Luke Goss on DEATH RACE 3: INFERNO
by Gene Ching
When David Carradine wrapped his role as Caine in the unprecedented KUNG FU TV show, he was looking to escape being typecast. He wound up in the lead role for schlockmaster Roger Corman's cult classic, DEATH RACE 2000 (1975). Carradine played Frankenstein, a racer so horribly disfigured by car accidents that he wore a mask. DEATH RACE 2000 is outrageously campy, with garish race cars in a cross-country road race, reminiscent of the late '60s cartoon, WACKY RACERS, or Jackie Chan's early Hollywood vehicle, CANNONBALL RUN (1981). Only here the object wasn't just to be the fastest. Racers earned extra points for killing innocent pedestrians along the way. DEATH RACE 2000 was an exemplary model of exploitation cinema in that era. The sets and costumes are gawdy. The violence is corny, not gory; blood is fire-engine red. There are lots of explosions and a lot of gratuitous nudity. It's wicked satire, tongue firmly planted in cheek, and pokes fun at sports fans and their blood lust.
Hot off of KUNG FU, Carradine got top billing, above both Sylvester Stallone, who played rival racer, Machine Gun Joe, and Martin Kove (Kreese Sensei from the original KARATE KID) who played another rival, Nero the Hero. It's worth watching just to see Carradine kick Sly's butt. Adding insult to injury, Carradine doles out that butt-kicking while wearing a black dominatrix suit, mask and cape. Stranger still, Sly's ride is eerily prophetic, sporting a huge Rambo-style knife jutting from the hood.
The following year, DEATH RACE inspired a controversial video arcade game by the same name but from an unrelated company. That game was banned for excessive violence. Back then, videogame graphics were little more than stick figures. In contrast to today's videogames, which have been linked to numerous mass shootings worldwide, the Death Race videogame was tamer than WACKY RACERS.
But back to the starting line, the DEATH RACE franchise was rebooted in 2008. Carradine reprised the role of Frankenstein, but only as a voice-over. The new lead was Jason Statham, and Roger Corman was credited as an Executive Producer. No longer was it a cross country race that rewarded the slaughter of innocent victims. DEATH RACE was reimagined as a post-apocalyptic death sport staged within a penal colony where prisoner racers fought for their lives and their freedom. Sly's character Machine Gun Joe was reprised by Tyrese Gibson, but beyond him and Frankenstein, little else carried over from the original film. Gone too were the cartoon racecars, to be replaced by heavily armored muscle cars ala MAD MAX (1979). The violence is more graphic, dripping with testosterone like a modern-day home videogame. There are lots of explosions. The reboot did well, earning over $75 million worldwide.
Two years later, DEATH RACE 2 went direct-to-DVD. DEATH RACE 2 is like BATMAN BEGINS (2005) or CASINO ROYALE (2006) for Frankenstein, the prequel to the DEATH RACE reboot. In this installment, it is revealed that the death race evolved from a televised cage fight to the death within the penal colony. Only two actors are contiguous: Fred Koehler as the nerdy pit crew member, Lists, and Robin Shou as the rival racer 14K. These two are the only characters consistent through the whole trilogy. Taking over the role of Frankenstein is Luke Goss, who coincidentally played Frankenstein's monster in a 2004 TV miniseries, and won acclaim from his action roles in BLADE II (2002) and HELLBOY II (2008).
Goss dons Frankenstein's mask once more in the latest installment, DEATH RACE 3: INFERNO. I had the opportunity to interview him just prior to the release of the new movie.
GC: You've been associated with Kung Fu in the past. What style do you practice?
LG: I don't actually formally practice any style of Kung Fu. I remember the style of Kung Fu that I was shown in BLADE II, for example, resulted in my getting very into the whole thing. But for most of the movies I do, I commit to the teaching of the individual for that particular role. There is no "formal" style. I am now into Krav Maga, but that was because of the role and character-driven stuff.
GC: I'm told you trained some MMA too, along with the Krav Maga, for DEATH RACE. How was that for you?
LG: The reason I like Krav Maga and also some of MMA stuff is because it's very succinct. It gets the job done. I'm over 6'1" and there's a lot of upper body stuff that works better for me. It gets the job done and there's no vanity. Not that it isn't also true for other disciplines, but they look very beautiful, and sometimes when you're trying to get something done quickly and violently, Krav or MMA is more consistent with those characters for me.
GC: Does the martial arts practice benefit your acting beyond the action scenes?
LG: I think any martial arts discipline or physical discipline assists you as an actor if that's what the character calls for. I find it hard to understand why actors - if they have the physical capability, of course, and age is on their side - would not want to commit to at least some of it, because the journey of an actor is the experience. I really think the practice of any discipline assists not only the actor and helps the audience buy into the role.
GC: You've had roles in several martial-arts-oriented films, but now that you're getting top billing, would you like to be the lead in a martial arts film?
LG: I would if I could have the time to really prepare physically for it and be trained and taught how to do it. I think Asia is the origin of these arts and it's still the part of the world that does it best. I would want to spend time in Asia to really prep and do it right. Maybe one day that will happen.
GC: What do you think of the original DEATH RACE film?
LG: I think it was fun. I think it was camp. I think Jason Statham and Paul Anderson reinvented it and it was a great evolution to bring it into a kind of "now" genre. To be part of the evolution has been a great honor. I love it.
GC: As your character is like Anakin Skywalker to David Carradine's Frankenstein, what do you think of Carradine's performance in the original film?
LG: I have to say I think Carradine's performance in the original film would have to be answered based upon him as an actor. I was a huge fan of his work. He was an iconic actor within those genre movies and it was great loss when he left us. But I think the movie without a doubt was one of the campiest things I've ever seen. In many ways it was kitsch and all those things were deliberate. Strangely enough, I don't think that movie could be made today. It was so violent and so inappropriate. It was without a doubt gratuitous. It's fun that it's out there and was made, but I wouldn't personally want to be part of it today.
GC: Given where DEATH RACE 2 left off, do you have to be in Freddy Kruger make-up and a mask for most of DEATH RACE 3?
LG: Freddy Kruger make-up - there's a first! I've not heard that reference before. That's fantastic. The mask was interesting. I've used prosthetic makeup in roles before, but when I moved, the makeup moved. The thing about the DEATH RACE mask is that it's devoid of any movement. It's static, so it's necessary to convey what you're thinking or feeling through mood and subtle changes in your demeanor. For me it was very challenging, as it was quite claustrophobic, because with the leather cowl and mask, there's no mouthpiece, just two slits for the eyes. It could get very claustrophobic - in fact, more so than the makeup I've used previously.
GC: What would surprise fans the most about the real Luke Goss?
LG: Maybe that I'm actually a big softy and quite a compassionate person. I do think I'm driven by kindness and it's like yin yang in a weird way. It's important to balance what you do on film and how you really are and I try to bring that to my characters. I actually worry quite a lot about the people around me and that's somewhat quite a contrast to the characters I play.
GC: What is your dream role?
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