Last year Universal took a group of journalists out to the wilds of Stevenson Ranch, an area about 45 minutes outside of Los Angeles. The town was so small it only had two burger joints, which the Los Angelenos found disorienting. ‘Where’s the Fatburger?’ some folks whimpered.
But there was a good reason to be way out there, less than an hour away from our natural habitat of power lunches at the Ivy. See, that was where Justin Lin was shooting Fast & Furious, the fourth film in The Fast and the Furious saga. This edition is a big deal for fans of the franchise, as it reunites Paul Walker and Vin Diesel for the first time since the initial outing. And what’s crazy is that this time Vin plays the Fast while Walker is the Furious. Very much Smokey is the Bandit territory here.
Just kidding! I’ve never seen a movie in the series, and I’m not a car guy. I don’t even have a license! So my trip to Stevenson Ranch was very anthropological in nature. I was there to see what it was all about. In fact I was…
Oh, who am I kidding? I was there to interview Paul Walker. There are some of you who may not be hip to this, but Paul Walker is great. Just wonderful. He’s smart, funny, cool and is so aware of who he is in Hollywood and what his career is that you can’t help but like him. And I also enjoy a number of his films – Eight Below and Running Scared are absolutely fucking great, if you ask me.
But as to what a cool, self-aware guy Walker is, don’t take my word on it. Here’s that interview I was telling you about, conducted in the mess tent at the set of Fast & Furious while we waited for Justin Lin to set up the scene we were about to watch in action.
How does it feel to have the original team back?
It’s good. It’s fun. It’s good seeing Jordana [Brewster] again. I liked working with her the first time. She’s married now. It’s crazy ‘cos we were all little kids. I don’t even know how old she was then, yeah, she’s married. Vin’s the same. I love Michelle [Rodriguez]. We always had fun together. Unfortunately I don’t really do anything with her. I’ve seen her around like twice, but yeah she’s fun. She’s so unpredictable that girl. You never know what the hell she’s going to say. She’s gotten into a bit of trouble. I think she’s misunderstood. The girl’s got the biggest heart, man. She’s such a sweetheart. She puts on this front of being like this big tough girl, but she has to kind of cover up what she’s got going. She’s just a real sweet girl. I’ve seen her do press, too. You guys don’t even…that’s the fun part about it…you guys will never see the person I see, you know having worked with her as much as I had.
Well, now we’re going to ask her.
Yeah, she’s a sweetheart though. She’s an angel.
So are you guys going to get together for every 4th installment of this?
Yeah, shit. I hope it’s done. I wanted to go out this time. I thought we were done the 2nd one and the 3rd one kind of came around and this time it was Vin calling up going, “Hey let’s make one more”. I think Vin wants to make a 5th, but yeah, I just keep coming back for one more.
Are you angling for your death scene in this?
I actually told Justin at one point that I wanted to die.
“Run me over with my own car.”
He says it’s not going to happen.
Is this one of these things though that you’re contractually obligated or do you come back for the fun and for the hanging out?
No, I came back for the fun and hanging out, getting paid, doing it again, you know? And the truth of the matter is I opted to take some time off. I spent too much time out of the studio game. You need to sustain those hits in order to maintain to where you can go do those smaller movies. I do have some marquee value, you know, I do have some overseas value but you sit off it too long and it’s not there, you know? In Running Scared like yeah, it made a ton on rental and DVD sales but it didn’t do anything in the box office for me. And unfortunately you…I mean I loved that movie.
It’s fucking awesome.
Yeah, that’s probably the one I’m most proud of but unless you have Fast and the Furious behind you or something like it, there’s no way you’re going to get the opportunity to do it. But Wayne and I are going to do another one together this fall and then we’re going to do another one first quarter of next year.
So you and Wayne are like…
We’re going to go back-to-back.
…the new Scorsese and DeNiro?
Oh I don’t know, but I’m excited to go back to work with him. I did one this last spring with John Glenn. I don’t know if you guys know who John Glenn is—writer as well. Really, really cool and it’s called The Heaven Project and it’s unfortunate because I don’t know that it came together all that well. I haven’t really heard about it. It was last spring actually. That’s the tough part. You have the freedom when you go into making one of these smaller movies, but when you don’t have the support group behind it—let’s say you’re a few bucks short or you’re a few days short—it’s like take it or leave it. We gave you want we gave you and if you can’t make a good movie out of it, you can’t make a good movie out of it. It’s a bummer deal.
Is there a certain ease of doing a Fast and the Furious studio movie?
It’s funny because all the opinions sometimes they drive you crazy, right? When you’re in the middle of it you’re like, “oh my gosh.” Everyone’s got the 2 cents to throw in and you’ve got to make everyone happy—the studio executives to producers and actors and the whole bit.
Yeah, publicists. She’s a pain in my ass. No, no, she’s a sweetheart. But, you know, there’s something to be said about that too. As annoying as it is, it’s a lot less likely that something’s going to fall through the cracks. A much better chance at the end of it you’re going to have something that’s going to assemble—it’s going to go together the way that it read or damn close to it.
As an actor though it’s nice to do a movie that you know people are going to see—like it’s going to have a big….a lot of people are going to tune into it. For you, is that also something that you’re coming back to Fast and the Furious?
But I don’t know that. I mean, the studio seems to think so, right? Neil [Moritz] seems to think so, otherwise we wouldn’t be making this right now. The 3rd one made more internationally than the 1st or the 2nd one did. I mean, do we ever really know an audience is still there? I mean, maybe when this thing comes out people are going, “ha ha Fast and the Furious 4, are you kidding me?” No one knows. I’m sure they’re doing their focus groups and they’ve got their street teams and they’re out knocking on doors and asking people, “hey do you want to see this? Do you want to see that?” But there never is a guarantee.
But people love cars. That passion’s never going to go away, so you’ll always have an audience.
Yeah, true. But what happened with Red Line?
Well, you also have to make a decent movie while you’re at it.
I’d like to think you have name recognition of “Fast and the Furious” what’s your take on…right now you have a temporary title of “Fast and Furious”…
I heard it’s Fast Furious.
It is? Like Fast/Furious?
Yeah, it’s my face and fast and then it’s Vin and he’s furious. That’s it.
I like that.
That’s what I heard [laughs].
So what kind of toys are you playing with in this one? I know you probably have new cars and all that stuff. What’s your most enjoyable toy that you’re playing with?
I don’t know. I love the R-34, the Nissan Skyline that I drove in the beginning of the 2nd one. Brian crashes it in like the first race. Remember the cops shoot the thing at him and it wipes his car out…boom. That’s like in the first like 2 acts of this and then it’s the new Subaru SCI, you know the product placement and you get the whole push.
I’m surprised they didn’t bump you up to the new GTR.
Yeah, well they talked with Nissan North America and it’s just a different clientele. That’s an $80,000 car. And so maybe it’s too youthful for Fast and the Furious thing. It’s all marketing on their end. And then also the other concern was when they were talking with Nissan North America about using that in this movie, it hadn’t been unveiled here yet in North America and so they were afraid that if too much was released, it would have leaked. But it was already all over Japan so I don’t understand that. If you want to see it, you go into the forums, right? You guys know that stuff. I mean it was already for sale in Japan, it shouldn’t have mattered but they have their reasons.
Where is Brian at the beginning of this one? How much time has it been since…?
It’s been real time, so what do we do that in—it’s 4 years or so? Yeah, and so as opposed to being a cop, he’s now a fed. He’s a federal agent and yeah, he’s just doing what he knows best. Just putting one foot in front of the other. He doesn’t have any real direction. He just thinks he’s good at being a cop and I think he has that moral fiber or whatever. He really wants to bust bad guys, you know? It’s just like that’s what makes him feel good about himself. He doesn’t really know. He’s just kind of going in the direction that he’s always been in.
What’s this I hear about underground tunnels in Mexico? Have you shot any of that stuff yet?
No, no. But they’re digging right now.
So what’s it like working with Vin again on this? What kind of shit do you guys do like when you’re not filming?
Not a whole lot. He does his thing and I do my thing. We show up, “hey what’s up”. We get along. It’s easy with us. His position is different this time. You know, he’s got a producing credit and he’s got more juice than he did on the first one. He’s also a director so he’s got a lot of opinions and that’s another opinion in the pile, you know when I talk about all the people kind of coming in different directions. You know he comes up with good ideas. Sometimes I’m just like, ah I don’t want to hear it and then just as quickly as I’m tuning him out I’m like actually that’s a great idea. But that’s all it is—it’s just opinions. He has some sharp suggestions though. He just came up with one tonight that’s really good and so…
What was his big idea tonight?
It was just the way the cars were lining up. It was just real simple. Once he said it, it was like oh yeah, of course that was obvious, you know? There’s a chain-reaction of events that happens and he’s just like “you know it actually makes more sense maybe if this is over here” and Justin thought about it and he’s like, “yeah, you’re right.”
So how quickly did this project come together from when you were offered it to when you were shooting and stuff like that?
Well, this came during the strike really. Vin was going to do it. It was just going to be just the Dominic Toretto story and then he wanted me to be in it as well and so they took what they had and I guess the re-wrote it and it was the right timing, I guess, for the studio. They wanted to make it right now, you know? Nothing else is really going on and writers are on strike. They already had the screenplay so they made the adjustments they needed to and we just kind of rocked into it and we’ve been fixing it as we’ve been going?
Did Vin knock on your personally and ask you to be in this?
What can audiences expect that’ll be different from the first two films that you were in? What’s going to be different about this one?
I just look at this one as it’s really the first true sequel. Vin and I in the first one and it’s kind of like okay, they’re back together again finally. The fans that I run into on the street are like…for years it was like “oh when are you going to make another Fast and the Furious and then it was “why wasn’t Vin in the 2nd one?” and now I know it’s going to be “where’s Tyrese? Why wasn’t Tyrese in this one?” But when I tell them yeah, Vin and I are back and are making another one, people are pretty excited about it—the ones that care anyway.
Do they address Tyrese in the script at all or do they…
Oh we’ve been talking about it—Justin and I. Justin’s like “is it shameless? I mean, should be bring Tyrese in?” and Justin and I both are on the same page. I think he should. Why not? I mean, we’re making a 4th one for crying out loud, you know what I mean? Let’s bring in Tyrese, too. We’ve got Letty. We’ve got Mia. We’ve got Brian, we’ve got Dom, yeah Michelle. Let’s bring in Roman Pierce, may as well. Wouldn’t hurt.
So you guys are re-writing this as you go along?
So you could do that?
We could do it. I mean, there is a sequence at the end, you know, and it would just fit. It would work. It wouldn’t be too hard. But then it’s really just kind of a cameo at the end of it. Which, it’s fun because Tyrese was bit…wow….his big heroic moment. It could be fun.
Is the film winking at all at the audience or are you guys playing it like real serious?
No. I’m playing it pretty straight—as straight as I can. I don’t know, I can’t say too much. I’ll get in trouble, but….
Don’t worry; we’ll cut it out. We’re under embargo anyway.
No, we’re making a good day out of it and I really like Justin a lot. He’s got the right attitude for it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and then I guess then in that case it is winking at it a little bit.
So we’re going to watch you shoot a little later. What are we going to see?
We’ve all basically just made this run across the open desert through the tunnels and all that stuff and we arrive at the drop off point and Dom and Brian don’t really know what to expect. They get there and it’s pretty bad. These guys are going to off each and every guy they got the job to run this stuff across the desert. And Dom basically pulls a maneuver that saves everybody.
You’ve been rehearsing the action scene?
No, we just went up there and blocked it out. This is a painful sequence. There’s so many people involved. Big explosions. The whole bit. It’s going to be drawn out. We’re doing this for the next 4 nights.
So how long is the shooting schedule all together and where are you at right now?
We’re getting close to day 50. We’re over the hump so I think there’s only 70-something days in the schedule.
So is it challenging at all to do…do you like doing all the driving stuff yourself?
I don’t get to do any of it anymore.
Insurance reasons or…?
Yeah, insurance reasons and the 2nd unit is bigger than ever. We’re limited by our days and yeah, the 1st one they let me do a lot of driving but I’m sure the insurance policy wasn’t that much then either, which is kind of a disappointment but I knew it going into it. The 2nd one I didn’t get to do half of what I did in the 1st one. The 1st one I got to do most of the driving through like the intersections. I actually got to get the car sideways a couple of times and the 2nd one all I got to do was one pretty static shot where I just come racing up to the camera and I just put it into a slide and just (makes a driving sound) and dimed it right at the steady cam operator. That was my only real shot I got to play in.
Are you getting to fire a gun or throw punches at least?
Yeah, Vin and I get into it at one point but Brian accepts the beating because he does something wrong and Dom’s all pissed off. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Do you find like a lot of people–you’re known with Fast and the Furious–and a lot of people are really strong car people, so do you have people coming up to you all the time trying to show you what’s under the hood? Trying to show you their cars?
Yeah, all the time. Well, just because I’m a car freak, right? And I’m on the boards and everything. E-46 fanatics and you name it. I’m always checking stuff out and I have a tuning shop in Orange County, you know, Autobahn Exotics and we make exhaust systems and we’re the only distributor for Nova Tech body kits which is like the best Ferrari body kit. So guys that are really in the car world know that I’m into cars. They come by the shop and they see like my mini collection.
What do you like driving?
I love Porsches. I like everything. I like Euros, Japanese. I’ve got a pretty good balance of everything, but my track car right now I have a GT-3. A 996-GT3, the older generation. I had one and sold it, got the 997-GT3. I like the 996 more so, I went back and got another one and I saved a few bucks so that was good.
So by being an actor and being in these films and do you get hooked up by some of the car companies?
No. And people are always telling me like “why don’t you push that angle?” I’m just too lazy.
I’d be playing that up, man.
I’m just too lazy and nothing’s free anyways. You know how that is, right? It’s like okay, we’ll give you seats now and racing harnesses but come do a photo shoot for us later, you know? I’ll just pay for it. I get everything wholesale anyways.
With how into cars you are do you bring any of your expertise to the film in suggesting anything for the cars?
Yeah, I’m the headache. I think Dennis likes it, you know the picture car coordinator. We get along pretty well. Justin calls me asking me on just about everything. I’ve got a couple of my cars in the movie and I called BS on a couple of things and made them change it on the fly, but just because that’s the realm I’m in. I deal with it. Things that aren’t accurate, I’ve got guys going, “that was so bad”. I mean, I’ve got more pressure now than before.
There seems to be a lot of the old school muscle cars in this one – more than the exotics. You have a preference over what you’d like to see in the films or does it matter?
No, no. I told them from the get-go—from the onset—I said, “hey look we’ve got domestics and we’ve got American cars, we need Euros.” We missed it almost every time. So we’ve got Porsches. I wanted a B-5 S4 Audi. We got that in there. We got an M3—an E36 MC supercharged. We got a pretty good spread of Euros. We got a new….
That is true. Just looking back at the last 3, I don’t remember there being any.
We have the Caamen S with the full tech art body kit. It’s actually Tech Art’s car—that’s featured. We’ve got a lot of European cars in this one.
Yeah, we needed that.
So with your interest in accuracy that means you’re sort of more into making the stunts and the action more realistic?
Yeah, as they referred to it in the ones prior, it’s more like a hyper-real. We had a lot of that in the 1st and the 2nd one, you know, the big jump across the bridge. The car going into the boat. And Justin is more into the realism than I think other people may have been. So it’s still always a compromise, you know. The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line and that’s what I argue all the time because everyone’s into this whole drifting thing. Well, you drift for show, you straight-line it for dough, right? You want to get to the finish line, you drive straight. So I’ve been arguing with Justin, I was like, “Hey have those guys drifting and all that. Let me just cut the inside line and wow, just be on track.” He’s like, “Well, that doesn’t look very good.” I said, “Well in the beginning of the race then have me drift with them and then cut it”.
Did he go for it?
I don’t know. He’s like, “Uhh”. He’s mulling it about in his head right now.
So when you and Wayne get back together is it going to be a crazy thing like Running Scared again or…?
Yeah, it’s going to be real visceral. He says the 3rd act in this next one we’re going to do is going to make Running Scared look like Romper Room.
Yeah. And from what I’ve read it’s right there. It’s crazy. It’s really twisted.
Is this the Satan one he keeps talking about or is this something different?
That’s the other one. We’re not going to do that one first.
Okay, so the Satan one is next?
And this year is something else.
We don’t have the money for that one yet, but we’ll get it.
Are you going to play Satan?
Yeah. The Anti-Christ. Beelzebub reincarnated. Yeah.
Yeah, it’ll be fun. Bye guys. Take it easy. Good to see you all again.