Fast and Furious: Making of Movie

A 1998 Vibe magazine article on street racing clubs set the wheels in motion for what would become one of the most beloved and profitable franchises in Universal Pictures’ history.  In 2001, we met champion underground street racer Dominic Toretto and his archnemesis, LAPD police officer Brian O’Conner.  Over the course of two hours in The Fast and the Furious, we watched two men on opposite sides of the law race stunning machines, brawl together and form an unlikely, begrudging friendship.    

Eight years after filmgoers first embraced the blistering stunts performed by and passion shared between Dom/Letty and Brian/Mia, producer Neal Moritz wanted to again deliver a film that takes the pulse of pop culture.  He knew it was the right moment to bring audiences the fourth installment of the popular series.  It was time to come home.

It was not, however, always a given that this chapter would be greenlit.  Explains Moritz: “We’ve had a great time and a very successful run with the first three.  But if we were really going to go to the next level, we had to bring back Vin and Paul.”  

To make that happen would take almost a decade of planning and endless coordination.  Says the producer: “We had a lot of conversations over a lot of years.  It took schedules meeting up and our coming up with a great story that actually would be worthy of the two of them coming back.  We were really lucky to pull it off.”

Reuniting the original foursome of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster began, simply enough, with Diesel’s wildly successful cameo in Tokyo Drift, directed by Justin Lin.  After seeing a rough cut of the film, Diesel agreed to appear in the final act of the third episode as Han’s (SUNG KANG) friend who arrives to challenge LUCAS BLACK’s character, Sean Boswell, to a race.

Over the course of several hours on set, the director and Diesel established an easy rapport.  Lin’s attention to minutiae, coupled with his ability to layer characterization amidst powerful action, appealed to the performer who has made a name for himself by developing characters in additional action hits such as xXx and the Pitch Black/Chronicles of Riddick series.

Based on the audience response to Diesel’s cameo, Moritz knew that fans were eager to revisit the Dom-Brian saga.  Of the partnership, the producer notes: “The combination of the two of them and seeing how they approach the same scene together is something we can’t invent.  That rapport and chemistry either happens on screen or it just doesn’t.”

Echoes producer Fottrell of the connection Diesel and Walker infused in the characters: “A brotherhood still exists between the two.  One is brought up on the bad side of the tracks, the other on the good side.  Brian is now blending into Dom’s world, and they have each other’s backs.  That blood ethic exists between the two of them so that they protect one another, no matter who’s right or who’s wrong.”

Recalls Diesel, who returns as both American muscle car junkie Dom Toretto and as a producer of the film: “I like to do sequels that feel like they are a continuation of the original story.  This Fast & Furious script met that criteria.”  

He also listened to fan feedback as they reacted to him back in his signature role.  Diesel says: “After doing the cameo in the third film, it became clear to me that people were almost saying, ‘Hey Vin, don’t be too precious on the story…get in there and do the movie.  We want to see it.’”  The added incentive of reuniting with old friends didn’t hurt.  Reveals Diesel: “It’s rewarding to make this movie with people who were a part of my introduction to Hollywood.”  

To bring the series full circle, the filmmakers looked to screenwriter Chris Morgan, who previously worked on 2006’s Tokyo Drift and, more recently, 2008’s box-office smash Wanted.  Like Moritz and Fottrell, Morgan was keen to reunite the brotherhood.  “I’m all about the cars and the culture and the action,” admits the writer, “but what set The Fast and the Furious apart from its limitations was the relationship between these two guys.  To be told that you can go back and play with all that is a dream come true.”

What followed was an intense development process in which Morgan was charged with creating the premise that would bring our four heroes together again.  As the screenwriter got to work, the filmmakers focused their energy on recruiting Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster to commit to a sequel.  It was evident that reassembling the cast was an imperative if the producers were to fully realize their story.  Diesel, Moritz and Fottrell’s commitment galvanized the others into action.

“I didn’t think I was going make another one,” recalls Walker, of reprising the role of undercover cop/foreign car-aficionado Brian O’Conner for a third time.  “And then Neal told me about the master plan.  I thought ‘Why not  I’ll have a good time doing it, and I’ll be hanging out with people I like spending time with.’”

Brian and Dom have different driving styles that mirror their personalities and perspectives on life.  Walker felt those distinctions underscored the real-life dynamic between Diesel and him.  “It’s a fun contrast,” he says.  “It’s East Coast meets West Coast.  He’s straight up New York, and I’m as California as it gets.  But for some reason, we get along really well.  It’s the same thing with Brian and Dom.”

Director Lin also s
parked to the idea of bringing back the core characters.  In 2001, he was a film student who enjoyed the ride along with the opening night audience.  As a filmmaker, this project gave him the opportunity to make a movie that respected the series he had helped to develop, and to introduce the franchise to a new generation.  

Of his participation, Lin explains: “It was a no-brainer.  Vin and Paul were coming back, and both Michelle and Jordana’s deals were about to close.  It’s exciting to have the opportunity to revisit the past, but at the same time explore and build upon a lot of elements with these characters.  There was a generation of kids that embraced The Fast and the Furious.  It’s exciting to up the ante on something like that.”

His approach to the material dovetailed well with Diesel’s and Walker’s ideas.  Because they’d lived with the characters for so long, they both had very specific ideas for the story, cars and action.  This shared vision of recapturing and elevating the character-driven action film made Lin the right choice to direct them.  

Lin agrees with Moritz and Fottrell about his leads’ on-screen connection: “With Paul and Vin, you get a sense of mutual respect, yet, at the same time, some competitiveness, and that’s always fun on screen.  It makes you want to go along for the ride and see where they go.”

The women of Fast & Furious are as strong-willed and skilled as their male counterparts.  From her first moment on screen, Michelle Rodriguez has made an indelible impression as the sexy gearhead Letty, a character Diesel refers to as his “first love on film.”  

Rodriguez looked forward to developing Dom and Letty’s relationship in the latest chapter.  “The stakes are higher,” she offers.  “Letty and Dom are on the run, breaking the law wherever they go.  There’s a slight Bonnie and Clyde feel to it.  The lingering question now is if Dom will risk his love for her in the name of this rush that they’re both addicted to.”

For Jordana Brewster, the chance to revisit familiar terrain with old friends was a welcome one.  Agreeing to return with her crew turned out to be even more of a homecoming when she learned Lin would be directing.  The actor had worked with the director on the drama Annapolis and looked forward to working with him again.

Despite losing both a brother and her lover, the heartbroken Mia has been able to persevere in L.A.  Brewster soon realized that reprising the role wasn’t as easy as she had anticipated.  She expected the character Morgan wrote to be riddled with bitterness when faced with the simultaneous return of Dom and Brian.  But her director envisioned Mia differently.  

“As an actress, you always lean towards the dramatic,” remarks Brewster.  “After losing so much, I wanted Mia to hold on to her anger.  But Justin intended to keep the women in the film strong and resilient, so Mia has moved on.  It’s a testament to his ability as a director, because he puts in as much care into these characters as he does with all the action.”