Drive Angry in 3D: Interview with Director Patrick Lussier and Writer Todd Farmer

In the actioner Drive Angry (in 3D), Nicolas Cage plays escaped criminal John Milton, deserted his only daughter when she was a teenager.

A vengeful father in a turbo-charged ’69 Dodge Charger hunts down the satanic cult leader who brutally killed his daughter and kidnapped her baby in the latest film from Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer, the team behind the hit, My Bloody Valentine 3-D. A blood-spattered road trip through hell, Drive Angry brings killer cars, big guns and wry humor to the screen in eye-popping, bone-crunching 3-D.

John will do anything and everything to rescue his infant granddaughter from a bloodthirsty cult intent on sacrificing her under the next full moon.

With only three days left to find them, he enlists the help of Piper (Amber Heard), a beautiful waitress with a hot car and a mean right hook, to track down murderous quasi-messiah Jonah King (Billy Burke) and his devil-worshipping followers.

As the clock winds down, Milton and Piper leave a trail of carnage from Colorado to Louisiana, evading ruthless assassins, outraged police officers and a mysterious and deadly figure known only as The Accountant (William Fichtner). Fueled by an almost superhuman rage, Milton faces down King and his army of acolytes in his last chance for redemption.

Director Patrick Lussier and writer Todd Farmer began talking about their second project together even before their first collaboration, My Bloody Valentine 3-D, became a blockbuster success. The experience of making the horror film, which earned more than $100 million worldwide, inspired them to dig even deeper into the burgeoning 3-D format and see how far the developing technology would allow them to go.

When talk turned to the adrenaline-fueled action movies both of them grew up loving, the idea for Drive Angry was born. “Todd and I were brainstorming what we wanted to do next,” says Lussier. “We started talking about the vibe of action movies made from about 1967 until the mid-’70s, the kinds of movies that starred Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. They all had great car chases that were metal on metal. They couldn’t do any CGI back then, so you knew these were guys in cars driving as fast as humanly possible. We decided that’s what we wanted to capture, but in 3-D.”

Farmer and Lussier each had written successful horror films. While neither had experience in the action genre until now, both were longtime fans. “When I first moved out to L.A. to write, I saw myself writing action movies,” says Farmer. “I wanted to write the kind of films I grew up with, but they aren’t often made anymore. One of the most interesting things about those films is that the hero was not always a nice guy. Nowadays, the hero has to be squeaky clean, but nobody’s really squeaky clean in my book. When the hero’s a bad guy, that’s fun to write. It allowed us to create roles that the actors could chew up.”

Add 3-D to the 1970s-style road movie, they realized, and they could crank up the thrill factor and completely immerse audiences in the volatile, violent world they were going to create. “It’s an action movie, it’s a road movie, it’s throwback to ’70s films,” says Lussier. “It’s never been done in 3-D before. We put the audience behind the wheel with Nic Cage. They’re going to be in the RV getting the crap kicked out of them with Amber Heard and Billy Burke.”

Upping the Technology Ante

Taking technology and technique to a level was a challenge Lussier and Farmer welcomed. “The idea was that we would build on what we learned previously, because this is not our first rodeo,” says Farmer. “Some 3-D films are all about the gimmick, and some are immersive. My Bloody Valentine may have been more a gimmick, but the technology has advanced so much that the movies that have come since are more a glimpse into a unique world. With Drive Angry, we wanted to do both.”

The filmmakers began with the idea that their anti-hero, John Milton, was a bad man who’d escaped from prison to save his daughter. “He’s just a normal Joe on a revenge mission and he’s going to accomplish it,” says Farmer.

But soon Lussier and Farmer were playing with an idea that transformed the story from an earthbound drama to an otherworldly quest for payback. Milton’s pursuer, a shadowy figure referred to as The Accountant, was evolving into a powerful and unusual force. “Eventually, The Accountant character changed where Milton was from,” says Lussier. “We wanted to give that character some supernatural qualities, so we were led to the idea that Nic’s character had to be from…elsewhere.”

Escaping from Hell?

“As we’d discussed the idea, we thought, what if it wasn’t prison he escaped from?” says Farmer. “What if it was Hell? Think of the visuals!”

Script in hand, they met with a number of producers who were intrigued by the idea, including Michael De Luca. One of Hollywood’s most prolific producers, De Luca’s credits include Ghost Rider, 21, the critically acclaimed Brothers, and upcoming Priest, Moneyball and Fright Night to his credit. “We asked Mike De Luca for his notes,” says Farmer. “He didn’t have any. He just said, let’s go shoot it. We’d never heard that before, ever.”

De Luca says, “When I read this script, I knew we had to make it. It was a movie that I wanted to see. Plus, I was pretty sure that Nicolas Cage was going to love the script, too, since I know how much he loves cars.”

Nicolas Cage: Perfect Hero?

The filmmakers set their sights on the Academy Award-winning actor for the role of John Milton. “From the moment De Luca and I started discussing Drive Angry with Nic, we knew we’d found a partner with passion for the film to match our own,” Lussier says. “He was the perfect hero for our film.”

Cage has long acknowledged his interest in the paranormal and has already explored supernatural themes in movies including Ghost Rider, Knowing and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. “But I was shocked by this script,” says Cage. “It was unlike anything I’d ever read before, in a great way. It made me quite uncomfortable, which made me interested in doing it.

Drive Angry is full of adrenaline and intensity and comedy,” he adds “I love that there’s a comedic through-line because of the extremes the movie goes to. It is completely unapologetic about its disruptive attitude. My hope is that people can’t help but laugh at some of these scenes. This is definitely a movie for the midnight audience and I enjoy making movies for the midnight crowd.”

In Drive Angry, John Milton embarks on cross-country road trip in an amped-up hotrod driven by a beautiful young woman. “It’s a journey of revenge and redemption, and Milton is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma,” says Farmer. “We designed this so that you never quite know what is going on with him. He ends up joining forces with this gorgeous young lady who reminds him of his daughter. But isn’t a sexual romp across the nation. It’s a father-daughter story at the heart of it—a father-daughter story with plenty of hard R-rated action, blood, nudity, sex and everything else.”

The co-writers created a quartet of unlikely characters to drive their story. “What is unusual here is that every character is to some degree bad,” says Lussier. “The main villain, Jonah King, played by Billy Burke, is totally evil and wildly entertaining. Piper, who joins Milton on his odyssey, is profane, violence-prone and sexy. The Accountant, played by William Fichtner, dogs Milton’s steps, trying to hunt him down regardless of what Milton’s mission is. His job is to take Milton back to Hell. He just needs to retrieve him, so that the books balance.

“And make no mistake, Milton is a very bad man,” says Lussier. “He’s a bad man trying to do a noble thing, but still a bad, bad guy. He’s deserved to go to Hell. The people who run that particular bureaucracy will do anything to get him back, and don’t care one whit about what it is he’s doing, or why he’s doing it.”

Milton and The Accountant mirror each other in many ways, a classic juxtaposition of hunter and hunted. “They are, to some degree, the same person,” says Farmer. “They’re both very goal-oriented. Milton’s going to get the baby back. It doesn’t matter who gets in his way, who he has to use, abuse, go through, kill. He’s going to get the baby back. And The Accountant is going to get Milton, no matter what it takes to accomplish that task. And oddly enough, toward the end of the movie, they both realize that in order for each to succeed, they have to help the other.”

Along the way, they wreak havoc on a six-state race against time. “Human nature has a really dark, scary side,” says Farmer. “As I said, this is a movie in which everybody’s bad, even the hero. But it’s the degrees of bad that made it so much fun for us to write and for the actors to play. At its heart, it is a story of redemption, but all the characters are compromised when it begins.

“Our audience is anyone who is action-oriented, who loves thrill rides or who wants to see empowered female leads,” he goes on. “Amber Heard, as Piper, is not afraid to fire a gun or destroy a guy with her fists. She will do what she has to do to do what she has to do.”

Lussier and Farmer agree that they write films for themselves and this is a film they want to see. “We wrote it to be a rollercoaster,” the director says. “It’s incredibly violent, it’s edgy, it’s about these brutal characters, but most importantly, it is fun. Sit back and put your lap bar down and just have a great ride.”