“Fast X” is the No. 1 movie in the world. While it’s the 10th installment in the wildly popular “Fast and Furious” franchise, the movie’s success was not a sure thing — especially since original director Justin Lin, a series mainstay, left the project shortly into production.
As a fix, Universal turned to Louis Leterrier, the French filmmaker behind “Now You See Me,” “The Incredible Hulk” and Netflix series “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.”
TheWrap spoke to Leterrier about jumping aboard the new movie, wrangling his massive cast (which includes Vin Diesel, Jason Momoa, Brie Larson, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, John Cena and Jason Statham, among others) and what he’s got planned for the next film (Universal was so happy with his performance, he’ll be back for the 11th chapter). Start your engines!
What was it like boarding this runaway train?
I felt all the feels. I was, like, “Oh my God, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.” Also the most terrified. It was daunting but exciting at the same time. And then it’s not like I was going into a non-terrain. There’s nine movies, plus a spin off, plus a short film. There’s all these movies that I’ve admired and loved for 20 years. I’ve watched and analyzed them all. I could speak the language. So I just walked in. It was actually pretty easy to fit in.
What gave you the confidence that you could do it?
Frankly, in the beginning I got excited. I said, “Yes, I’ll read it.” I read it, got excited, took a couple of meetings with the producers to talk about notes and ideas and stuff like that. And then I got cold feet a little bit. And my wife was like, “You have to do it.” She had full exhausted voice when she said, “You have to do it.”
That’s been my dream forever, to do a “Fast and Furious” movie. And then the deciding factor was my Zoom with Vin. Before I even was hired, I had to speak with Vin and see if the two of us could get along. And it was amazing. I instantly loved the guy. We were finishing each other’s sentences. He saw where I came from, how much I loved the franchise, and gave him some ideas. He saw what I could bring to it. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Obviously it’s Vin, he’s a very important part of the iceberg. And there’s a few actors that I’m met here and there, but not as these characters in this franchise that had been lasting for 20 years. They had to trust me. But yeah, I accepted the challenge.
What was it that you wanted to bring to the movie?
I think I’ve got a sensibility. I’ve got my own sense of humor, tone. I like to play with tone and then go from a lighter tone to a darker tone and go back and forth between these tones and bring the scope. Ultimately, I wanted to go back to the source. Not completely back to the streets of L.A. — no visual effects, almost indie filmmaking. But I wanted to bring it back to racing, zoom in on the characters. I was interested in that. These are the questions I was asking myself. I was like: Oh, let me answer these questions for me. And then hopefully the fans will follow.
Talk to me about crafting Jason Momoa’s performance.
Every character I molded based on being more representative to who they really are in real life than a character. I was like, “OK, it’s the characters, and you know those characters so well, but what can I bring?” Well, I can bring Michelle back more into Letty. I can bring Vin more into Dom. I can bring John Cena more into Jakob. Really, I love “F9,” but I didn’t really recognize John Cena in his performance in “F9.” Now he’s back on the right side of the law, can we enhance his performance to make him feel more like John?
Same thing with Jason. I mean, frankly, Jason, that’s who that guy is. I mean, slightly less mean and perverted — just slightly. He’s amazing. He’s a party. I loved him the moment I met him. And you know what? I was directing him on the phone before I met him physically. I arrived and he was in Rome shooting the stuff on the motorcycle. And I was like, “Oh, that’s amazing. Can you say that?” Because I had monitors and then, “For tomorrow, can you learn ‘O Sole Mio,’ and then sing it like you’re Pavarotti?” He’s like, ”Are you insane?” I was like, “Yeah, but you are, too. OK, come on. I love you, man.” And then that was the beginning. We instantly loved each other. We had a distant relationship before. We had a long-distance relationship before we had a physical encounter.
This cast is huge. How did you wrangle everybody?
We had Momoa for two thirds of the shoot. But Charlize, I had her for just two weeks. Brie Larson same thing. They all had stopped. It was the beginning of the summer, everyone was going off to do a movie. Especially in the beginning, which was hard for me because I literally just arrived on set and I was like, “Hi Charlize. My name is Louis Leterrier. Oh, nice to meet you. And acting!” I mean, literally it’s this. There’s no conversation about character and everything. And then you do one take, two takes. We give each other notes and it works really well. Then it clicks and you adjust yourself. But yeah, it was all happening.
Universal is really happy with the movie and you’re coming back for the next installment. Are you looking forward to actually having time to prep it?
Yeah. Well, I’ve only done two thirds of a “Fast and Furious” movie. I’ve only shot and posted a “Fast and Furious” movie, so I’m excited to prep. Very early on, there was a feeling of comfort between the cast and I and the studio. Although it was not a done deal, we started thinking about the next one very early on, because we need to plant the seeds. We didn’t want to make this one just another episode. We wanted to make it part of a bigger thing. We had to know where we were going to go. So very early on, we started, not knowing I was going to direct it, but I was like, “Even if I’m not directing, I think we need to focus on the next one.”
It’s a showrunning thing that I do. I was like, “Let’s look at the end and then walk back to the beginning.” Because in showrunning, in TV shows, you end up writing the season finale. And then you’re like, “Let’s rewrite the pilot.” That’s what we did. I’m super excited. I’ve got my summer plans. I’m going to do this work. It’s going to be fun.
“Fast X” is out now.