With Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, Universal decided that the Fast and Furious franchise needed a change. Instead of the characters audience members had been introduced to in The Fast and the Furious or 2 Fast 2 Furious, the film would focus on a new set of characters in Japan. They tapped Justin Lin for the responsibility of resetting the films. Little did they know that eight years later Justin would be tying up strings that he laid out in the series’ third entry that redirected what the Fast and Furious films could be. Fast and Furious 6 is in theaters today and brings together elements from every film in the series. It’s The Avengers of gear head movies.
We caught up with Justin to talk about how he seeded plot points throughout the franchise, how he plans a fight sequence with his choreographer, and what he thinks looking back on 8 years of Fast and Furious films.
Nerdist: How do you approach a film that calls for the level of insanity that you crammed into Fast and Furious 6?
Justin Lin: For me, it has to come from the characters. A lot of people think we just go and create these action sequences, and it’s very hard for me to do that, because it feels very artificial. I think once I can kind of ground it and find a character reason in their arc of why they’re doing this, then I feel like I have the license to push it. The example, even in Fast 5, was this idea of Brian and Dom jumping off a cliff. I feel like once you are emotionally invested in these characters, you can heighten it, because at its core the audience is already there with these characters.
Nerdist: When you came onto the franchise, you weren’t given the keys to the original cast. You had to do some of your own world building. Now, the world you’ve created has been interwoven pretty seamlessly. It feels like Furious 6 is a big post-Avengers movie. What was that process like and how does it feel seeing it all come to fruition?
Justin: I would like to think Avengers took a little bit from Fast 5. To be serious, when I first came on this franchise, it was 8 years ago. One of the goals, I remember talking to the studio, was that there are some really interesting characters in these worlds, but they’re all loosely connected. I felt if we could put a little more care into them, change the sensibility of the franchise and if people embrace that, we can maybe build our own mythology. That’s something I feel like we’ve earned. These sequels aren’t just guaranteed, you have to earn them. Every time we’ve been able to have another opportunity, I felt like the studio has been a great partner. With success often times come very conservative tendencies. People have a habit of saying, “Well, if you were successful with that last one, why not just do it again?”
I have a studio that was very open to just letting me push it and take it to different genres. At its core it wasn’t about the genres, it was about trying to build a mythology and explore more of these relationships and, at the same time, acknowledge the fact that these characters have matured and they’re not the same characters. By doing that, I think it creates bigger obstaclesm and naturally we’re able to grow into other genres. For me to be sitting here eight years later talking to you, it means a lot, because I think when I was saying all that stuff when I joined, everyone thought I was nuts. And then to be able to earn this; to have the full cast be back, to be able to wrap it up for my chapter, it meant I got to do everything that I set out to do. Kind of emotional, but at the same time fulfilling.
Nerdist: In this film the antagonists seemed to finally be on the same level as Dom and company. Luke Evans’s Shaw in particular comes off as capable and pragmatic, not some evil entity. A Nega-Dom, if you will.
Justin: (Laughs) That was one of the things I got excited about. I felt like the opportunity to do part 6 meant we were going to wrap things up. One of the most exciting things was that for the first time I was able to have an antagonist that has a valid philosophy. He’s going to be able to stand right across from Dom and really challenge his philosophy of family and loyalty, everything that’s iconic now about Dom. The fact that loyalty is not an element [for Shaw], it’s not a science, that was something that got me very excited. I’m glad you said that, because I did want to create a character that makes a very valid point. I felt like it was time to have that in our franchise.
Nerdist: We spoke with Gina Carano about working with Olivier Schneider for her fight scene choreography. What’s the process like between you?
Justin: Olivier is amazing. I have a great relationship with him. With the limited amount of real estate I had and the sheer amount of characters I had to care for, I could not miss a moment. An example of this was in Fast 5, I literally had to close down the set and send everyone home so it was literally just me and Vin talking about why he had to throw this one elbow. The motivation behind it. 5 hours of discussion on why that elbow needs to be thrown. That’s a perfect illustration of how detailed these things have to be.
Another example: I feel like when I wanted to explore the idea of self discovery and trust for Letty, I needed someone who could be physical, someone who could test her in that visceral level, and Gina was the perfect candidate. She was so confident and nice. I think part of it is she knows she can kick your ass whenever she wants to. So, sitting there with Olivier, we go over these moves over and over again, because I treat that chase and fight like a three act movie in itself. That’s a pivotal moment for Letty, because if she can’t remember anything and she finds something that she’s familiar with, what is that? It’s basically being a survivor. So Olivier would come in with iterations of the fight and I would keep talking in more motivational terms. Whether it’s an elbow, a kick, or this or that, that’s part of the fun. If you design a fight and everything is just cool, it feels superficial. At its core, we knew it was about self discovery, and that made the process much more interesting, for not only me, but also Olivier, Michelle, and Gina.
Nerdist: When we were talking with Jordana Brewster, she mentioned the amount of trust the cast gives you after doing so many films together. What was it like getting all of these actors on board with coming back, and how do you feel now that it’s ending?
Justin: It’s tough, and I say that in probably the most positive way. If you look at Jordana, Paul, Vin, Michelle, everybody, these characters are going to be forever linked to who they are. It’s changed careers, it’s transformed them into stars. So, I understood when I came on that if I had an opportunity to work with them, it was going to be something they value, and I want them to value these characters. For me to have to a strong a point of view and for them to trust me, I think that is what a filmmaker is. I think, especially, coming into a franchise while it’s in progress and trying to change it, trying to change its sensibility – I expected that to be the biggest challenge. At the same time, I think it’s the greatest asset.
There are a couple of pivotal moments for me to get the franchise where it is today, and one of them was in Tokyo Drift. I wanted to convince Vin to come back and do the Dom cameo. Everyone said, “It’s impossible. I heard rumors about the break up and it was not pretty.” This and that. I said, “I don’t care, just get me a meeting.” I was able to get in there, show him the footage and tell him what I was trying to do. So when he finally said, “Yes, I will do it,” I knew that we were on the right course, and with that I knew we had a chance to do something special. Nothing is easy in what we do, and I like to think we earn everything that we get. Having this trust we’ve built, it means a lot. We’ve grown up together, some of us have had kids and they’re growing up together. It’s very rare in this business to have this kind of relationship for this long. I like to think of it as a family. I remember all the good times, but it’s never been easy.