Sundance: Interview with Hell Ride's Writer/Director Larry Bishop
by Alex Billington
January 29, 2008
There is probably no one more badass both in person and on-screen than Larry Bishop. This guy has been riding motorcycles and making biker films for over 40 years. Although, most may know him as the "asshole on the elbow" club owner from Kill Bill Vol. 2. A couple years back, before even Kill Bill was being filmed, Quentin Tarantino discovered Bishop and gave him the opportunity of a lifetime. Now Larry Bishop is here as the writer, director, and lead actor, in Hell Ride, a awesomely fun exploitation grindhouse-like biker flick that's a throwback to Bishop's motorcycle films from the 60's. Luckily I had the opportunity to chat with Bishop while at Sundance about everything from Quentin Tarantino, to motorcycles, to Marlon Brando.
Larry Bishop actually has a great story to tell regarding how he first met Tarantino and how Hell Ride actually came together. I've said it before, but I'll say it again - I had a fuckin' blast watching Hell Ride (read my review). It's such a fun movie that reminds me a lot Grindhouse, but with motorcycles and an ensemble of badass characters.
So how's it been going here at Sundance so far?
Larry Bishop: Oh, it's been fantastic! I was told before I came, this is all about the director, so it is absolutely true that it is, so that's like really, really cool. In other words, I just feel that it's all about the creativity, so that was really cool. I mean, I was anxious to come here and maybe find that—you get barraged by so much, either publicity or propaganda, on a daily basis, everything you come in contact with is telling you what it wants you to believe it is. For me, truthfully, even when I was like three or four years old, the story that was most consequential to me as a fable was "The Emperor's New Clothes". I always see that there's a—from a philosophical point of view—there's the appearance of things that everybody wants you to think is happening, then there's the reality underneath it. But I am happy to report to you, Alex, that the reality is true, so that was good.
Larry: I mean, I could say that they were hell bent on making sure that I understood it and they have lived up to it, so that was cool.
Is this where, if you could choose anywhere, is Sundance where you'd want to premiere Hell Ride?
Larry: Absolutely, I mean now that I'm here and I see the whole set up and everything, yeah. You were there for the midnight show?
Larry: That was like a cool night, because first of all I love that Egyptian Theater, I loved that—the crowd was a great crowd. We were packed, it was totally, completely sold out. I asked actually to be brought to the theater a little bit early because I wanted to look at it and kind of walk around it, but the minute I got there, I felt like really, really comfortable in that theater. Sometimes when you come up on a stage—I wouldn't have necessarily felt so comfortable if it wasn't meant to feel that way. I felt really at home, like I could do Hamlet for the next 18 weeks there on top of that stage, because that's how comfortable I felt.
Awesome. So to get into Hell Ride, you've been doing these sort of biker movies for a long time, right?
Larry: Yeah, well, what happened was in 1967 I did a movie, a motorcycle movie called The Savage Seven. I had done two movies that year: Wild in the Streets and The Savage Seven, and I keep on trying to explain to everybody that it was so the opposite of what mainstream movies were, that it would be like if you had a relative—first of all, none of my parents, relatives, they stopped talking to me once I started doing this, because it was like—shame should be involved in doing these types of movies. Of course I didn't feel that way, but I felt like I was on to something. In a way it turned out to be true, because a shift began to happen, they began to see, and American International Pictures, which is where I went on contract with, began to see that there was a huge market youth-wise that was really nonexistent. I mean, it was always there, but not in the numbers that eventually come today. But I felt like, I think this is what's going to happen, because the movies should get further and further out. They shouldn't be mainstream, because the mainstream is all going to wind up being television things.
I dug the idea that I was being perceived as the black sheep of my family, but for me, it was like, I was a rebel, and that to me was most important. My biggest influences as an actor were Marlon Brando, and I really dug James Dean. I thought Marlon was just the greatest, in terms of, he was a great actor and a great movie star. I believe James Dean was a great movie star, but he had an exceptionally odd way of approaching his acting thing, but they were both rebels. Their persona's were rebels, so I gravitated to them and that was it for me. So I felt like I was in the mix of it. It made me feel good at 19. A lot of people still searching, what the hell are they going to do at 19? I wound up with a ten picture deal at 19 years old.
Larry: So, I wound up making these motorcycle movies, I wound up making let's say about 10 movies, most of them were motorcycle movies, not every one. There's a delineation with the motorcycle movies, in the sense of—like Easy Rider isn't a motorcycle movie, it's about two guys on a motorcycle. That's not a motorcycle movie. A motorcycle movie has a motorcycle gang, like The Wild One that Brando did, that's a motorcycle movie. So [Hell Ride] is a motorcycle movie, it's got gangs and this and that, right?
Larry: But there were a couple of movies that I did were I just rode a motorcycle, but it wasn't a motorcycle movie. But anyway, Quentin Tarantino—I got a call from Laura Cayouette, who's an actress in [Hell Ride], she plays Dani of Dani's Inferno, and she said, I'm standing next to Quentin Tarantino—I got a call at midnight—and he is your biggest fan. That really kind of caught me off guard, because this was 2001, and he had been known—I mean, Reservoir Dogs came out in '92, then he got real famous in '94 with Pulp Fiction, but still, that's a seven year lag period, how come I never got this piece of information?!
So, he got on the line, and he said—because I was kind of curious, with the gangster stuff that I had done, like Mad Dog Time, and I did another gangster movie called Underworld, they had been out a few years before. But he said, no, no, the motorcycle movies you did, those are the things that I love. So for me it was like a great thing because it's Quentin Tarantino telling me this and also it was the first time anyone had ever said it. No one ever said they loved those motorcycle movies, no one! Not even my girlfriends at the time! So I was just tickled that anybody liked it, but like I said the other night, I knew somewhere down the line when I was doing it, kind of a sixth sense, that somewhere, somebody is going to like the primitive aspect of these movies because they're so off what is normal, that somebody, just by the nature of the human psyche, somebody's going to go like "that's pretty cool." But I got lucky because like I said it could have been some schmuck that liked it. What would it have done for me, in other words, right? No, it's Quentin Tarantino! I mean I'm perfect, how much more perfect could life be?!
So I went up to his house, he said c'mon let's watch The Savage Seven together. He had a mint print of Savage Seven. And he had all of my movies, so he invited me up to his house, and Laura Cayouette was there, it was just the three of us. He's got about a 50-seat theater and when I walked in, there's a lobby, and in the lobby are all my posters from the movies. This is Quentin Tarantino now!
Larry: I kept on thinking like, I did take some acid a long time ago in the 60's, they did say it would kick in unexpectedly at some point. Maybe this is the time because my brain kind of went into the area that I didn't—it was surreal! Normally you get into a situation where things can feel a little odd or a little funny, but my brain went Salvador Dalí the minute I started seeing it, and I'm like, it was the acid from 40 years ago that I took, because there's no other way... But the information was too much for me to assimilate in a normal fashion, so my brain just took it in and it just went with it. If you were to take drugs, which, in the late 60's, of course, that was the time everybody did it in my generation. What I always did was I took it with a girl that I trusted. A girl would always say, do you want to take something with the idea that she would take her clothes off eventually, so I figured how could I lose anyway. But I did feel comfortable, but even though my brain was spiraling out in a surrealistic way, I felt so comfortable with Quentin, because he was making me feel comfortable.
Then we go into his theater, about 45 to 50 seats, and what happened, what he did was, he said I've got a little surprise for you before the movie starts. So eight trailers of mine, eight trailers of movies that I had done then, were put together. In other words, there is no Larry Bishop package of trailers in the whole world, there is no such thing, you cannot buy that, even my mother could not have bought that—you can't buy it So what he did within 24 hours, he's got archives of photos and movies and everything, and he had called up his editor and had them splice it together. Dig into the trailer, get eight of Larry's, here's the ones that I want, and put them in this order, and... I mean, think about the generosity of that!
So I knew I was in really, really good hands, because when we watched the movie, I mean when the lights came up, I said, what do you want to do? He says, Larry, it's your destiny to write, direct and star in a brand new movie. It is your destiny! Seeing all this care, I took this about as seriously as I had ever taken anything in my entire life. And I started writing the thing right away, but that's how it happened, he just said, Larry, we're going to make the greatest motorcycle movie of all time.
So I guess you've been a motorcycle rider all your life, I mean are you a Harley guy, or an Indian guy, or?
Larry: Actually, the first bike that I bought was a Triumph 650. I really like the Triumph 650. I mean, of course, I've driven Harleys, and I think in Savage Seven I drove an Indian, but—I really love Triumph. The dilemma with the Triumph is that the gears and the brakes and everything is reversed on the Harley. When I started having children, I stopped riding just as a guy riding bikes. I mean, I would do it if I got paid to ride in a movie or something, but I figured I should wait till my kids get older. So I hadn't gotten on a bike except in the movies. What I requested from Justin Calwood, who was our bike guy, was that, look, give Michael Madsen the greatest looking bike ever, make it fancy, because he's The Gent, right?
Larry: Eric [Balfour] will have a beautiful Indian bike, okay? I want Pistolero riding the nastiest looking bike you ever saw. I don't want it pretty, I want it mean looking! I want it to look like Sonny Barger looks at it and goes like, yeah, that's a good bike. Not everybody would know that that's a great bike, but what I wanted was a bike that looked like it had been driven a zillion miles and it could still ride a zillion miles. I wasn't interested in the appearance of things, it was going to get you to the place you wanted to get to.
Awesome! I wanted to touch on this, the idea of continuing on with a franchise, talking about a trilogy or something like that.
Larry: I want to keep on going with this thing because it's of interest to me. Oddly enough, and here was the one thing that Quentin said that was really strange to me, but I had taken it seriously, because anything Quentin says, I digest. So what he said to me early on, which was an odd thing to say, I always still think of myself as like the young rebel, but what he said, he says Larry, you are the John Wayne of motorcycle movie people.
And I thought like, because he's younger than me, I felt like, maybe he views me as somewhat of a father. Of course he had seen me in the motorcycle movies when he was like 6 or 7 years old, so kind of even in that spread of time, he kind of sees me as like an older person, but I want to explore that. In The Searchers, and The Red River, John Wayne has this pathological—he does some interesting things. I kept on going back to that, because that's where I really wanted to head, in other words, Pistolero is, of course, he's doing what he's been doing and surviving so long. You don't live this long and survive in the world that I created without being—I mean there has to be a certain nasty element.
Where Quentin and I were really in sync was he, in fact, the last scene with Vinnie Jones, he said he has been waiting to see that all his life—a character who outdoes... Most times, the good guy, when he goes up against the bad guy, in John Wayne's time, he will dispatch the bad guy. Clint Eastwood changed things a little bit in the sense that he could shoot you in the back, and he could be more vicious about it. But where Quentin thought that I had upped the ante, I got actually nastier than the bad guy, and he said he had never seen that in a movie. He felt like I went further than the character that Vinnie Jones did. And I want to go further with that concept, because I think I can get away with it.
Also, I don't feel that I ever have to protect my image. Some actors... in other words there's a limit to how far they're going to go, because they're going to turn into a bad guy. The beauty of Quentin was that he liked the idea that the good guy could turn into a bad guy and then turn back into the good guy, and back into the bad guy, so I want to go further with that. That's an important concept.
Thank you to Larry Bishop and everyone at The Weinstein Company for the opportunity to interview one of the most badass motorcycle movie filmmakers ever to walk this earth. It was an honor to meet Larry in person, at Sundance, and chat with him about all things Hell Ride and motorcycles. You definitely won't want to miss this movie when it hits theaters sometime this year.