What’s scarier than being chased by a dirty cop with money on his mind? Try riding a bike through the streets of New York. Luckily the stars of “Premium Rush” had enough guts, Hollywood magic and stunt doubles to pull it off. Stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dania Ramirez took a moment to speak about the film, their thoughts on the bike messengers they portray and how it’s changed them as artists.
Billy Tatum: The work you did in this film looked pretty dangerous. Did you get hurt at all?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: There was a bit of an accident. I should start by saying that everyone was very safety conscious. It was a perfect storm of a lot of things going wrong all at once. To make a long story short, a diplomat broke through our lockup. In New York City, you have the United Nations, so you have a lot of diplomats driving around.
Dania Ramirez: There’s no rules for diplomats.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, so they can break the law. Basically, I ended up going through the rear window of a taxi cab and getting thirty-one stitches. Everyone was worried that it happened. I’m flooded with adrenaline right when it happened. You dont feel any pain right when your arm breaks open so I’m like “Whoa, geez, I’m sorry. I’m ok.” Dave’s ran up saying “Are you ok?” He was terrified. I was like “You gotta record this, man. Look at this. This is crazy.” I convinced him to, so he pulled out his phone and recorded some video. I was stoked that he actually put it into the movie.”
Billy Tatum: Did it force you to miss any days of shooting?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Well, it was towards the end of the day.
Dania Ramirez: He was at work the next day with a smile on his face. It was a good reminder that we’re not really these people riding these bikes. We were like “Oh, we have stunt people that can do these things.”
Billy Tatum: Did you do your own stunts?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Certainly not. (laughs). The character of Wilee was played by five of us. Me and four other guys. Everyone had their own specialties. One was an actual bike messenger. One was a Hollywood stunt man that gets hit by cars. One’s really good at trials bike riding, which is the chase towards the end of the movie where he’s on a different bike. That’s the kind of bike that’s particularly conducive to jumping and stuff. Then, there was a guy that was really good at doing tricks on a track bike. If you look on youtube for Danny Macaskill. He does insane things on his bike.
Dania Ramirez: That’s the cool thing about the movie. There is no CGI. The stunts are actually real, so we were lucky enough to have great stunt people come in and do stunts.
Billy Tatum: How would you compare this to some of the other action films you’ve done like “Inception” or the upcoming “Looper”?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: As far as the physical challenge, I’d have to say this is the hardest one. “Inception” would come in with a close second. I was on a bike every day, all day. The whole movie is on a bike. “Inception” has some cool action sequences, but this is the entire movie.
Billy Tatum: Tell me about the research you did and interacting with the real bike messengers in New York?
Dania Ramirez: It’s a really tight community. One thing we found out about the bike messaging community is that they are really caring and thoughtful people. It’s almost like they’re playing a character when they get on their bikes and they have to ride around. It’s like they have to put on this badass persona, but when they get back behind closed doors, they’re really a tight-knit group.
Billy Tatum: Did you pick up any tricks on not getting killed riding a bike in NYC?
Dania Ramirez: Pay attention (laughs). Listen. You’re riding a bike through New York City. I’m from the east coast, originally. Pedestrians kind of rule New York and they’re way more dangerous than riding alongside the taxicab drivers. At least you’re going in the same direction. Pedestrians are in their own world. We had to become really aware of what was around us.
Plus, you don’t tell a New Yorker “Hey, you can’t cross the street right now. We’re shooting”. They don’t care.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I thought a cool kernel of wisdom that I learned from multiple people was “If you want to avoid hitting something, don’t look at it.” Look at where you’re going. If you’re trying to thread a needle and get between two cars, as soon as you start looking at where you don’t want to go, you’ll hit them. You have to have the confidence to stay straight and go forward. I think there’s something allegorical with that with life in general. That’s part of the movie, too. Wilee, the character I play, he is that kind of confident guy that has no hesitation to make a split second decision. There’s a lot of virtue in that.
Dania Ramirez: He’s riding a bike with no breaks. He lives his life like that.
Billy Tatum: How was it working with Michael Shannon and what did you think of his performance?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Shannon’s the (expletive)! There’s a tradition, it seems, of really, really fine actors playing villains in a big chase movie, whether it’s Dennis Hopper in “Speed” or Alan Rickman in “Die Hard” and I think Shannon really fits into that tradition. I think he’s one of the best alive and he’s so good in this movie.
Dania Ramirez: He’s brilliant. He plays that villain role amazingly. He’s so charismatic
while he’s doing it. You want to hate him because he’s after the good guy, but you can’t
help but to smile and laugh at him.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The funny thing is he’s actually a very gentle, sweet guy with a dry sense of humor. He’s nothing like the character he plays in this movie.
Billy Tatum: Were the bike messenger community skeptical about the way you were going to portray them?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, and they have a right to be skeptical. Like I said, it’s not a documentary about bike culture. It’s a Hollywood chase movie that does glorify the hell out of bikes and I think it’ll be a rocking good time for anybody who loves to ride bikes or whose never been on a bike.
Dania Ramirez: Also, it’s not that many times that the bike messenger community gets to be represented, so in my experience, they were really excited. They were excited that, as actors, we were genuinely interested in finding out about their lives and the way that they see the world and the city. That’s something that you get when you see the movie. It’s a gritty, very specific look at New York City.
Billy Tatum: Did this movie change any notions you had of bike messengers?
Dania Ramirez: I have so much more respect for bike messengers, in general. It’s a very hard profession and they have to be incredibly fit. You really have to learn how to manage your time, because you do have a job where you have to get a package to a certain place by a certain time.
Billy Tatum: Who’s the bigger daredevil between the two of you?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Uh…
Dania Ramirez: Me (laughs)!!
Billy Tatum: After you trained here for six weeks, did you notice the difference in the way people treat cyclists out here versus New York?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yeah, there was a big difference. New York drivers are more used
to it, because Manhattan is a city that’s more conducive to riding a bike. You have to be pretty
good cyclist if you’re going to use a bike as your main mode of transportation In L.A. It’s rare, but in New York, you can really do it. But there’s a real bike culture here in L.A, which is so car-centric, especially on the east side of town. If you go to the west side of town, there’s a thriving bike culture.
Billy Tatum: Much of your relationship takes place over the phone while riding? Did you two do those scenes first?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: We’d already gotten to know each other really well.
Dania Ramirez: Yeah, we had trained for six weeks, so we had already known
each other and gotten to ride bikes together. We were already solid and knew
what the relationship would be and how to play it out. My first scene was riding
through Park Avenue when I’m having a real intense conversation with him
about our relationship. It did help that we knew each other and spent a lot
of time together outside of filming. By the time we filmed, It just felt kind of natural.
Billy Tatum: You’re also putting on the director’s hat. Tell me a little about that.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I wrote a movie that I’m directing called “Don Jon’s Addiction”. I learned so much from working with so many great directors that it allowed me to do it. I’m stoked to talk to you about it once it’s closer. I had a blast. Scarlett Johansson read it and liked it and is starring in it. Julianne Moore is also starring in it. We had a great time.
Dania Ramirez: Some little names (laughs).
Billy Tatum: Now that you’ve directed, do you ever go into director’s mode when someone
is directing you?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: As an actor, it’s important to try to always understand what the director is after. That’s my job when I’m acting. I like to ask a lot of questions. I like to understand why the director is doing what he’s doing so I can provide him or her with the ingredients that they need to get the scene that they want. You can ask Dave. I asked a lot of questions, because I want to understand where they’re coming from. It’s not to challenge them in any way. It’s so I can do the best job. I can’t wait to act again and not direct. They’re two very different creative challenges.
Billy Tatum: Dania, did you cycle across the plank and did you nail it on the first take?
Dania Ramirez: Yes, I cycled across the plank. It was nerve-wracking, because I’m scared of heights. I had to go over the Hudson River on a plank. For a while there, I was like “Oh.” My doubles are there and were willing to do it. I’m like “I’m Vanessa. I’m a bike messenger. I can totally do this.”
Billy Tatum: Were there any other uniquely New York experiences you had?
Dania Ramirez: Yeah. We were written up in the Post a few times. It was just hard to tell a New Yorker “You can’t cross the street. We’re rolling right now.” They have a place to get to and that’s their main concern. One guy head butted one of our PAs because he was trying to stop him from crossing the street. It’s just classic New York behavior. I’m from New York and I love it. I thrive on that. Part of the movie, as well, is the adrenaline that keeps you going and the New York vibe. People don’t take anything.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: We’re also locking down big swaths of street. Normally to lock up a location to shoot in New York City, that’s a street corner or outside a doorway or something
like that, but we’re locking up 6th Avenue between 32nd Street and 39th Street because we do
a whole scene, but it takes seven blocks of distance. It was very impressive. We had a really
skilled crew of people.
Billy Tatum: What do you guys do for fun? Is cycling your way to blow off steam?
Dania Ramirez: I love it. One of the things I want people to take from the movie is to
pick up a bike afterwards. I got inspired to do so. I’m actually training to do the
Malibu triathlon. I’m going to do the biking section on September 16th.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Hell yeah! I’m going to…cheer her on.
Billy Tatum: What’s the latest on HitRecord?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: We’re releasing a final record right now. We spent the summer putting together a bunch of collaboratively made music. HitRecord is a production company I run. We use the internet to collaborate so artists of all kinds can contribute to our projects. We do music, films, writing, and things like that. We’re about to put out two 12″ records. It’s 78 different artists out of thousands. Thousands of people contributed to all these songs, but we curated it down to the collaborative work of 78 different artists. I have a song on there that I wrote. I’m so proud of it. We keep getting better and better as a community. As it sticks around and continues to grow, the level of artistry keeps going up and up. The quality of music on this release called “Move on the Sun” blows my mind. I’m so proud of it.
Billy Tatum: How many tracks did those 78 artists create?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I forget the exact number, but it’s two 12″ vinyl records. I think there’s
twelve because there’s three songs on a side.
Billy Tatum: The pacing definitely qualifies as “edge of your seat”. Did the fact that it was made practically in real time change the way you approached the role?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Yes. It’s a pacey film. It’s not a film where you take a long pause. You’ve got to learn your lines real good. You can’t do that BS move where you pretend like you’re thinking of what to say when actually you’re trying to think of the line you didnt learn well enough. And Dave Koepp writes in a really crisp fashion. He writes great dialogue.
Dania Ramirez: I think the fact that it’s 90 minutes and he has to get the package to
a certain place in 90 minutes is challenging for an audience and really exciting.
You have to really pay attention and find out what’s really going on and what the package
is all about. The little times where you actually get a flashback in the story, you have to
make sure that you’re paying attention. The title of the film is “Premium Rush”. We’re
in a rush. Ninety minutes.
Premium Rush is playing in theaters nationwide. Before you jump on a bike, add me on twitter to catch all my latest movie news and reviews: @lamoviedude