," Diesel said of Dench's character, Aereon. "[She's] very much the mentorlike archetype in this mythology."
"Pitch Black" will serve the same role in establishing the "Riddick" mythology as "The Hobbit" did for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, according to Diesel. And "The Chronicles of Riddick" may follow in the footsteps of the "Rings" movie trilogy from a production standpoint as well.
"I don't know if it's gonna necessarily be a 'Lord of the Rings'[-type shoot]," Diesel said, "but I do know that they've talked about doing the first one and 'chapters' of both the second one and third one [at the same time], if that makes any sense. So they'll shoot some additional scenes."
Tentatively due at the end of next year, the first part of the trilogy isn't the only sequel Diesel has up his sleeve (see "Vin Diesel Ain't Goin' Nowhere: 'Pitch Black,' 'XXX' Sequels In Works"). He opted to steer clear of the "The Fast and the Furious 2" (see " 'Fast And The Furious 2' Rolling Fine Without Diesel, Ja Rule"), but he is onboard for original "Furious" director Rob Cohen's still-in-development "XXX 2."
Vin Diesel will next be seen in "A Man Apart," a long-ago shelved drug-war drama that's finally seeing the light of day April 4.