Fate of the Furious: Interview with Director F. Gary Gray

Furious 7 was one of the fastest movies to reach $1 billion worldwide and the sixth-biggest global title in box-office history.

And now comes the newest chapter in the popular and enduring serials, The Fate of the Furious. 

Last December’s trailer debut of the film ranks as the biggest ever, with more than 139 million views in the 24 hours after its unveiling in Times Square.

The franchise has never been more popular or more global.  Although this group has experienced much on the road–shooting cars out of planes, through skyscrapers and down mountains, the core idea that drives them has never wavered: family.

Dom and Letty are married and Brian and Mia have retired from the game,  The rest of the crew has been exonerated, and the team has found 0a semblance of  normal life.

Things change when a mysterious woman (Charlize Theron) seduces Dom into the world of crime and a betrayal of those closest to him, resulting in trials that test them as never before.

From the shores of Cuba and the streets of New York City to the icy plains off the arctic Barents Sea, our elite force will crisscross the globe to stop an anarchist from unleashing chaos on the world’s stage…and to bring home the man who made them a family.

For The Fate of the Furious, the first chapter of Universal Pictures’ record-smashing homegrown franchise’s final trilogy, VIN DIESEL as the newly rogue Dominic Toretto is joined by a returning all-star cast…as well as a star-studded array of newcomers to this world.

The players include DWAYNE JOHNSON as Hobbs, the DSS agent who must now rally his people to reboot Dom and prevent global annihilation; MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ as Letty, the streetwise second-in-command whose most personal mission to date is to bring her husband back from the brink; TYRESE GIBSON as Roman, the fast-talking ladies man who’s never met a situation he can’t charm his way out of; CHRIS “LUDACRIS” BRIDGES as Tej, brilliant tech-tactician and automotive mechanic extraordinaire; JASON STATHAM as Deckard Shaw, a Black Ops assassin now sharing more in common with enemy Dom’s crew than he could have imagined from his super-max prison cell; KURT RUSSELL as Mr. Nobody, the square-jawed fed who operates quid pro quo and outside the law; NATHALIE EMMANUEL as Ramsey, a genius hacker whose invention is wanted by every government and terrorist cell on Earth; and ELSA PATAKY as Elena, a former Rio cop and current DSS agent who must make an impossible choice to save the ones she loves.

Theron is the enigmatic operative known only as Cipher, the world’s most notorious cyber-terrorist and current Dom romantic interest.

The series also includes SCOTT EASTWOOD as Eric Reisner, Mr. Nobody’s protégé, aka Little Nobody, and Oscar winner HELEN MIRREN as a woman as mysterious as any Dom has met in his global missions.

The Fate of the Furious is directed by F. GARY GRAY, the filmmaker behind such blockbusters as Straight Outta Compton—the No. 1 musical biopic in the history of cinema—The Italian Job, Be Cool and Friday, and produced by returning producers NEAL H. MORITZ, the godfather of the Fast & Furious series and force behind blockbusters from I Am Legend to the 21 Jump Street series, as well as longtime producer and second-unit director MICHAEL FOTTRELL (Furious 7, Fast Five) and Diesel.  Written by series architect and fellow producer CHRIS MORGAN (Fast & Furious series, Wanted), the action-thriller is based on characters created by GARY SCOTT THOMPSON (The Fast and the Furious).

Gray assembles a top-flight creative team that is led by frequent collaborators in the Fast & Furious family, as well as new creative artists who join the seasoned crew.  They include director of photography STEPHEN F. WINDON (Furious 7, Fast & Furious 6), production designer BILL BRZESKI (Furious 7, Iron Man 3), editors CHRISTIAN WAGNER (Furious 7, Fast Five) and PAUL RUBELL (Thor, Collateral), costume designer MARLENE STEWART (Oblivion, Tropic Thunder), picture car coordinator DENNIS MCCARTHY (Furious 7, Fast & Furious 6), second unit director SPIRO RAZATOS (Furious 7, Fast & Furious 6) and composer BRIAN TYLER (Furious 7, Fast & Furious).

Once again, AMANDA LEWIS (Fast & Furious series) and SAMANTHA VINCENT (Fast & Furious series) serve as executive producers.

Furious 7 was an emotionally charged culmination of the franchise built on speed.  The filmmakers and cast were looking to pay homage to the legacy of Paul Walker, who was the heart of the films, but also to the very best of what The Fast and the Furious sparked in film audiences more than 15 years ago–and continues to do with another generation of fans.

But with the end of an era came the inevitable questions of whether this was truly the finale of the beloved franchise.

Producers Neal H. Moritz and Vin Diesel, screenwriter Chris Morgan, Universal Pictures executives and the rest of the cast had to think long and hard about their next step together.  The Fast family was in mourning, and, at the time, few could come up with a worthwhile reason to pick up the pieces and resume the collective saga.  The outlaws of East Los Angeles’ street racing underground had risen to infamy on the international stage pulling off daring high-stakes heists.  While they had lost friends and gained enemies along the way…any new tale would ensure they would remain true to their roots.

The filmmakers felt they would need to do something completely different if the series were to continue.  Thus, they opted to throw a curveball into the mix.  Since the beginning, the series’ theme of family has been entrenched in every film, and that fundamental tenet would be put to the test.

Final Trilogy

“I only wanted to continue the saga if we were going to collectively make the best final trilogy for ourselves, for the legacy of our brother Paul, and for Universal, who’s been so supportive over the years,” says Diesel, who has served as a producer on the series since Fast & Furious.  “With Furious 7, our focus was to not only make the best film in the saga but to honor what it has represented for almost two decades.  The key to this next chapter is to challenge those core themes that have endured, and to do it in a way that is compelling but still entertaining.”

Screenwriter Chris Morgan, who returns for his sixth chapter with the franchise, this time joins Moritz, Diesel and Fottrell as producer.  For the series architect who charts and crafts the interwoven multi-film story points, this arc posed his biggest challenge.  Morgan delineated the team’s ideas for the final trilogy.

Breaking Rules

Recalls Morgan: “The Fate of the Furious is really about the after effects of a profound moment that threatens to shatter everything you believe in.  What happens when the central figure of your family, the one who preached the lesson of never turning your back on each other, breaks those rules?  What happens if he goes dark and his family has to take him on and stand against him?  It’s unique and, at times, a little scary.  It’s great drama for the franchise, and it gave us a reason to move forward in a compelling way.”

Morgan, Moritz and Diesel blocked out the story points, they knew they could blaze down a new road with an original, high-octane tale while still maintaining the outlaw spirit that fans gravitate to time after time.

Producer Moritz: “What always amazes me is how we’re able to develop and maintain that blurred line between good guy and bad guy over the course of this series.  We’ve allowed each of our characters, new and old alike, to grow in different directions.  We never go into a new chapter with any preconceived notions of what they should do, and let each movie organically grow each of these characters.  It has been satisfying to see how many different arenas we can enter and ways we can go with them.  That’s part of the fun for the audience: they love this cast of characters but are never sure exactly what’s going to happen with them.”

Moritz and Diesel always want to keep fans on their toes and to allow them to be entertained by the unexpected.  Finding a director with the ability to deliver on every level, while retaining the series’ singular voice, has always been a prerequisite.  Justin Lin set the groundwork for a memorable four-film run when he reinvigorated the franchise with Tokyo Drift, and James Wan did it with the record setting worldwide box-office juggernaut of Furious 7.

F. Gary Gray

Gray’s versatile filmography includes the biopic Straight Outta Compton, the thriller The Negotiator, actioner The Italian Job and cult comedy classic Friday, among many others.  One will see little similarities among these projects, and that’s the way Gray likes it.

The director has long gravitated toward material that challenges him.  When faced with the tempting offer of taking on one of Universal’s biggest franchises, Gray was intrigued.  He dug a little deeper looking for that one thing, that hook, to inspire and push his limits.  “Artists dig in more when they feel challenged, and this was a major challenge for me,” he reflects.  “I wanted to bring something different to the franchise, and it all starts with the story.  This is completely different; it’s nothing we’ve ever experienced in the Fast franchise.”

The Fate of the Furious would allow Gray the opportunity to take a massive tentpole film and bring his singular approach to storytelling, eliciting performances and crafting narrative to deliver an unexpected experience on every level.

He was primed to take the series in a fascinating new direction.  Not only did Gray come to the table with innovative ideas to ground the series, he also arrived on set sharing longstanding relationships with many of the Fast cast.  The filmmaker had directed Diesel in A Man Apart, Statham and Theron in The Italian Job, and Johnson in Be Cool.  Additionally, he knows Gibson and Bridges socially from entertainment industry functions, as well as his early days in the industry, when he directed music videos and TV commercials.

Diesel was very pleased to see the talented filmmaker join the Fast & Furious family.  “I knew from A Man Apart what Gary could pull out in terms of a darker character.  I knew he would be perfect,” he commends.  “Gary is a director who, first and foremost, focuses with exactitude on performance; that’s why we have Oscar®-winning actors in this film.  We knew he was going to pay that much-needed attention to the nuances of performance that this chapter would call for.” 

Gray knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish when he first met with the producers to discuss The Fate of the Furious’ signature tone and direction.  “Dom Toretto is always about family, and with this storyline it’s the absolute opposite of what you expect.  I wanted to be a part of delivering not only this different story, but delivering a performance that you’ve never seen from the entire cast.  Now we’re able to explore this different realm of emotions with Dom going up against his family.”