On The Set of The Bleeding

Posted on 01. May, 2008 by in Film/TV

Thursday, April 23.  

In the cavernous confines of a high-end nightclub, a sea of hot sweaty extras are pumping and gyrating to the thundering metal of Rammstein.  A bevy of stunt performers have infiltrated their ranks with sharpened fangs and glowing neon blue eyes, ready to open up some juicy arteries.  The Vampire Lord, Cain, brought to snarling life by British baddie, Vinnie Jones (Snatch, Midnight Meat Train), walks through the club with trademark flowing vampire hair, shiny leathers, and a long mean trench coat.  There is a crashing noise and the pounding of gunfire as he looks up hissing, disgruntled to see his arch nemesis, the freshly birthed action star Michael Matthias, drop 40 feet from the ceiling and into Vinnie’s horde with Mac 10s ablazing with holy bullets.  Wire cables send bodies flying and squibs explode blood on the suspecting crowd.

Seemingly, this is just the tip of the action iceberg for this horror thunderbolt as the wild stunts have only just begun.  Much of the dialogue scenes have been filmed and soon it will be time for the climactic highway chase involving deadly fights atop tractor trailers, complete with flipping cars and motorcycles.  It is this scene where the film found its origins, as the bearded and chuckling rock n’roll screenwriter Lance Lane confides, “I was driving on the freeway into Manhattan and I had this idea for a crazy chase scene, and from there I worked backwards and ended up taking the Cain and Abel story, making one of them a vampire and the other a slayer.” 

A tale of warring brothers, the film begins with Matthias’ character, Shawn Black, awakening from a coma, searching for the man who killed his family — only to find out with the help of Father  (Michael Madsen) and a knowledgeable tattoo artist, TAGG (DMX), that the assailant is none other than his missing brother who was sadly turned vampire in the mountains of far away Afghanistan while fighting George Bush’s war on terror.  And although the climactic highway showdown between the brothers seems rather exciting, what Lance seems most excited about presently is next week’s shoot inside the Killing Room.  “In it, there’s an Orc Vampire and these girls are all chained up and he’s cutting up body parts. He really digs grinding people up, taking huge body parts and throwing them into this grinder, making juice and ground meat out of ‘em.  We’ve got guys working ‘round the clock on body parts. Arms, legs, anything. It’s cool, bro (laughs).  Our production designer, Steven Legler (The Howling, Jeepers Creepers) is even sicker than I am.  Our hero has to come through a tube and land in a pool of this mess and climb his way out of it to save his girl, Lena. I didn’t know this but North Carolina is one of the biggest pork producing places, so we’re getting tons of meat we can throw in there.  It’s going to be bloody.”

In terms of the massive amount of stunts in the film, Lance offers up this, “It’s action horror, so we’re just blowing the shit out of everything.  It’s been a blast.  They’re putting bombs in here and we’re going to blow out the whole front of the place and cars are going to go flying in the air.  I’m waiting to see that.  I just do these screenplays to watch this stuff happen (laughs).   The director, Charlie, is a one of the best stunt guys, I’ve seen some of the stuff so far and it looks freaking amazing, he’s going crazy, just nuts, anything you can blow up or shoot, you got it.”

The helmer in question is Charles Picerni, the legendary stunt coordinator who started off doing the stunts for Starsky and Hutch and doubling for Paul Michael Glaser on the show.  From there he’s gone on to direct the action TV classics T.J. Hooker and the A-Team and supervise stunts on the first two Diehard films and the complete run of Lethal Weapon films. “The action will be far and above what you would normally see for this kind of movie, for this kind of budget, I always have a way of making it bigger. I know what I want and I know how to get it.  I coordinate it all myself, though I got my son here helping me.”  His son, Steven, is on the set assisting his pops.  Like his father, he’s one of the biggest names in the stunt business, having supervised stunts and action on Bad Boys 1 & 2, and The Rock. In between takes it’s rather sweet to watch them joke around, giving fake face punches to each other complete with their own handmade sound FX.  As Charlie walks back to resume his directing duties I ask him if there’s any stunts in this film that he’s never done before and he laughs, “After 40 years of this I’ve done just about everything, the only stunt I haven’t done before is getting this thing done in 25 days.”As the crew sets up wire rigging for the next camera set-up, I meander about the set, ducking in and out of heavy rain, finding Kat Von D holed up in her trailer.  She’s working on her soon to be released book, an outline of her career as an artist complete with illustrations and photographs and old kid art from her youth that her mom’s saved over the years.   In the film, she plays The Vampire Lord’s right hand vixen, a seductress by the name of Vanya.  This, in fact, is Kat’s first bona fide film.  I ask her if she’s worried about the critics out to sample her jugular. “I’ve read some things people have written so far about me, ‘Well, can she act?’  For me, it’s like yeah, sure.  I act all the time on my show.  When we miss a shot, we have to redo things.  I think people are expecting me to fail for sure.  But I think that’s been the story of my life.  I’ve been tattooing since I was 14 and everybody’s always expected me to fail. I think this is just one more thing to prove people wrong about.”  Wisely, she decided to play a character a bit close to home. “I figured for a first movie I should do something that wasn’t too out of my normal element.  I’m playing a mutant vampire, and I’m kind of like that in real life, so it’s not too far from reality (laughs).  But it’s a different world, the world of acting, and I’m in no way trying to mock the jobs of people that have dedicated their entire lives to it, but at the same time I don’t think it’s rocket surgery either.” 

Kat also makes her first foray into the world of stunts in the film, and I wondered if she was at all nervous about it.  “No, not really.  I did a thing for MadTV recently, it was a funny little skit where this chick pisses me off and I end up punching her in the face a bunch of times, and I think that was the hardest thing to do. I had to punch this girl and look angry and I felt so bad holding her throat.  I think people just assume because of my image that I’m some tough bad-ass chick, but in reality I would never ever beat anybody up (laughs).”  But truth be told, Kat did have one rare encounter with fisticuffs involved. “I was in a fight when I was in 7th grade, because I looked like a vampire actually (laughs).  Some big bad 8th grader girl told me it wasn’t Halloween.  And then I kicked her ass.  My mom had to pick me up from school and that was probably the first time I saw my mom cry.  But that was the extent of my fighting. I hate violence, as a tattoo artist, I don’t do anything that risks the chance of being able to tattoo.  That’s a no-no.  I don’t skateboard on ramps and I don’t snowboard or get into fights.  I don’t thumb wrestle very often (laughs).”

Kat has brought her tattoo tools to set and it would seem many of the cast members are excited to have her talented paws make their mark on their celebrity skin.  But some, it would seem, already have proud work to display.  “Vinnie seems pretty cool.  I met him for the first time today, he’s got a bunch of cool tattoos; Mark Mahoney did a bunch of them so they’re good tattoos, which is refreshing because most celebrities get fucking whack-ass tattoos.”  I ask her if Vinnie Jones is as intimidating in real life as he is on the big screen.  “No, he’s really sweet. But, it’ s pretty hard to crack this cookie.  I don’t get intimidated that often, it doesn’t matter if you’re a celebrity or whatever, when you’re an intellectual person or an artist, that’s more intimidating to me.”  I set off to find out if such words are true about Vinnie Jones.

In a nearby palatial trailer sits the one and only Vinnie Jones.  He has his own trailer to himself, and sits in his recliner stretching his legs a bit.  Even sitting down, he is massive and imposing, and though he comes across as a very sweet fellow with a wry sense of humor, he actually does a pretty silly impression of Clive Barker whom he just worked with on the upcoming Midnight Meat Train. The impression itself seems like a broken robot meandering about whose voice is scratchy gibberish that sounds like a car trying to start.  “He lives in a horror world.  I picture him living in a castle up on the hill with the crows and ravens flying round it.  Weird chap that one.”  Even as riotous as this is, there is the tingling feeling that the slightest offensive question posed might make him tear my arm from my socket and beat me with it. 

His teenage son has just exited the trailer with a chum and I ask him if his son is excited to be here on a film set, and Vinnie laughs, “No, right now he’s just interested in girls and beer.”  The long hair, honestly, seems a bit odd on the tough man and I ask him if he’s enjoying it, “It’s irritating more than anything, it’s like being botoxed with glue, all your skin’s stretched.”  I’ve already seen him fly in on a wire and leap down to join his vampire cronies in the club, and it would seem that he’s rather excited about performing his own stunts on the film, “I will do stunts, yeah.  Tarantino produced this film I was in last year, Hellride, and they set me on fire twice.  It was a fucking rush, they usually count up to 10 seconds but I made it to 12 or 14, but it started getting fucking warm (laughs).”  Beyond the stunts, there is of course the acting at hand, to which Vinnie lets me in on a little secret: “I try and keep away from the other actors in this sort of situation, just to give you that edge.  I’m staying away from Michael Matthias as much as possible.  It’s a little trick that Patrick Bergin told me when he’d done Sleeping With the Enemy. Julia Roberts said to him, ‘Hi Patrick, blah blah blah, now I’m going to stay away from you now ‘til the end of the movie.  I see a lot in that, you know?  If you’re going to get the real stuff out, if you’re really a 100% comfortable with someone, I think the performance doesn’t sell.  So I sorta keep out of the way a little bit.”

With this, I wonder off in search of Michael Matthias, the movie’s action hero.  Michael is an old pal of Vin Diesel, with whom he shares a raspy tough guy voice and a massive and muscular form.  Michael has his own weird story about getting his first bona fide movie role here. “I go to the Hamptons in the summer and Big Mike Tadross (Executive Producer, Die Hard with a Vengeance, I Am Legend) as I like to call him, he has a great restaurant and bar that I go to.  They don’t have sugar free energy drinks, so I bring my own sugar free there and put them behind the bar and grab them throughout the night.  One day we were there and it was really crowded and the bartenders weren’t paying attention to me, so I jump over the bar and serve myself.  And they were so crowded, I was like, ‘I’m kinda having fun back here,’ I got room to move around.  And the bartenders were like, ‘You can’t do that, there’s a camera right there!’ and I’m like, ‘Who’s looking at the camera (shrugs)?’  So I stayed there for awhile, just hanging out behind the bar, serving myself, other people.  Girls were giving me tips and my wife was giving me bad looks though (laughs).”

“So, I went back the next week and the manager came up to me and told me I’d gotten him into a heap of trouble, ‘The owner’s here, he saw you behind the bar, he’s pretty sore.’  So I went over and introduced myself to Mike, told him ‘I’m so sorry, that was crazy. I love it here, I don’t want to get anybody in trouble, they all told me not to do it.’  And we started talking, and we talked for over an hour.  The film came up and I said I’d love to take a shot at it.  So, I did a reading and he liked it and here I am.”

Even so, there are the perils of being a first time action star. “They stay on top of me.  They’ll rough me up a little bit if they see me eating a donut.  They follow me around with dumbbells before some scenes, and I’m like, ‘I’m not doing that!  I look good, leave me alone!’  Every time I get ready to do a scene, I look around and I see ‘em, those dumbbells.  They follow me everywhere!  I actually hid them, and they found them, one of the prop guys.  Bastard.”  On top of all this nonsense, Mike pumps iron every night after shooting for 15 or 16 hour days. 

As we all know, action movies aren’t just about muscles, but some clever one- liners and menacing acting as well.  Prompted to tell me his favorite acting scene so far, he takes me back to several days earlier, “My favorite scene was working with Father Roy (Michael Madsen, Reservoir Dogs, Thelma and Louise) in his cemetery hide-out, where he kinda explains to me what’s going on and I don’t want to accept it. He’s the best. He taught me to trust my own instincts. At the beginning I was nervous, ‘cause I’m new.  Now I’m real comfortable, and I kinda wish I could go back and do over some of the beginning stuff.  A couple of scenes, I lost it with Mike Madsen, ‘cause I’m looking at him, going, ‘There’s Mike Madsen. What am I doing standing next to Mike Madsen?’ He was doing such a great job acting I was just standing there watching him act like I was watching a movie.  I did that a few times, it was bad.  But I got my head on after that.  But, he’s amazing, they’re rolling cameras and he’s sitting there telling you a story and then as soon as they say ‘Action!’ he transforms in a second, and I gotta catch up to him.”

It is here that I must leave Mike as he sets off to prepare for a shot where he severs a head from its body and I’m left to discuss the movie’s details with the film’s two female leads that assist Mike’s character in his cinematic conquests, Rachelle Lee, a UFC gal, and her buddy in the film, Madison Weidberg, a recently discovered local.  Rachelle is first to offer up a tender morsel about her time on the film as Lena, Michael’s love interest that fights by his side.  “I had my fight scene with Johnny the Perv and it was awesome.  I had to learn the whole sequence and practice it in the gym with Johnny and we got it down. It’s so fun though!  He put on this belt thing which is padded so I can kick him in his man parts.  And I just kicked him with everything I had and it felt so good – it was like all the aggression in my life when I ever wanted to kick a guy there finally unleashed (laughs).”
But of all these chaps, it would seem that her sidekick Jenny, played by Madison Weidberg, a local actress made big, seems to have the most interesting tale of her acting origins in the film.  “I moved here in October to pursue acting.  I was doing a musical down here, “Debbie Does Dallas, The Porno Musical” (no nudity by the way).  And Charlie and Lance found me on the poster for the show, ‘That’s who we want for Jenny!’  Of course I thought, ‘Who calls someone off of a picture?’ but they told me to come to Screen Gems to audition, so then I knew it was real.  My character is so bubbly and exciting — she’s kind of the comic relief.  She’s a bimbo, a good character to play, and I’m happy to be the bright one, not bright smart, but happy-go-lucky.  Nothing bothers her even though someone’s just died next to her.   When everything seems scary and down, she always like, ‘Let’s go to a party and have a good time!  And I have to pee!’ When she’s running from things, she’s got four-inch heels on.”

The cast apparently enjoy going out together to dip into the night life of this small community.  Of recent, she and Father Roy’s assistant, played by the famed rapper, Pittsburgh Slim, went out on the town. “All of us went out to a bar together and he sang his hit, ‘Girls Kissing Girls’ while girls were stripping on the bar. I don’t know why girls do that down here.  I don’t do that and I would never do that.”

Her being so conservative, one speculates as to her love of horror films.  “I don’t believe in vampires.  I don’t think that there’s any of them out there, so they don’t scare me.  But I love scary movies, the real ones about rapists or ghosts, things like that.  They scare the crap out of me.”

And it is here that my tale must end.  The actors are herded in to finish off the final action spectacular of the night, and I am off to return to L.A., with this collection of words that I have just shared with you. I know it doesn’t seem like a film on par with the terror of The Shining or the psychological complexity of The Tenant,
but for you chaps out there ready for a straight up popcorn extravaganza, this gory present will soon be visiting you in theaters this fall, reportedly the first part in a trilogy of sorts. It seems the world never gets tired of vampire films. Everyone seems endlessly fascinated with the possibility of eternal life and flying about and sucking the blood from their tender love. Prepare yourself for some fancy action packed bleeding.

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