xXx: Return of Xander Cage, an action-heavy off-the-cuff third act in the xXx franchise, should put a smile on any action movie fan’s face. Knowing that the entire cast and crew went into this film to have a good time certainly helps propel the film’s entertaining appeal. Vin Diesel is back as Xander Cage, along with Samuel L. Jackson as Augustus Gibbons and a fresh new crew of xXx compatriots, including Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Becky Clearidge, Rory McCann and Toni Collette. And let’s not forget THE COAT – Bigger and better than ever!!! There’s even room for a little Darius Stone (Ice Cube) in this film, making this entire xXx experience a fuel-injected laugh from beginning to end.

Hailed as “a crazy, stunt-filled action spectacular” (Scott Mendelson, Forbes) and “a shot of pure adrenaline” (Goey Nolfi, Entertainment Weekly), xXx: Return of Xander Cage x-plodes on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and On Demand May 16, 2017 from Paramount Home Media Distribution. X-cited fans can already get it two weeks early on Digital HD May 2.

When a group of lethal mercenaries steals a hi-tech weapon that poses a global threat, the world needs superspy Xander Cage (Vin Diesel). Recruited back into action, Xander leads a team of death-defying adrenaline junkies on a mission to kick some ass, save the day, and look dope while doing it. Packed with some of the most mind-blowing stunts ever caught on film, xXx: Return of Xander Cage features a powerhouse international cast including Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose (John Wick: Chapter 2), Tony Jaa (Furious 7), Nina Dobrev (TV’s “The Vampire Diaries”), Rory McCann (Game Of Thrones) and Samuel L.Jackson (Kong: Skull Island).

xXx: Return of Xander Cage director D.J. Caruso took a bit of time to talk with PureGrainAudio about the making of this explosive third act in the xXx franchise.

The film looked like it was a blast to direct.
Caruso: It WAS a blast to direct. We took the attitude of “If we’re going to have fun making this movie, then the audience will see the fun we had making it.” That was very important to me. It was one of these movies that was made to entertain and just allow you to check out for an hour and forty-five minutes and have a good time. So we had the mantra around the set that we HAD to have fun making this movie so that everyone would understand the fun we had went into the actual film stock. But I can’t say film stock anymore, can I? So it went into the digital realm.

I’m going to say this having not watched your entire catalog of films and television (I’ve watched about half), but it looks to me like this is the lightest movie that you’ve made. Is that accurate?
Caruso: That is correct, yes. Definitely, the lightest movie that I have made. There wasn’t any huge dramatic scene that I was fretting over. Or something that was personal that was in the movie that you kind of put in to be cathartic. So definitely this was something that was the lightest movie that I’ve ever made. And that was liberating in a way. Because you really just go into it wanting to have fun.

So what are your first steps when you get a script like this? How do you take that and break it down into what you want to do on a kind of a day-by-day basis?
Caruso: Initially getting the first script was a lot different than what we ended up with as the finished film. I ended up with Scott Frazier and Jeff Kirschenbaum, the writer and producer, and kind of came up with a new take on the characters. You have to find the reason for you to make this movie as well. I thought about what kind of themes could we explore here. You need to have something that you can anchor on. I really wanted to celebrate the individuality of each one of these characters that we were going to bring in and introduce. Obviously, Xander is someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. He does what he wants to do and sort of lives for the moment. And so with each of the characters that we were going to bring in, I thought let’s celebrate the uniqueness and the individuality of all of these characters, but at the same time, these are exactly the type of characters the government needs. Not the sort of government trained people who walk in the straight lines and follow the orders to the letter. These are the rebels. To organize this unique band of rebels who are collectively very powerful in what they can get done.

So that was sort of the idea of what we could bring into the script. And then basically breaking down knowing we only have a certain amount of money to make this movie, and also only a certain amount of time to go at it fast and furious. So how do we attack this? We identified the big action sequences and basically, instead of having one stunt coordinator, we had someone who is a bike specialist come in. I wanted to do that mixed martial arts/motorcycle fight and we wanted to get somebody to come in and help us with the Donnie Yen aspect of the film. So we actually worked very closely with Donnie and all of his people. And Tony Jaa is acrobatic, and Michael Bisping is powerful and funny so we broke those sequences down towards each stunt coordinator, and that became their sequence to practice and nurture so that by the time we got to it being their time to come on and perform, we were all very familiar with it.

So that was probably the biggest parsing out, us identifying the specific types of action, locating where we are going to shoot these things, like the Dominican Republic and putting a bit of a London unit together to shoot some exteriors in London and organizing it all. That part of the preparation where we are breaking it all down that way and figuring out how can we handle this movie and get it done in under 68 days. Which is a lot of fun.

That’s pretty quick!
Caruso: Yeah, that’s true. Maybe not for some smaller films, but for a movie of this scale, it was difficult.

Check out an official xXx: Return of Xander Cage movie trailer

Yeah. There’s not a lot of standing around happening in this movie. There is action from opening scene to final credits.
Caruso: (laughs) Yeah. You know, when you’re coming back into a franchise after 12 years or whatever it’s been, you have expectations. What we had to work with, it was a nice amount of money, but it was a set amount of money. We didn’t have a couple of hundred million dollars to make this movie. There were no ballooning stunt sequences or bigger-and-better budget dialogs. We had to be efficient. But that is sort of the school that I come from. The Badham (John Badham) school of maximizing your time and being efficient. So that’s a challenge that I always like to take on. And I think that is part of what keeps me working.

Are there any happy accidents that you can speak to in xXx: Return of Xander Cage? And by that, I mean something that you happened to capture on camera and you thought looked great so it stayed in the film.
Caruso: Um, yeah. There’s always that attempt to be in control. But I think there are times, particularly when you are operating a camera where there is certain action happening, I think that one of the happier accidents for me cinematically is when we are skateboarding down that hill in Navarrete, this really cool location up in the top of the Dominican Republic. All of those people ended up sort of coming into the street to watch us, and as we were starting to film it, I just let them all stay there and watch it. I integrated them into the film as if they knew Xander Cage and Xander was in this village and ultimately at this point in the film we find out that Xander is bringing a soccer game to all of the masses here inland. And so I shot it and got all of those happy accidents in that sequence. To leave all of these people in and photograph them and their great faces and really get texture at the same time without their knowledge of the story – that to me is probably one of the better happy accidents we got on this film. We had no idea that the entire community would come out and watch us filming. Which I love.

It was nice to see that you didn’t skip over Ice Cube’s character and that you went back into the lore of the second film a bit. I thought that was cool.
Caruso: Yeah. Thank you. It was kind of fun. We wanted to have a way, and by having Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) be that anchor who helps take you through film one and film two and is putting the xXx program together. By having him be the way that brings Xander and Darius Stone together – and figuring out how we might be able to do that. It took a little bit of thinking and head scratching, but I think we figured out how to do it in a really fun way. In fact, when Darius comes into the film, particularly at our screenings and premiers, it was so much fun to everyone howl and go crazy because it’s a pretty kick-ass entrance.

That fur coat that Xander wears. Did that lapel double in size? Because the last time that I saw it, it was big, but not THAT big.
Caruso: (laughs) Well, it’s a funny story. The coat, the original coat, was purchased by Mark Zuckerberg and given to his number two guy at Facebook. I don’t know if you knew that story or not?

Nope. I didn’t. It’s really quite a coat.
Caruso: Yeah. I guess Mark Zuckerberg loves it. So we had to bring that coat back. We had to manufacture our own coat. And I wanted to have a lot of fun with it. I was trying to figure out a way for all of those viewers who saw the first movie and talk about the coat, is there a way to bring the coat back in and give it its own sort of story. So when we created the character of Ainsley and Xander had to go to London, he’s asked “what’s in London?” And he says “someone who can help us. And perhaps my fur coat.” We wanted to play with that and have a lot of fun with it. It was always fun when it was on the set. (laughs) I think it’s a love hate thing, that coat. Some of the crew thought it was the most ridiculous coat they’d ever seen. So we’d always put it on someone’s chair. I’d always put it on our director of photography, Russell Carpenter’s chair. And he’d always get so mad that that coat was sitting on his chair because it’s really such a big wooly mammoth of a thing.

Awesome. I did not know that Nina Dobrev was in this film until her first scene. That was such a pleasant surprise. I’m going to out myself here as a total Vampire Diaries fan. Was she cool to work with?
Caruso: (laughs) She is so much fun. If you know Nina at all, she’s just remarkable. Take that whole entire cast and crew, and ask who’s the bravest? Who’s done the more dangerous stuff and I would say Nina. She’s jumping out of airplanes and doing crazy stuff. She has this great zest and love for life. I had no idea until she came in and read for me that she had this sort of comedic prowess and she really has such great timing. So she surprised me. And I felt that with that energy, and the sort of comedic chops that she brought with her that she would be a lot of fun. When she first came in to read, We already had Serena. I already had cast Deepika Padukone and I wasn’t sure what to do. And I was told she was reading for Becky Clearidge. And I remember thinking “oh, that’s interesting.” And she floored me. She’s fantastic. Just fantastic. She’s got some pretty great range. I think she can do a lot of things. I think we will start seeing her a lot more. She’s really really good.

I love that you did the “Sometime Around Midnight” music video for The Airborne Toxic Event.
Caruso: Yeah! That was a fun video to do. Thank you. We did that video in less than a day and a half. We didn’t have a lot of money. I loved doing that sort of a one shot design. Coming up with that was really fun and fading in and out of the wall where we had the screens with the band. I had a lot of fun. It was the first time I’d ever used a red camera so I was experimenting a bit with the camera and those guys are just great. And that song is just such an iconic song. It’s so great. I fell in love with it the moment I heard it. I really love that band and I’m happy to know that you like them as well.

I like mojitos, loud music, and David Lynch.