MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED ACTION FLICK
From the pages of VIBE to theaters around the globe, The Fast & The Furious franchise has become a cinematic juggernaut since its 2001 debut. Vin Diesel shares a personal history of the movie series that made him a superstar
On February 1, 2015, during Super Bowl XLIX, one of the most dramatic nights in sports, our attention was hijacked for a long 60 seconds. After Left Shark flourished and the Seattle Seahawks plummeted (the one-yard line!), there was that single minute during a commercial break that still stuck with you. When the intense, insane trailer for Furious 7 took over your idiot box, it probably evoked some colorful language one way or another.
Maybe the word “Acme” came to mind, for the way a bus hurls itself off a cliff like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon clip, and cars plunge from a freight plane like anvils with parachutes. Or perhaps “unreal,” for how Vin Diesel escapes gunfire by driving a luxury supercar from the upper level of one skyscraper into another, leaping from his red Lykan HyperSport onto the building floor one millisecond before his whip shatters a second glass wall and free falls towards the Earth below. Or how about “costly,” the trailer for the film—shot partially in Dubai—looking like every cent of the reported $250 million spent on production.
But spend a day speaking with the movie’s stars about the latest chapter in The Fast & The Furious franchise and one word resonates most: “sacred.” The emotions here today in Stage 37 at Universal Studio Hollywood are like a tight ball of rubber bands, packing in anticipation and pride and grief and excitement, each alternatively revealing itself. It’s as if the actors left a piece of themselves on the screen, the real-life death of series cornerstone Paul Walker shadowing the senseless stunts and military guns. (Walker, who plays Brian O’Connor in the series, died in a car accident on November 30, 2013, shortly before finishing production on Furious 7).
Tyrese probably captured the sentiment best, basically reciting Webster’s take on “bittersweet”: “I guess we’re trying to find a happy medium—you don’t want to come off too happy, too excited. Because we know what happened to our brother. But at the same time, you are excited because the overall movie, including Paul, is the best one.”
The leader of this big-screen brotherhood is Vin Diesel, who has watched the global blockbuster zip from zero to 100, at a speedy but totally controlled pace. Since 2001’s The Fast & The Furious, he’s been one of the backbones of the ever-unfolding story, playing on-screen speed demon Dominic Toretto while serving as producer on the latter four films.
Sporting a black muscle shirt (because duh the arms say so), the 47-year-old actor sat down with VIBE to retrace his history with The Fast & The Furious. He shares in his own words what first drew him to the story, how each movie has gotten more epic, and why Furious 7 will go down as one of the greatest films in history. —As told to John Kennedy
It’s really wild that you can trace The Fast & The Furious back to a VIBE article. Very cool. When I first got the call to meet with Rob Cohen, who was an executive at the time at Universal, they got this idea about “Racer X,” a film spotlighting that underground illegal street racing culture. I remember being at the Four Seasons having cranberry and club soda. Rob didn’t have a full script to give me, but he pitched me this one scene where a camera was going to somehow go through my eyes and into the gear shifting into the car; he was going to merge man with machine. That had never been done. And that’s when I signed on to do the movie, just from that conversation. And from that, the themes of what you know The Fast and The Furious saga to be now were born—most importantly, brotherhood.
“In the ’90s when you did sequels, studios would just slap the title on. They didn’t care about consistency or the films speaking to one another in a way that George Lucas’ or Francis Ford Coppola’s would.”
The first title was “Racer X.” Then it was gonna be called “Redline,” and then at the last minute, my producing partner Neal Moritz got this crazy idea to call it The Fast and the Furious. I remember being on set going, “What the fuck?”
I turned down the second one, 2 Fast 2 Furious. The third, Tokyo Drift, I turned down based on script. Because in the ’90s when you did sequels, studios would just slap the title on. They didn’t care about consistency or the films speaking to one another in a way that George Lucas’ or Francis Ford Coppola’s would.
After they shot Tokyo Drift, they said if I came in for four hours of work in just the last minute, they can open this picture. Everybody was on the fence about it because they were worried that they were gonna sell the movie with Dom Torretto and Dom Torretto wouldn’t be in the whole movie and they would have misled everybody. They said, “We’re not sure if we even want to do any more Fast and Furious movies. But if you do this, we’ll let you produce the saga.” And I’m a Dungeons & Dragons kid, so I’m into world building. When I wasn’t bouncing in your favorite New York City nightclub, I was playing Dungeons & Dragons. So I believed that we could follow these characters in a true saga-like way.
I remember going to this studio right before doing Fast and Furious, the fourth film in the series, and saying, “I have a long enough saga story that we could shoot three movies at the same time.” And then they called security. “Get him outta here!” They thought I was crazy. “You’re crazy! you’re lucky we’re even letting you do one more of these! Get outta here!” And now they want trilogies.
I made a promise to [Paul Walker] that I’d do everything to make [Furious 7] the best movie in history. And here we are with one of the most groundbreaking, important films of the millennium.
Every single time we’ve released a Fast, I’ve been kind of stubborn or bullheaded or ambitious about building [a cliffhanger] into the movie with a very clear tag. At the end of Fast & Furious, we end in the middle of a scene of these cars pulling up around a prison bus. Fast 5 ends with a photo of Letty. Furious 6: the introduction of Deckard Shaw. And this movie is so sacred and complete that we will let you just walk away in your own way. That’s the best way I can put it into words.
The person that used to challenge me the most was Paul Walker. Every time I’d come out of a movie premiere we’d leave everybody else and it’d just be him and I to the side. And he’d always tell me, “The best one is still in the can.” And when the tragedy happened, I made a promise to him that I would do everything to make this the best movie in history. And everybody that was part of the film did the same thing, because what more could you give him than a film that would be his legacy? And here we are today with one of the most groundbreaking, important films of the millennium: Furious 7. Brace yourself.
Photo Credit: Erik Ian for VIBE Magazine