Soldier of fortune: Vin Diesel chats about playing a complex, emotional superhero as Bloodshot
Columbia Pictures' Bloodshot is directed by David SF Wilson and stars Eiza Gonzalez, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell and Guy Pearce alongside Vin Diesel in the lead.
Based on the bestselling comic book, Ray Garrison (Diesel) plays an elite soldier who’s recently killed in action and brought back to life as the superhero Bloodshot by the RST corporation.
With an army of nanotechnology in his veins, he’s now an unstoppable force — the strongest warrior the corporation has ever created — with the ability to heal instantly.
But in upgrading his body, the company is also manipulating his mind and memories. As he begins to remember his past life, Ray isn’t sure what’s real and what’s not — but he’s determined to take back control.
After creating some unforgettable big-screen characters in the Fast and Furious series, xXx and The Chronicles of Riddick, Diesel was ready to sink his teeth into his first on-screen superhero role.
With Bloodshot, Diesel was drawn to the opportunity to create a character as memorable.
Not to mention that bringing to life the most popular character in Valiant Comics’ line-up provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Diesel says that Bloodshot is unique because while his powers are striking and fun to watch, it’s what’s going on inside that counts.
“His mind has been controlled,” says the actor-producer. “He’s a badass soldier with unique abilities due to the nanites in his blood, but what’s fascinating about the character is that he’s motivated by something we’ve all been motivated by — the love he can’t forget. And what's tragic about the character is how that love is manipulated into betrayal.”
“What makes Bloodshot different than any other superhero is he’s more complex, more complicated, more emotional,” says producer Neal H Moritz, who previously teamed up with Diesel on the Fast and Furious series and the xXx franchise.
“For so much of the journey, he’s not sure if he’s doing good or if he’s doing bad — there’s incredible internal conflict in his character.”
“And Vin is the perfect person to play that, because Vin is internal — he agonises over every decision about what makes a character great. So much of what makes him such a good actor and such a great action hero is organic to the Bloodshot character.”
‘He’s vulnerable, broken’
For Diesel, a superhero exhibiting a real Achilles’ heel feels very grounded — and the actor says that the character’s heroic side is just as grounded.
“If you ask guys in the military who their favourite comic book character is, it’s Bloodshot,” he notes. “Ray’s core values are the core values of anyone that’s ever served.”
Because of that, Diesel says, the audience feels a deep empathy for the character that is completely unique.
“I’ve never seen a character like this — someone who can be focused exclusively on the mission, but you in the audience are feeling for him, because you know that the company is exploiting him. His motives are good, so you just want to see him get what he wants.”
“This is a completely different character from anything Vin has ever played before,” says director David SF Wilson.
“He is obviously as physically formidable as Vin’s other characters, but from an emotional standpoint, he is very vulnerable. He is being manipulated, he doesn’t know who he is, and he’s broken. Vin was genuinely excited about articulating that, so I knew he’d be perfect for the role.”
And that feeling of being manipulated — the injustice of it — is something that maybe we can all relate to, Diesel says. “I feel that anyone can identify with feeling manipulated,” he says.
“As we watch the news in our daily lives there are so many moments that we’re feeling force-fed or being manipulated. I like the idea of a hero with powers whose real battle is against that.”
Superhero vs villain
For Wilson, the character — a superhero augmented and evolved through technology and science – was also a chance to explore the intersection of technology with our daily lives.
“Bloodshot is certainly a superhero, but his powers come from technology,” he notes. “In that way, it’s very grounded; we are all affected by — even controlled by — the tech around us. Or, I should say, technology gives us an illusion of control over our lives — while actually, technology is rampant and
controls our lives.
Wilson also points out that everything Bloodshot experiences might not be all that far off from reality — for better or worse.
“Obviously we’re already seeing people with advanced prosthetics,” he says. “Right now, those prosthetics are still inferior to human limbs — but the day will come when they’re superior. You’ll be able to buy strength.”
“What’s more terrifying is when you can buy intelligence, because we’ll be defined by what we can afford. There’s a term for it — ‘trans-humanism’ — where we’re able to alter ourselves beyond the physical and neurological limits we’re born with. And those are some of the questions of the film.”
These were all ideas that were explored in the original Valiant Bloodshot comic books. At the height of the comic book craze in the 1990s, Bloodshot was a huge seller and highly collectible.
“On the day Superman died, Bloodshot #1 was introduced to the world,” notes producer Dinesh Shamdasani, former CEO of Valiant Comics.
“There were queues all over the comic book stores worldwide. Bloodshot resonated because he represented a new type of humanity in comic book storytelling; instead of somebody being extraordinary before he became a superhero, or the greatest soldier who ever lived, Bloodshot is just your every-day average soldier who only becomes extraordinary through the events of the comic books — he’s a regular person in an extraordinary situation.”
In that way, Bloodshot’s true mission has always been trying to put away his past and figure out what kind of man he’s going to be.
“Bloodshot is not a traditional superhero versus villain story,” says VanHook. In adapting the comic, producer Toby Jaffe says that the producers sought to capture that.
“I saw an opportunity to make something fresh for the audience,” he says. “This movie is about a soldier on an emotional journey to find out what happened to him, and it becomes a movie about choice: is he a good guy or a bad guy? Who does he choose to be?”
Nothing is off-limits
Naturally, the first role to be cast was Bloodshot. “This character is a fresh facet of Vin’s personality,” says Original Film’s Toby Jaffe.
“There is the physicality and the action, but the role also brings a certain kind of emotional gravity. There’s a lot of humour and charm, but he’s also a man who has suffered a loss.”
“Vin is obviously a very larger-than-life character,” says Wilson. “I took him into our ‘war room’ where we pitch and all concept art was laid out. Vin’s 8-year-old son, Vincent was with him that day, and
he was fascinated and was asking about the scenes.
“Vin just let me and his son run with it! It was after the meeting, as we were heading for the door, that Vincent tugged him on the shirt and said, ‘Daddy, I really want you to be Bloodshot.’ And we were off to the races.”
Wilson says that having an actor as experienced as Diesel helped to ease the way. “Vin supported me in all the decisions that I wanted to make,” he says.
“That can be tough for such a seasoned actor, but he did it wholeheartedly. That allowed me to push him to spaces where he hasn’t been for a while, and I think that he has delivered something pretty special.”
Shamdasani agrees, saying that Diesel was committed to making the final film the best that it could be.
“He does everything he can, bringing the full weight of his experience and power to elevate everyone around him. Nothing is off-limits for him — he forces everybody to be better.”
A cinéma vérité flavour
Given Wilson’s prolific and lauded history in computer animation, one might think that he’d fall back on those skills in directing Bloodshot.
But while the film certainly has extensive visual effects, Wilson says that he sought a more natural, grounded, real-world aesthetic — from the sets to the stunts to the prosthetics.
For the sets, Wilson adopted what he describes as providing a ‘sandbox’ in which his cast could work.
“I like to get as many cameras as possible on a scene and just catch the moments as spontaneously as
I can, rather than pre-plan everything,” he says. “I feel that fluid discovery of the performance also drives a fluid and free camera style, so we do a lot of handheld.”
Handheld cameras would also give a certain cinéma vérité flavour to the film that would dovetail with Wilson’s thematic approach, Jaffe says. “Dave approached the film from a science-fact — rather than science-fiction — point of view,” says Jaffe.
“He approached the story as if it were happening in our world today and pushed it just a little past our reality. He created a very striking visual presentation that incorporated his interest in science combined with his unique visual perspective that he honed over years in the gaming world.”
Capturing the grounded, real-world aesthetic also applied to the stunts. “There’s a lot of fighting, car stunts, and motorcycle stunts in this movie, so between Eiza and Vin and Sam there was extensive training that took place; we were able to capture as much as possible in-camera and not rely so much on CGI.”
‘The Bloodshot Train’
The attention to detail and design extended to the characters themselves – for example, the tattoo worn by KT. “We worked for three months to perfect that tattoo over and over again until we finally got there,” says Makeup Department Head Christa Schoeman.
“KT’s enhanced respiratory apparatus, the ‘re-breather,’ looked like a crude concept in the beginning; eventually, we refined it to a butterfly tattoo, almost on her chest.”
Even the scars on Bloodshot’s body each came with its own backstory, reflecting his history, and were the result of hours of discussion between Diesel and Wilson.
When it came to the musical score, the filmmakers turned to Steve Jablonsky, whose experience with action movies as the composer for the Transformers series made him well-suited for Bloodshot.
“I would describe this score as dark and rhythmic,” he says. “The main Bloodshot theme is based on a rhythm rather than a melody. The rhythm is his inner drive, his inner motor that motivates him to become an unstoppable force.”
This is best heard in the character’s main music theme, which the director dubbed ‘The Bloodshot Train.’ “It’s a rhythm that drives Bloodshot to do what he does,” Jablonsky explains.
“It’s a low pulsing pattern, almost like a heart-beat, that we hear whenever Bloodshot is about to do something insane. As we progress, the theme becomes bigger and more intense, but at its core you will always hear the main seven-beat pattern, ‘The Bloodshot Train’ driving him.”
Bloodshot releases in theatres on 13 March.
— Team Indulge