From the moment the film begins, with a whirling kaleidoscope of hyper Technicolor, the Wachowskis suck you into what John Goodman (who plays Pops Racer) describes as “Fantasia-n Reefer Madness;” an eye popping, mouth dropping, peddle-to-the-metal re-imagining of anime come to life. Along for the ride are Emile Hirsch (Speed), Christina Ricci (Trixie), Matthew Fox (Racer X), Susan Sarandon (Mom Racer) and Goodman.
Producer Joel Silver, acting as a mouthpiece for the Wachowskis, who have refused to be interviewed since the first Matrix film, says creating the “entirely digital, photo-realistic freeway chase sequence in The Matrix Reloaded was what gave them the idea of how far they could go.”
“It’s a world you’ve never seen before,” says Sarandon.
“It’s rare that you get to go to a new world, and this is like an alternate universe,” Goodman adds.
Initially, executives were skeptical of the anime-meets-live-action realm the Wachowskis wanted to make.
Silver remembers, “They would ask, ‘Uh, is it like Roger Rabbit?’ and we’d say ‘No. It’s new.’”
However, he downplays the endeavor, “It was a simple movie to make. It was 60 days in a green room.”
But green screen doesn’t mean it was all make believe. For driving sequences, special gimbals were created to simulate the movement of the races.
Fox recalls, “You’d climb into the cockpit, get strapped in and then just hang on for dear life.”
“You really get thrown around in there,” agrees Hirsch.
“There’s a big difference between that and sitting on an apple box,” says Fox.
Other parts of working in a green screen world required more imagination. While shooting the movie, Ricci says, “I felt like I was a doll.”
Often, the actors would film scenes staring at a tennis ball on a stick while the assistant director yelled instructions.
“‘Look to the left and say ‘Wow.’ ‘Wow!’” Ricci demonstrates, “Right and say ‘Ahhh.’ ‘Ahhh,’” she laughs. “And you just do it and afterward you think, ‘This is hilarious.’”
“Like doing a silent movie, they coach you through it,” says Goodman.
“You don’t really have a choice,” says Sarandon. “You just have to jump in and hand it over.”
Their faith in the Wachowskis never wavered.
“The directors had such a clear and complete vision; they inspire an incredible amount of confidence and trust. They designed everything, right down to performance,” Ricci explains.
“They’re very specific and run a very tight ship,” says Sarandon.
Fox adds, “It’s almost them operating as one.”
Still, it wasn’t easy.
“Green screen kind of sucks the life out of you,” says Hirsch. “You have to constantly battle that and try to rejuvenate yourself because it can be a soul-sucking activity. It’s known for that, that’s part of the deal going in. Everyone said, ‘Prepare yourself for hell.’” What got the cast through was camaraderie and enormous excitement about what they were filming.
“What the Wachowskis came up with is car-fu,” gushes Hirsch.
One word of caution: consider taking a cab to the theater. After leaving the movie, you might find yourself inspired to try driving like Speed.
While shooting in Berlin, Hirsch, who is hurtling toward superstardom at 400 mph in the title role, recalls, “I purposefully never drove while we were filming. I was kind of worried about it. I was like, ‘Oh man, I could get behind the wheel and just tear it up.’”
Speed Racer releases in theaters May 9.