The Fate of the Furious may have been director F. Gary Gray’s first Fast and Furious film, but it’s the eighth installment in the series over all. And as such, Gray had a tall order to fill.
The Straight Outta Compton helmer had to figure out how to deliver on the over-the-top action and earnest sentimentality that made the earlier movies so lovable while bringing enough to the table to keep the series feeling fresh.
Ironically, one of the new elements in the sequel is actually a return to its origins. The much-hyped New York chase sequence serves as a wink to the news article that inspired the very first Fast and the Furious movie.
But there are others, too, including an icy new villain played by Charlize Theron and a dramatic action scene set in Cuba. And then, of course, there are the callbacks to earlier entries like a surprising about-face for Jason Statham’s character, who was the villain of Furious 7.
Recently, we had the chance to sit down with Gray about how he put his own stamp on this 16-year-old, multibillion-dollar franchise, the decisions he fought for while making the movie, and the one sequence he’s proudest of pulling off.
So, obviously, as the director of the eighth film in the franchise, youre trying to live up to some really high expectations. How did put your own stamp on the series? Did you feel a lot of pressure to outdo the craziness of the last few films?
Well, just naturally, you want to take it to the next level, because the fans deserve that, right? They dont want to see more of the same. They want to see something fresh, they want to see something new. So doing little things, like taking the quarter mile and turning that into the Cuban mile, where they rip around corners and drive through traffic and things like that, thats how you inject, little things like races and stuff like that.
One of the biggest things is just the story, the storyline. Youre not used to seeing Dom go against the family, so thats gonna be really different for the fans that are familiar with the franchise. And because thats so inherently dramatic, theres going to be a little bit more drama, so the tone is gonna be a little different. I like to think that I bring a little something to that with the performances.
And my humor is very specific, and so, again, youll have a little more humor in a different way. And you dont want to reinvent the wheel because its such a successful franchise. You want definitely to have your voice heard, but its collaborative. The balance of what you saw was team team team team team, Gary where for lack of a better word, it sounds clich, kind of the family of creators that put that on the screen.
Gotcha. So what was the first decision you made after you were hired to direct the film, be it an actor you knew you wanted to bring in, or an action scene you knew you really wanted to shoot, or a location that you really wanted to go to?
Charlize Theron. You know, just, how do we cast the role of Cipher? She was my first choice, and I dont know if you know Hollywood well or not, but sometimes you dont always get your first choice. And shes such a strong actor that we wouldve been really disappointed if we didnt land her, but that was one of the first choices. How can we land Charlize?
And then the biggest struggle was, we fought for Cuba, which was really really hard to land, given Americas relationship with Cuba and the lack of infrastructure.
And how can we make New York work? Because when you have cars racing through Manhattan at top speed, these are things that are hard to pull off physically. But to permit them was a huge challenge given pedestrian traffic and post-9/11 security in Manhattan. It was a major feat.
Well, there are some really crazy action scenes like the New York one that you mentioned, and the Cuba scene and everything, and some really shocking twists. So whats the one thing that youre proudest of pulling off in this film?
Im really proud of the New York sequence. I think that the raining cars, the weaponized vehicles, all controlled by Cipher whos played by Charlize Theron, I think thats one of the most unique action sequences youll ever see. And its just a lot of fun. Theres drama in the movie, theres fun, theres action, but this is a combination of all three.
And Im in love with Cuba. And I love Iceland as well. You have a submarine chasing down a Lamborghini. These are all big toys for the kid in me. But New York is just the next level for me. The dropping cars sequence in New York is next level for me.
What was it specifically about New York where it was so important for you to make sure you got that done?
Well, the franchise has traveled all over the world. It’s spent a lot of time in Los Angeles, and its just kind of the natural evolution of the franchise to go to New York. If you are a Fast fan, you know that this franchise was developed from an article about the New York street car culture, not Los Angeles. So it took eight films to make it to New York, but we made it.
And I think its, for lack of a better word, sexy and fun and cool and hardcore. Thats what I think the eighth film needs is all of these things happening simultaneously and why not New York? Why not in New York?
Well, as a New Yorker, thank you for giving me the fantasy of actually being able to move really quickly around the city, cause that would actually never happen.
Hey, listen, thats why you go to the movies, right? You know if you were to pitch this idea, the average New Yorker would say, “Okay, impossible. Theres no way to drive through Times Square at anything more than five, ten miles an hour. Period. So lets go shoot this somewhere in the Philippines.”
But the fact that we pulled it off is gonna make, I think, a lot of people go to the movies, just to see that sequence specifically. Doing the impossible is why you go to see the movies on the big screen and not Netflix and chill with your laptop. And thats why we kind of took it to the next level, to make it feel cinematic and really fun and big and over-the-top.
Yeah. So, Ive heard that the idea for Fate of the Furious was to start to shift the franchise away from the heist films that they have been for the last few films and more toward the spy genre, like Mission: Impossible or James Bond. Can you talk about why you wanted to do that and what you had to do to make that successful?
Well, I wouldnt say I was consciously trying to make it feel Bond-ian, or spy genre. I just really wanted to stay true to the twists in the saga and more specifically the storyline of Dom going rogue.
The fact that we have a billion-dollar jet that Cipher owns, is the fun of not just having a normal headquarters for a villain. The fun of going to exotic locations like Cuba and Iceland is part of, not only the fun, but its part of what you would expect when you go to a Fast movie. You know, take me somewhere.
As far as spies and things like that, I think thats just kind of a natural byproduct of the character of Cipher whos into hacking. You have to go to the movie to understand her motivation. I say that for the audience who hasnt seen it yet. But I do think all of it felt natural for the story. Its not something that I look at and say, okay, now lets figure out how we can be more like Bond. I think its a new look for Fast and I think its cool.
Yeah. Yeah. So, you bring in Jason Stathams character, who was a villain the last time we see him, but in this film he kind of becomes part of the family. Was it hard to make that shift believable?
Well, first of all, Ive worked with Jason before on The Italian Job. So I know what his range is. Hes capable of doing a lot. And you see him stretch himself a little bit in this movie, a little bit of humor, a whole lot of action. You know, if you were to interview Jason, he would say, “Well, I wouldnt necessarily say I was a villain. I wouldnt necessarily say Im a part of the family either.”
He just has a very specific mission in mind. You have to see the movie to see what it is, but I thought it was very interesting that he could team up with the family and work for a common goal. Thats something that I dont think people would expect and, again, thats part of the reason why you go see the movie, to see why.
Yeah, that was one of my favorite parts of the movie.
Yeah, hes awesome, and Im glad he was up for it, he was game. Like you said, without giving up too much, its such a fun part of the movie, especially given that theres pockets of drama throughout.