If heroes are only as good as their villains, Ghost Rider must be doing something right. In Sony's 2007 feature film Ghost Rider, a cursed Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) barely survived an encounter with Blackheart, and his elemental minions. Now in the new Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, he must contend with an even greater threat, namely Blackout, whose mere touch decays and destroys. FEARnet spoke exclusively with actor Johnny Whitworth (Pathology, Limitless, 3:10 to Yuma) about playing the movie's big bad, channelling his anger and what makes Spirit of Vengeance a balls-to-the-wall sequel.
Had you previously auditioned for a comic book role?
That's a good question. Yeah, I auditioned for Spider-Man a long time ago. I really wasn't right for Peter Parker. I think I had long hair too.
You realize people thought you physically resembled Gambit for X-Men Origins: Wolverine?
I heard that. It would have been a cool part.
How did you become involved in Ghost Rider: Sprit of Vengeance, then?
Actually, [director] Mark Neveldine called me and was asking if I was busy. And I said "For what?" He was like, "I'm doing that movie Ghost Rider and we want you to play the main bad guy, who is based on the character Blackout." I was like, "Okay, really?" Then it was going through the process of testing for the studio and convincing them. It was all the rigors that are involved with doing a studio movie and then taking a chance.
Once hired, did you turn to the comics as source material?
At first I did. I try and do as much research as possible with any role. I turned to the graphic novels, but found I was being limited to the character in the comics. Blackout doesn't have any fantastical powers in the comics. I tended to look at two photos that served as visual inspiration. Everything else came from the script because in the movie, my character is much cooler and has powers. It makes sense that Blackout is able to compete with Ghost Rider on a different level.
So who is Ray Carrigan and what leads him to become Blackout?
Ray is a mercenary and for all intents and purposes, a psychopath who will do anything to get the job done. He was encouraged, or employed, by the Devil, who goes by the name Roarke [Ciaran Hinds], to track down his ex-girlfriend. Blackout, being a vengeful person, was all but excited to do that. What happens is Ray is surprised at who he has to go up against, meaning Ghost Rider. After a couple of times, and just about to take his last breath, the Devil takes the initiative to transform him into Blackout, due to the fact Ray had not finished his job. The Devil needs something, which is his son.
Is this the actual Devil or the one responsible for Ghost Rider's curse, Mephisto?
It's the Devil. In the film, his name is Roarke in human form, which is why he wants his son. This body has grown weak.
Which was more fun to play? The mercenary firing off guns or the supernaturally empowered Blackout?
Obviously Blackout, who offered a lot of freedom to step outside the bounds, or restraints, of reality.
Ultimately, what makes Blackout a worthy adversary for Ghost Rider?
Well, he's instilled with cool superhuman powers. Right now, he can actually control the blackout ability. He has the power to decay things with his touch. It goes on from there. He basically makes shit rot. And he can extinguish Ghost Rider.
Was it strange facing off against Nicolas Cage, who is supposed to be Ghost Rider, and yet all the flaming skull and wild chain effects are done in post?
Yeah, it's a testament to Nic because he was there and provided us with something to visualize. He was done up as a skull. He had Christmas lights on his heads. He had this bizarre way of being, so you knew when he wasn't Nicolas Cage, but the Ghost Rider. It wasn't hard to commit to him when you're two characters in really bizarre get-ups.
Did you go through make-up hell going from human to the fiendish-looking Blackout?
It was a test of my patience. It was painstaking in the sense I just couldn't move for hours. Once I got in the make-up, it wasn't beneficial for production for me to eat. It would take up too much time to retouch the make-up, so I drank shakes and ate bananas. It put me in a state of aggravation, which made it really easy to transform into a really cruel bastard.
So what you're saying is the secret to tapping into that evil wickedness is a torturous make-up session?
[Laughs] Yes, the secret to being really pissed off on screen is having people poke their finger around your face for hours on end. The make-up team had it worse than I did in the sense of hours, because they are there an hour before and after me when I was Blackout. But they could eat.
These two directors helmed the insanely adrenaline-fuelled Crank, so what can we expect in terms of action for Ghost Rider?
A lot more of that with supernatural powers. Almost all of the actors did all their own stunts. The reality of bringing a character to life, and actually fighting and standing on the hood of an actual car with Nicolas Cage, enables the directors to get in closer and see the performance going on. Generally, if it's a stunt man, they are further back so you can mask it's not the actor. There's a lot of wirework, a lot of flames, there's a lot of exploding, a lot of motorcycle stunts and a lot of chains and ropes and whips. Speaking for myself, the only things I wasn't allowed to do were the things the stunt guys ended up getting hurt doing themselves. Mark had sat me down and said "We're going to want you to do all your own stunts, or at least all the ones you're comfortable with, but we want to get in your face with the camera. That's how we work and want to be able to do that with Blackout." I don't think it was a mistake that he mentioned that once I got to Romania!
This was your biggest budgeted project to date, complete with plenty of bells and whistles. What did you learn from this experience?
I have garnered some knowledge towards action because big-budgeted action is not what I'm accustomed to. I go into a scene with motivation and meetings and wanting to play the scene out and make a connection to the previous or next scene. With an action film, you have a different way of working. One scene almost took four months to shoot in a few different countries. We'd start a scene right in the middle and not having done what happened previously, I didn't know where my character would be. It was a little adjustment to get to where Blackout might be emotionally or how he was feeling.