Good grief, it sounds hard to make a Fast and Furious movie. When you talk to F. Gary Gray – a man who comes off as eternally optimistic – it’s hard not to notice an almost underbelly of relief in his voice that this movie is done. Despite the fun we see onscreen, directing one of these just sounds like an incredibly stressful job. And maybe that’s why after Justin Lin’s now, in retrospect, almost Herculean effort to make four of these movies in a row, the last three movies of this franchise have been made by three different directors (Lin, James Wan, and now Gray). When I suggested someday all the ex-Fast directors will all have a retreat someday to share war stories, F. Gary Gray laughed maybe a bit too loud. Then he offered to organize that retreat.
We last saw Gray receiving accolades for 2015’s Straight Outta Compton, but in-between that movie and his debut with 1995’s Friday, Gray has worked on a lot of action movies. To the point that The Fate of the Furious seems like a culmination of all the action set pieces that had come before. That memorable MINI Cooper scene in The Italian Job (and don’t forget, that scene was a big deal when that movie came out), well, Gray thinks back on that and laughs in retrospect compared to what he had to pull off in The Fate of the Furious.
Ahead, Gray discuses the ins and outs of making what is sure to be another blockbuster in this series. Yes, Dom (Vin Diesel) has turned against his team, which creates a whole new dynamic. And added to this is the fact this is the first Fast movie without Paul Walker since his untimely death. (Walker also did not appear in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.) And Gray explains how The Fate of the Furious acts as a fresh start for the franchise, while also keeping Walker’s memory alive.
There are maybe ten things in this movie I’ve never seen before.
Isn’t that a good thing? That’s a good thing, right?
Dom races a heat-seeking missile. I have never seen that before.
And you probably never will again! [Laughs.] Dom racing a heat-seeking missile! Oh, well, I’m trying to wonder if I’m giving away too much? I’ll just say this. You will see quite a few things that you’ve never seen before, and you probably never will. And that’s part of it as a filmmaker, you want people to be engaged and on the edge of their seats, and how you do that is by just showing stuff you’ve never seen before, for sure.
You’re new to the Fast and Furious franchise, but while I was watching I realized you’ve worked with a lot of people in this movie before.
Yeah, you know, I think there’s kind of a benefit to having worked with Vin on A Man Apart, and of course Charlize and Jason on The Italian Job, and Dwayne on Be Cool. You develop a little bit of a shorthand; you know what they’re capable of. Of course. I’m the new guy on the block to the franchise, but we’ve all experienced creating together, so you can just jump right in. There’s not this kind of “getting to know you” honeymoon period, there’s just: All right, we’ve done it before, how can we take it to the next level? And that’s what this movie represents for us.
Is Fate of the Furious the epitome of your action movies? Basically, everything you learned before and the kitchen sink went into this one?
I think you could be right. I think that all of that stuff was the boot camp for Fate of the Furious. It was my training grounds. And, you know, The Italian Job was fun – had a lot of cute little MINI Coopers running around! But now I’m taking it to the next level. What’s going on with submarines and tanks and things like that? It was a lot of fun and we wanted to take the audience on a ride. We wanted to take them out of the country and into a few different countries with a phenomenal cast. So yeah, I think you’re right, it does feel like all roads led to The Fate of the Furious. The only thing that’s missing is Dr. Dre.
These movies have really hit their stride later in the franchise and that usually doesn’t happen.
And I’ll take that as a compliment. Justin [Lin] did a great job. James [Wan] did a great job. And I’m hoping people feel like now I’m seeing something fresh – it doesn’t feel like old news to me.
It did not.
We were able to kind of push the boundaries, obviously, in a lot of ways with the action. And even with the performances and with the fact that Dom went rogue, something you would never expect. So I’m hoping that the audience feels really satisfied that they’re not just watching “number eight.”
With these movies, there is that feeling of, “Well, how do they top that next time?”
That’s what’s on your mind going into it: How can I deliver on a promise? Which is, “You’re going to be satisfied if you watch this next one.” And my writer, Chris Morgan, did a great job. The team did a great job. The actors did a great job. And it certainly was a challenge, but I hope the global fan base mobilizes and checks it out and feels the same way.
So you’re the third director of a Fast and the Furious movie I’ve interviewed. I get the sense maybe 20 years from now there’s going to be some sort of retreat where you all get together and just share war stories.
That is hilarious. The Fast and Furious directors’ old folks home. You never know! It does feel as though this is a new start for the franchise and that it can keep going. So I may be one of a few more people who will join this rarefied club of directors and we can share stories across the board. And if it doesn’t happen, I think I’ll make it happen since you mentioned it.
And I hope you release the transcripts.
[Laughing.] That’s funny. That’s funny. You never know.
You mentioned a new start, obviously the memory of Paul Walker is still very much a part of these movies. You found a nice way to incorporate him. How important was that?
Well, the key was just being respectful to Paul’s legacy. There wasn’t any major decision that was made with the development of the script – the filming, the post-production – without him in mind. Vin is spiritually connected to this franchise in ways I’ve never seen an actor-producer attach to a movie and the filming process. And Paul was his brother. So when we would have these conversations about the direction we would go in, we always had him in mind and his legacy in mind in making these decisions, for sure.
I know these movies are hard to make. Would you do another? I remember asking James Wan that question and he seemed very non-committal and as we know that didn’t happen.
I mean, I’m not really sure what’s next for me. Because I’m still in the whirlwind that is The Fate of the Furious. I’m honored to be a part of the Fast family. You just never know. You never know.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.