The biggest tragedy to befall the Fast & Furious franchise was the death of actor Paul Walker, who had endeared himself to fans of the series in the role of Brian O'Conner. Following Walker's passing, his character was informally retired from the movies. The trailer for F9 briefly showed Vin Diesel's main character Dominic Toretto watching footage of Brian with his child. In an interview with EW, the director of Fast & Furious 9, Justin Lin, confirmed that Brian is still alive, and will have a part to play in the planned final trilogy of Fast & Furious movies.
"Yeah, that is a constant issue and something I always want to be very respectful of. The fact that Brian O'Conner is still alive in this universe needs to be acknowledged. We're treating F9 as the first film of the last chapter, and at some point it is something I think about and how we can really show his presence but in a respectful way. So it's always ongoing. I feel like in 9 we've done it in a way that I feel good about, but, as we go into trying to wrap up the saga, it's something that I will continue to always be thinking through."
The question of what do with a role after the actor who made it famous passes away is one that franchises have long struggled with, from Black Panther to Fast and Furious. Walker's final appearance in the latter series was in Furious 7, where Dom and Brian bid each other farewell on the road before driving away in different directions. An actor was hired to portray Walker in the scene with the late actor's face superimposed digitally later on.
It remains to be seen if a similar method will be used when and if Brian returns to the Fast & Furious family in the upcoming installments of the series. For now, F9 is set to introduce John Cena in the role of Jakob Toretto, Dom's estranged younger brother. In a past interview, Vin Diesel had stated that he felt as though Cena's casting in the film had been arranged by Walker himself.
"I remember John Cena coming into this Dom Shrine that I had where I would kind of go to meditate and train and start getting into that Dom state of mind. And I remember John coming in and... call this crazy, but I remember feeling as though Pablo, Paul Walker, had sent him in. I remember talking to Justin that night and saying, 'My gut and my heart feels like this was meant to be.'"
Directed by Justin Lin, F9 features an ensemble lead cast consisting of Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, John Cena, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, and Charlize Theron. After a string of delays for more than a year, the film is set to arrive in theaters on June 25. This news originated at Entertainment Weekly.