We travel to Atlanta, Georgia to speak with actor Paul Walker, director Justin Lin, and picture car coordinator Dennis McCarthy about the explosive new film
It's time to rev up your engines and get ready for another explosive chapter of the extremely popular film franchise, The Fast and the Furious. The series began in 2001 with it's first chapter, The Fast and the Furious, and soon followed with more installments including 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and Fast & Furious. The fifth chapter, Fast Five, is scheduled for release on April 29th. To date the series has grossed almost $1 billion dollars worldwide at the box office and has made it's stars, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, household names.
But the franchise has hit some potholes on its road to success. The first was when star Vin Diesel declined to return for 2 Fast 2 Furious, which left Paul Walker with new addition Tyrese Gibson. The franchise then received a facelift when Better Luck Tomorrow director Justin Lin was hired to breathe fresh air into the franchise with the third chapter, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. He moved the setting to Tokyo and the film featured an entirely new cast including his Better Luck Tomorrow star Sung Kang. The film also featured Diesel reprising his role in a brief cameo at the end, which bridged the three movies together. Fans were delighted when it was announced that both Diesel and Walker would return for the forth chapter, Fast & Furious, which was directed by Lin. Kang also reprised his role from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift in Fast & Furious, even though his character died at the end of the third movie. It then became apparent that chronologically, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift takes place at the end of the series, after Fast & Furious and it's direct sequel, the upcoming Fast Five.
Fast Five takes place soon after the events of the last film, when Brian (Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) broke Dom (Diesel) out of federal custody. The three are on the run from the law and have now found them selves hiding in Rio de Janeiro. When an opportunity arises for the trio to gain their freedom back, they decide to take on a risky job that entails putting together an elite team of racers. The team is comprised of many of the characters from the previous movies including Han (Kang) from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious, Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) from 2 Fast 2 Furious, Vince (Matt Schulze) from The Fast and the Furious, and Gisele (Gal Gadot) from Fast & Furious. The team soon realizes that the only way they will ever truly be free is to confront the crooked businessman who wants them dead. Unfortunately, he is not the only one hot on their trail. Enter badass federal agent Luke Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson (Faster) who joins the franchise. Hobbs never misses his target and always gets his man but when he is assigned to bring in Dom and Brian, he realizes that he may have met his match. Hobbs soon discovers that things are not as they seem and that the "bad guys" he thinks he is chasing ... may turn out to really be the "good guys" after all.
We arrived at the abandon warehouse set of the film in Atlanta, Georgia last October and were greeted by picture car coordinator Denis McCarthy. McCarthy worked on both The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious, as well as The Green Hornet, Death Race, and Batman Begins. He began by discussing some of the cars that will be featured in the new film. "So at the beginning of this film the vehicles we have are a Pantera, a Classic 1971 Pantera. We have a GT40, the original one. We have a Corvette Grand Sport, a 1965 Corvette Grand Sport. Those are the first three cars that you see in the opening sequence," McCarthy explained. "We have a vehicle built; it was kind of a one-off, custom-built vehicle with big tires. Almost a kind of monster truck style but built for a specific purpose. No flash, no cosmetics, just pure function."
"We have the Charger back," McCarthy continued. "We have the '70 Charger back. Basically when you first see the guys down in South America, Vin is in his Charger. It's not quiet the same. It's not as flashy. It doesn't have the motor. He's trying to make it a little bit more inconspicuous. That's when you see Paul Walker in the '72 Skyline. Another car you see down there is a Ford Maverick, which seems like another odd choice but if you look at the cars of South Polo, and Rio, the car culture there, Maverick is one of the top muscle cars. It's just one of the cars that Ford's produced down there. So you have Maverick, which is another hot car. Unfortunately we tried to get one here. We have a car called the Chevy Impala. That's like your Chevy muscle car and your Ford muscle car in South America."
We asked McCarthy how much influence he has in the writing process and selecting which cars are used in the script? "It's great because in the very early stages Chris Morgan will call me and we'll just talk about cars or car sequences. But it is great that we talk about this stuff. It always branches off into different directions. Some of the cars that you'll see in the script are usually ones where I had said, "Hey, this would be a good choice." Half the time those are the cars that end up being in the films. If for some reason someone doesn't like it, or somebody wants something different, for a practical reason or a cost reason, it deviates from that." Since McCarthy worked on the last two films in the series with director Justin Lin, we asked him how Lin's car knowledge is now, compared to when they first began. "Justin's car knowledge has come a long way. Since Tokyo Drift he's definitely got his cars down now. He's definitely more in tune to the cars and what he wants. He's basically in tune to what kind of cars the characters would drive. As each movie goes on he's more involved with the cars."
McCarthy continued to discuss the vehicles that will be seen in the film and told us about some of the imported cars that we can expect to see. "We have a 370Z. We have a brand new Subaru, which Subaru basically donated to our cause. There's a sequence where they are zipping through the auto plant, kind of like an obstacle course. We have a Porsche GT3, which is basically something that we cloned. We did bring back a Toyota Supra. Some of those right hand drives are back in. Early Skyline, we have a 2010 Skyline in the film. We have a Lexus LFA, which I was very happy to get. That was a car that I literally tried to get in this film since I read the script. Somehow, I thought, I've got to get this car in the film. I kept hitting dead ends, dead ends, and dead ends. We finally hooked up with the right people and they gave us a car literally for 24 hours. They shipped it from Florence, we did a sequence with it, and it was just a sense of accomplishment to get it."
We began by asking the director about taking over the franchise and making it his own, and if he ever imagined that he would have such a big impact on the series. "I've enjoyed the process and I feel like I've grown. I always approach these films almost like I hope it continues but I don't know if I'm going to be a part of it. I think that the one thing I've really enjoyed about being part of this franchise is that all three films are very different stylistically and tonally. They are three separate films in a way and thematically you get to grow with it. That is the thing that I've enjoyed most." Lin went on to discuss how this new film will be different than the last one. "I think that there is hopefully maturity in the look and the feel. I think that the first one was like ten years ago, so I feel like I want the look and also the characters to mature and grow."
"I think the last one, just because of the subject and Letty's death, it kind of established a tone for what that movie was going to be," Lin continued. "For me personally, it was actually during the publicity tour in Europe, when I had a lot of time to talk with the fans. It was the first time I had a chance to interact with them in a big way. The one thing that I realized is that it is a very working class franchise," he explained. "So for me, when I was watching it and talking about it with them, I understood that if we were going to do another one what that was going to be. I think that when you have a reunion you are going to have things that are fun, but at the same time it is grounded in something real, and why there are coming back together. So I feel like thematically and tonally it is going to be a lot more complex than the other ones just by the nature of the construct of this film."
While the first two films in the series used a lot of CGI for the car effects, Lin's movies have relied more on practical effects and real cars. We asked the director how he plans to balance CGI with the practical effects in this film? "That's the thing ... you can get greedy and what I've learned is that it never replaces the real thing. There is something very special and unique when you crash a car. I can't speak for the franchise before me, but I think since I've been on I have also learned a lot tonally about what we are trying to achieve. I think Tokyo Drift was more of a post-modern approach," he explained. "We had a lot more fun thematically, also just tonally and look wise. In the last one I was trying to hopefully incorporate both of them and I think this one will be the next level of that."
"The funny thing is that I know about the CGI complaint and I hear that a lot, especially when I came on to do the third one. That is all I heard, that car people were pissed off," Lin laughed. "I understand why the people who love cars had issues with that. To be honest, the third and forth movies, all the articulation of the cars we actually shot for real. A lot of the CGI that helped in the last two were environmental. The good thing about this one is that I feel like we are taking it even farther. On the last one there were challenges like the tunnel, where you just can't physically do it. There is no tunnel that exists that is like that. All the cars are real but we had to build the environment. So on this one, I was very conscious to not even want to go and approach that. There are effects but I feel like our approach and the coverage in it, at the end of the day is not even noticeable at all."
Given the fact that Fast & Furious and Fast Five take place before Tokyo Drift, we asked the director if he feels like he is making a prequel to his original film. "In a sense yes, I think to answer that question. Tokyo Drift proves that I think there are other characters that still have a lot left in them and this franchise can branch off in many different directions in my mind. I think that the third one just proved that there is life left in this series, with or without me. At the same time this is an evolution and I feel like I'm a better filmmaker. I understand the craft better and I'm trying to respect the growth and maturity of the characters," Lin said. "Now this film has eleven characters, and you are trying to think of an arc for every character and it is a big challenge. There is not a lot of real estate but I feel like that was something that was worth pushing. I thought that if someone is going to come back into this franchise then you need to really respect that."
We followed up by asking about the return of the character Han (Sung Kang) in Fast & Furious, after his death in Tokyo Drift. "That's the one thing that I actually kind of enjoy when people are going, wait, Han? I like that because I think it is something that spars discourse. It is actually appropriate, Tokyo Drift is the one that is post-modern and can float anywhere. Han is a big part of the mythology that we are trying to create." We also asked if there had been any discussion yet about making a sixth film, assuming that Fast Five is received well by fans. "I mean yeah, look it is reversed engineered to a certain sense that I like engaging in that discourse about the mythology of this. I've also talked to Vin about it. If it does continue on I'd like to be a part of it, but like I said, mentally just for me I have to treat this like it is the last one. But yeah, we've spent nights in New York just talking about where this could go and stuff."
Finally, the director discussed adding Dwayne Johnson to the cast and the authenticity that he brings to the franchise. "Well that is another reason I wanted to come back. I'm excited because it came from that conversation of, if I was going to come back what would it take? I think that the fact that Brian has now come on to this side, to introduce a new character is important. For someone like Dwayne Johnson to say he wants to be a part of this ... that validates the whole reason of why we would even go and make a new one. For someone of his stature to say, hey this is part five but I think there is life and lets go do this the right way, that to me is a big reason why I decided to comeback."
After that, Lin was called back to set and we had a few moments to speak with actor Paul Walker, who plays Brain O'Connor in the series. Walker first gained attention as an actor for his work in films like Pleasantville, Varsity Blues and The Skulls, but it was The Fast and the Furious that made him a household name. When actor Vin Diesel chose not to return for 2 Fast 2 Furious, Walker teamed with Tyrese Gibson and took the franchise to Miami. Eventually, Walker left the series and went on to appear in films like Into the Blue, Running Scared, Eight Below, and Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers, before returning for '2009s Fast & Furious. Now the actor is back again, and this time on the other side of the law in, Fast Five.
The actor began by talking about the new film and why he decided to return to the series. "The last go around, I thought that was going to be the last one. Now with this one, I don't even know if I can say this will be the last one. The way things are looking and coming together, we are having a good time. There was a period back a ways when I thought I'd never come back and revisit," admitted Walker. "But I'm a little older, a little wiser and it's been fun to be a part of something that spans ten years. We're having a good time. It feels more balanced now than ever before. The new energy has helped a lot by bringing in Dwayne. In terms of pressure and all that, everything s distributed across the board. Everyone has a bigger stake in it this time around. I think the majority of the story still falls on the Dominic Toretto character and his saga, but we are kind of arm and arm with him. As far as the weight of the whole thing, I think bringing in Dwayne and the surrounding characters, made it better. It freshened it up just enough. Otherwise it would have been stale."
Walker also discussed the difficulties of coming back for the last film and why things are different this time around. "The last one was tough. Vin and I hadn't worked together for a while and people were in different places. For whatever reason we felt a little more pressure and tension than we should have. Part of it may have been out of our own insecurities and wondering whether or not there was even an audience for it anymore," he said. "But it is still relatively fresh. It was only a year or so ago that the last one came out. That doubt now is erased and we've been more or less revalidated. This time has been easier and more fun. Along the way there have been some bumps," Walker continued. "The second one Vin didn't do it. The third one neither of us really did it other than that cameo. It kind of got away from us for a little while. I don't think we really knew what it was anymore or where it was going. The executives at the time had the idea that the real stars were the cars. Now everyone really knows what it is about and it's just lighter. We are throwing more money at it this time than any of the previous ones. It is The Fast and the Furious and hey, if you aren't going to show up and have fun you shouldn't be doing it. We can't take ourselves too seriously or it loses the essence of what it really stands for."
The actor also spoke quite candidly about the evolution of his relationship with his co-stars, Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster, and returning to the series with them. "When I was younger, the pressure was just being cool. You know, now that I'm a little older, it's like whatever. Jordana Brewster has her place in the story and we've always been really comfortable with one another. She's not typical. She's got a good energy and I get along with her very well," Walker said. "Vin and my relationship has improved a lot. It was always strong, but I think it was a little unnerving early on, when careers are coming up and you're trying to carve your niche," the actor confessed. "It's like who really got the credit for the franchise and this and that. To me it was never a battle. It was presented that way by the press, and the media and he was kind of the front-runner. He needed to make that known, he was hungry and this was something he always wanted. I was sort of ambivalent and reluctant to the whole thing. Now, here we are ten years later and we are here because the franchise wanted us here. That whole evolution and process takes time. We've been able to stick with it for ten years. At the end of the day, I am the guy from The Fast and the Furious. You talk to anybody and most people recognize me from that, of course I've done other things outside of that realm, but it's still fun for me doing things like this."
We also asked the actor about the relationship between Brian and Mia, and if they are still together when the new film begins? "This time around, we are a family. Even though we are on the run, we are together," Walker answered. "Yeah, we are attached at the hip. She's not letting me out of her sight and Brian's completely bananas over her. He's hanging on her and kissing her all the time." We followed up by asking if Dom has a problem with that? "Dom likes it. He knows that Brian would fall on swords for his sister in a heartbeat."
"I know what he stands for," Walker continued. "I know what he's all about. I bought into the same shit. I think early on in Brian's career, I think law just came natural for him. Somewhere along the road, he got this idea that everything was black and white. Then he meets Dom and now the lines are skewed. He is such a good guy that takes in these street kids. Then Brian begins to doubt and question what he is doing. But he gets suckered into it in the second one. In the last one, when the screenplay came around, to be honest with you, I was like, what the hell? There is no way Brian would be a fed. He's learned his lesson. He knows better. He's not supposed to be involved in law enforcement. I got in an argument with Justin early on because we had production in just a few months. Justin said, that's the beauty of it because he now knows he is living a lie. It made sense. But this time around, he finally is where he always should be. Even though he is running from the law, he actually is living lighter than ever before. He is being true to himself. Sure, he is running, but the people he is running with, Mia and Dom, they'd all just as soon go out in a blaze of glory than go to prison."
Finally, we asked Walker what it is like to have his 2 Fast 2 Furious co-stars, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris, return to the series? "To have Tyrese back, and then to bring back Ludacris and all these fixtures, you know I feel like this is kind of like the World Series coming back and doing the fifth one. We went through four games and made it through the finals, and it's because of all these people that we made it this far. It wouldn't be credible without all those people back. We even made a shot at Eva Mendes," revealed Walker. "In terms of story or schedule, maybe she didn't want to do it, but that was the initial thought."
Check back with us tomorrow for the second part of our five-part visit to the set, where we speak to actress Elsa Pataky and Dwayne Johnson, who both play federal agents chasing Dom and Brian in the new film. We also get a sneak peak at some exclusive footage from the upcoming film, featuring Johnson in action.