The lauded “Straight Outta Compton” director discusses his helming of the new Vin Diesel starring “Fate of the Furious” film.
Riyad Mammadyarov: From Charlize Theron and Jason Statham to Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, this is the second collaboration you’ve had with these individuals. How was it working with so many of the people that you had already worked with before? Did it make the whole process easier?
F. Gary Gray: You definitely feel the shorthand when you’ve worked with other artists in the past, for sure. And I think it makes the movie creatively better when you can just dive right in and get into what you’re trying to achieve. There’s no “getting-to-know-you period. It’s not necessary. I loved the fact that we could really just sit down and roll up our sleeves and get to the business of making a great movie.
Like many of the other “Fast” movies, it seems like this one goes international. I can assume that there were probably a great deal of challenges. I was wondering if you could speak about any of those challenges of having to move around so much around the globe with such a huge team.
Well your instinct is right in understanding that when you have the biggest actors in the world involved with a movie of this size, it’s a massive undertaking even to get everyone together for a two-page reading. It gets even wilder shooting in a place like Cuba that has no infrastructure in place to support a movie of this size. Or shooting in New York City where driving above 10 miles an hour is next to impossible–but you need to go a hundred miles an hour with multiple cars, some of which are flying from the sky. These are really huge challenges. And then when you add a submarine chasing a Lamborghini on ice, you can imagine what kind of brain-power goes into solving problems like that.
But when you solve them, it makes for a great ride and that’s what “Fate” is. It’s a phenomenal ride. It’s a great–I think fun–experience. And it’s different! People always ask, “Well, how can you take it to the next level? We got flying cars in Dubai.” You go down the list of massive major acting sequences in the previous films and it gets crazy but we pushed really hard to give the fans something fresh and something new, and I think we did.
Absolutely. I just saw the movie yesterday and you were speaking about the fun. I’ve got to tell you, everyone in the audience was hooting and hollering and having a really great time.
Thank-you man, I appreciate that.
Honestly, I think this is gonna be the best one of the series.
Well thank you for that compliment. It really is a compliment considering it’s a multi-billion dollar franchise that’s been around for 15 plus years and has a global fan base. Most people don’t expect– when you get this far along into a franchise–that it can get better. The fact that you feel like it’s one of the best, that’s a huge compliment. I appreciate that.
This movie has a lot to do with hyper-masculinity. It’s almost like a throwback to those Schwarzenegger-Stallone movies of the ’80s. Especially with someone like Dwayne Johnson, whose figure is imposing, hulking and brooding. He seems to exude that idealization. But it’s funny because these hyper-masculine individuals also rely on machinery. Whether it’s cars or computers, once they become one with their technology of choice, they become better, more potent versions of themselves. Do you see this as sort of vulnerability for the characters, or perhaps a strength?
No, I think when you go to an action movie, you want to see new and inventive ways that you can produce great action. The cars are an extension of that, the machinery, the weaponry, the weapons. All that’s an extension of the creativity. I don’t think it’s a vulnerability at all. You have the basics like Jason Statham parkouring his way through prison, beating the shit out of everyone–which requires very little hardware [laughs].
But then on the other side of that, you have Charlize Theron in a billion-dollar jet hacking thousands of cars and weaponizing them. So, you get a little bit of both worlds. And I think that the weaponry just modernizes it. These are all just brushstrokes on a palate that is fast. And I consider it fun. I don’t consider it a crutch. Not at all.
This is your first time working on the series. Do you see yourself returning to the franchise later? The reason I ask is because the franchise has a reliance on recurring directors. But if you don’t see yourself returning, do you see yourself going back into the action thriller genres like your earlier work with “Law Abiding Citizen” and “The Italian Job”?
We’ll see. I take it on a movie-by-movie basis. No-one expected me to go from “Straight Outta Compton” to “The Fate of the Furious.”
Yeah that was really the biggest surprise. But it was refreshing.
It was great for me. It was just an incredible learning experience. It was an incredible challenge going to Cuba, to New York, to Iceland. These are all things that we could never do in “Straight Outta Compton.” I said it at CinemaCon–you go from hopping low-riders to driving Lamborghinis. It’s just a different approach and it’s stimulating for you if you’re creating. So I go for what’s stimulating. If there is storyline that’s stimulating for me that’s in the “Fast” series, of course I’ll come back. But I take it on a movie-by-movie basis and maybe that’s the right approach. Maybe that’s the wrong approach, but it works for me.
You have a lot of experience working on music videos. That’s how you got your start. Did that experience ever inform the formal choices you made in this movie? Because it does have that same sort of formalistic stylizations.
Well I’d like to think that the storytelling in the movie is strong. I like to think that the performances are strong. It definitely has a visual style and it all kind of comes together and I think really works. As far as my back-in-the-day music videos are concerned, they had a little bit of story–a whole wad of visual sparkle. I’d imagine anything that I experience lends itself to what ends up on the screen.
But I will say that music period–not just music videos but music–influences how I make film. I can’t speak for every artist in the world, but I think that music is the common denominator and the common motivator for most artists. You can do and create most things to your favorite song or different types of music. So I go one step further and say music itself helps influence my choices and it’s no different than what I did with “Friday” or “The Negotiator,” or “Straight Outta Compton,” or “Fate of the Furious.” For “Fate and the Furious,” I used music as a tool to motivate a vision.
This is the first time the film actually goes to New York. Which again, as you mentioned earlier, is such an unfriendly city for cars. It creates a great juxtaposition between mechanical skill and hindering infrastructure. Seeing as you’re a native New Yorker, did it feel good to bring the series back home?
It not only felt good, it felt natural. It was like the instinctual progression. You go to London and Dubai and different places around the world throughout the series. Obviously Los Angeles was the team’s home. I’m actually surprised they hadn’t made it to New York before now, so to be able to be the vision behind the story once it hit New York was exciting for me. And if you’re a New Yorker, you know it’s close to impossible to go over 10, 15 miles an hour anywhere in the city and for us to propose that you can do a hundred miles an hour in Times Square–through Times Square and the streets of Manhattan–is part of the reason why you go see the “Fate of the Furious.” It’s like, okay, that’s not possible. Let me grab a ticket and see how they pull this shit off [laughs].
The movie really does relishes itself and it understands its own insanity which I love. I thought that was arguably the most charming aspect of “Fate of the Furious.” I just want to ask you my last question. Obviously this big hole has been left with the untimely death of Paul Walker. There were talks of Cody Walker and his brother coming on board to replace Paul and perhaps extend that story in that direction. In the end, what was the reason for not including the Walkers in this film?
I’m not aware of any talks about replacing Paul. I know for a fact that it is a very sensitive subject matter for everyone involved and Vin–who is spiritually connected to this franchise in ways that no-one is. He is very, very conscious of how we treat Paul’s legacy. And so I’m not aware of how they would or wouldn’t have included the brothers, but I know for a fact that dedicating “Fate of the Furious” to Paul was something that Vin was very conscious of. Respecting his legacy is something that influenced every major decision we made for “Fate and the Furious.” That’s how it was handled and everybody seems to feel really good about it.
“Fate of the Furious” is set to be released nationwide April 14.