With ‘Fast X,’ Louis Leterrier Has A Plan

Fast X ends on a cliffhanger. Louis Leterrier, directing his first Fast movie (his previous movies include Now You See Me and The Incredible Hulk), very much wants you to know this as it upends basically how every other recent Fast movie ends. This isn’t like Tokyo Drift, where in the final moments we see the return of Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto, with the promise of more adventures to come. Fast X literally ends in the middle of a scene. There’s a very good chance the viewer won’t even see it coming. But this is all very much a part of the plan. And as Leterrier tells us, there is definitely a plan.

To emphasize this, the patented Fast family cookout happens at the beginning of the movie this time. Just after we watch some retconned scenes from Fast Five, Leterrier’s favorite installment. Dom and Brian (Paul Walker, using footage from Fast 5) are stealing the safe from the drug lord, Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). What we don’t see in Fast Five and see now is Reyes has a son, Dante (Jason Momoa, who is really going for it) and he’s held a grudge all these years or what Dom and his crew did to his father. Now Dante is out for revenge, setting a plan in motion to frame Dom and his Family for a bombing in Rome, turning the whole crew into international outlaws.

Directing Fast movies seems like a daunting task – the set pieces; the stunts; a large amount of famous people, all with their own egos – it’s no wonder most of the past times I’ve spoken to directors for these movies, they all sound like five years have been taken off their lives. Heck, Justin Lin, who had directed five previous movies in this franchise abruptly left Fast X (he is still a credited screenwriter), to be replaced, while filming had already started, by Leterrier. For his part, Leterrier was hestitent to even begin talks because he had almost directed Fast 8, then things fell apart and he didn’t want to go through that again. But he says his experience on Fast X was the best of his career. And he’s slated to wrap up the franchise by directed the 11th and final film.

Speaking of that 11th film, before this interview happened, I was, let’s say, reminded that Leterrier would not be discussing spoilers or rumors about the next installment multiple times.

I want to start off by talking about spoilers and rumors for the next installment.

[Laughs] Okay, good.

I think it’d be a wise business decision if you just told me how this whole thing ends, so I can just put that on the internet.

I know. I think it’s the best thing, right? You should do that.

After watching 10 of these movies now, I’ve come to the decision: Dom Toretto is a great driver.

Well, if you can drive down a dam, that’s it. That was, for me, the ultimate test. That should be in every driver’s test.

Multiple times he’s driven a car out of an airplane and survived. So once you can do that…

That’s easy.

That’s second nature now.

You know that. Yeah.

How does this work for you? Justin Lin leaves. Do you just hear the news? Or do they come to you?

There’s a phone call. I didn’t hear the news. I was finishing a movie and I was in the midst of it. And then my phone rang and it was Peter Cramer, the head of production at Universal. We were in touch, but he doesn’t call me often. And I texted him, “Oh, you must have butt-dialed me. Nice to hear from you.”

That would be funny if it was a butt-dial. It’s like, “You know what? As long as I have you on the line…”

Yeah, it might have been a butt-dial. He had explained to me the situation… Well, he tells me that Justin ended, he didn’t tell me the situation. And he said, “But anyway, we’re looking for a new director because we started shooting and we need you to come.” And it was not like handing me the keys to the kingdom. It was more like, “Are you available? Would you be interested? Can you read the script?” I said yes to all three.

I was into the idea of this Fast and Furious, reversed. Starting with the barbecue, going down, and finishing with a cliffhanger, and keep going. I had tons of questions for them. And we get on the call with the producers and I tell them what I thought and what I had in mind. And it went well and I went to another round of producers, then to the studio. Spoke to the cast and finished with Vin. And every time I was having one of those Zoom calls, everybody was in England, the meetings were getting better and better and better. So much so, that I was like, “I might get it.”

To tell you the truth, I have been very close. I’ve been… not burned. Not burned, but I’ve been very close to getting The Fast and the Furious once or twice in my life. And it didn’t happen.

So you’re thinking you’ve been down this road before. And I don’t want to go through this again and get my hopes up and then it doesn’t happen.

I’ve been down this road before. I mean, literally, there was one of the Fast and the Furious where I had the job, and then something happened and I didn’t have the job.

Which one was that?

It was Fast 8.

The one F. Gary Gray did, right?

Yeah. The one that Gary did. I thought my heart would be broken again, so I didn’t get attached.

But then you got two of them.

Yeah. Exactly. Well, I mean, not exactly. This one was supposed to be one movie. And then I got the job and then it scared me tremendously, because there was no prep and this movie was truly massive.

But in a weird way, isn’t that almost less pressure? Like, “Hey, you’re throwing me into the fire here. I haven’t had prep or anything.” If something goes wrong on a certain day, you’ve kind of got an actual excuse.

Yes, but there’s no movie that says, “Blah, blah blah. Oh, we didn’t have enough money. Oh, blah blah, blah.”

That’s true. Before the movie, it didn’t start out like, “Keep in mind folks…”

“Keep in mind, we don’t have this, but it’s good enough.” No one cares.

That’s a good point.

You know what I mean? So that’s very scary when you do this. I was like, okay. Well, it could end my career or I can do what I’ve always wanted to do and raise to the challenge, and actually get that and do it. I thought about it and, well, my wife pushed me. I mean, literally, I was dipping my toes in, and she pushed me into the deep end, and I was on the deep end.

I think that was good advice. I think you have to take the Fast and Furious movie offer.

Well, sure, you want to do The Fast and Furious movies, but you don’t want to do the worst one of the franchise. You know? You want to do the one that kills it all? The one that sort of says, “They were great, and then this Frenchie came.”

And on the other side of it too, every time I’ve interviewed a director of a Fast and Furious movie, they sound like they’ve lost five years off the end of their lives. To be fair, you don’t. But it seems like an exhausting experience.

It was the greatest. I’m not BS-ing you, this was the greatest experience of my life. I had the greatest time. Best crew, best cast, best studio. Everything was like, wow, I’m having the time of my life.

That’s great.

I loved it. I loved it. It was great. I think you can see it in the movie. There’s a sense of fun and excitement and everything, so I brought it forward. Immediately Vin and I clicked. The rest of the cast and I clicked. And we just got to work. And we just work, work, work, work, work.

I don’t mean that in a negative way, but you’re not joking around when you say it ends on a cliffhanger. Michelle Rodriguez even said, “You’re going to feel so cheated in a way, but then so gratified and excited about what’s to come.”

It really ends on a cliffhanger. But I would have not accepted, I think no one would’ve accepted this, had we not gone all the way to the end of the franchise. What we’ve got, as we were on set, is basically understanding where this franchise will end. And then, because we know that, we’re able to not only create this cliffhanger, but also seed all the elements that we’re going to need to fully arc out this whole franchise. And on what we hope is going to be a very satisfying ending. Sad, but satisfying. And then, we’re able to do all that stuff, because we knew where we were going. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s impossible. I never understand how movies can be greenlit without that. I’m like, okay, you’re heading towards a catastrophe.

Well, like Star Wars. People weren’t happy with the third one of that trilogy.

Yeah, exactly. And then they reinvented the wheel and everything. I mean, Star Wars is a different thing, but I feel like here you know where it ends. Plus, also taste-wise, I know what I love about the franchise and what I want to push forth. So I was very much about that, about characters, about bringing back the reality, bringing back the cars and the racing, and all that stuff. Yeah, I agree with Michelle. Don’t go to see this movie like any regular Fast and Furious movie. The emotion will not be the same.

You’ve mentioned that Fast Five is your favorite, is that correct?

Oh, yeah.

Why? Also, did you make Fast Five a big part of this movie? Or was that already in?

No. That was already there. That’s why, when I read this script, I was like, oh, my God! And it’s Fast Five, too! And I get to reshoot that?! Fast Five is amazing.

I agree. I love Fast Five.

Justin was able to take a franchise that was really good. It’s like four, five, six … really, that’s a trilogy within the thing. But I think really Five is like his The Empire Strikes Back. And he was able to expand it. it’s very interesting. It’s kind of like a contrazoom. He was able to expand the scope and, at the same time, zoom in on the characters.

That’s a very, very difficult thing to do for the number five of a franchise. Where you completely change it and you reinvent this. It’s sort of like reinventing the wheel, but, at the same time, it’s more satisfying than had you stayed on the same course. And you go back, and you zoom in on the characters, and they’re evolving, and they have new challenges – personal challenges, babies are being born, friends are dying. It’s not about them, it’s about a greater cause. It’s really interesting, frankly. And the filmmaking is exquisite. I mean it’s just, it’s incredible.

What was it like for you to put Paul Walker up on screen again? I got kind of a little emotional seeing him again. It was so cool to see him playing Brian again on the big screen, with obviously, to be clear, old footage.

He’s such an important presence and to bring him back was emotional and needed. And just because he’s still alive in the franchise, we wanted to celebrate Brian and celebrate who… I mean, there’s so much Paul Walker in our movie here. There are unspoken scenes, emotional scenes when they talk about – there’s a lot of reverence to Paul in this movie. Meadow Walker is in the movie, she plays the stewardess. There’s so much Paul. That was an emotional moment. I was never lucky to get to know Paul, but his presence is felt. Like the moment you enter the Fast universe, you feel his presence. Everything is about Paul Walker. Even yesterday, I was at the car shop where we built all our cars, and there was his Supra there. Like he was there. Paul, his presence, is felt and honored. I wanted to pay homage. That’s it.

Well, the way this ends, I’m very much looking forward to the next one. Have to find out what happens.

[Laughs] That was the plan.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.