After four installments in which various members of the original cast came and went, Fast Five, the latest in the long-running car-themed series, brings together virtually every actor who ever appeared in a Fast and the Furious movie. (Sorry, except for Bow Wow and Lucas Black, who according to the franchise's timeline don't exist yet.) But as if reuniting all of these different ensembles (not to mention giving them all something to do) wasn’t enough of a challenge for now-three-time director Justin Lin, he adds another metric ton of star wattage with the introduction of Hobbs, a U.S. Marshal played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Hobbs is in hot pursuit of Vin Diesel's Dominic Toretto, and Johnson brings all of his considerable weight to the character, offering Diesel and co. an opponent with enormous screen (much less physical) presence, as well as plenty of box office muscle to entice audiences into coming back for more.
In November of 2010, Movies visited the set of Fast Five, for which Johnson bulked back up physically to the heights of his wrestling days. In addition to talking about tackling the film's physical challenges, he offered a few insights about his character, and discussed the exciting opportunity of stepping into this long-running series and giving it some extra gas.
Q: You have always had a clear strategy for your career with increasingly visible roles. What prompted you to jump into the fifth film of this series as opposed to taking on something else?
Johnson: It was an opportunity to work with Universal again, the studio that I started my career with. I did my first four movies with Universal… and this was an opportunity to be a part of a very successful franchise and the opportunity to work with Vin [Diesel]. I've known Vin for a long time an we've always talked about doing something together, but as long as it was right and wasn't forced. This felt like the right opportunity to create a formidable adversary for him and one that was believable, and that we could get on screen and rumble and dance and have some fun.
Q: You were just in You Again in this small, little role. Is there a different challenge or is it more fun to come into this big ensemble where you are a smaller part?
Johnson: Well, You Again was a favor to Andy [Fickman]. I think the challenge in coming on to something like this that is not only successful, but a lot of these characters in this movie are beloved characters. And to be able to find the character that we can infuse storywise and not only that, but elevate the movie and story in a way that was interesting and intriguing is that challenge. I enjoyed working with the writer and spent a lot of time with Justin [Lin]. We talked about story and about character and from the first time Universal approached me, Justin and my main attention was how can I come on and elevate this? That was important to me, and I think we found a way.
Q: Did you know the franchise well when you got the character? Did you go back and watch the films or did you not want to go back, since your character meets Dom and Brian fresh?
Johnson: Well, I am familiar with their success and I had seen the last one and the opening was a dynamite opening. I e-mailed Vin that Saturday and said congratulations. But with all movies I do, I feel it's just important to sit down with the director and let's just talk, shoot the sh*t, talk about the character, talk about the story, talk about how I come in and help and elevate and that's what I do and want to know how to do. And then we come up with different scenarios and character traits.
Q: What can you tell us about Hobbs and how he fits into the film and his role?
Johnson: Storywise, Dom and Brian are accused of murder. There are two DEA agents who are murdered and the murder gets pinned on them and Mia. In a way [Hobbs] is a bounty hunter, but he is a U.S. Marshal sent down to Brazil to find these guys. Fun character to play, where I am not only efficient in having that animalistic, visceral way that I can rip your f***ing throat out, excuse my language, but also have the backing of the U.S. government – a fun, fun character.
Q: Is it kind of like the Tommy Lee Jones character in The Fugitive where he is after the bad guy, but realizes he might not be that bad?
Johnson: It is very similar to that. The only difference is the physicality aspect, which I am able to bring, which heightens things for me, because ultimately I think from an audience standpoint, you want to see that. You want to see Vin and I go at it.
Q: This plot almost brings back Heat, and thinking about the amazing anticipation of two iconic actors and characters meeting on screen. Are we are going to have a more beefed up version of that where maybe instead of just talking at a diner, you guys would beat the hell out of each other in the diner?
Johnson: 100%. Sure. [We] talk in a diner over a cappuccino. It's a wonderful scene (laughs). One cappuccino with two straws. That was something I was looking forward to and just as a fan of movies and a fan of genres this is an awesome opportunity that doesn't come along very often where you can have two guys who are successful and put it down and go at it. There are some great scenes in the movie where we do talk, and it's a nice, stinging conversation and the intensity is palpable - it's in the air. But then f*** talking, eventually you gotta get down and kick some ass. Again, I'm sorry for the language.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the Gurkha and this big gun Elsa [Pataky] talked about you using? Elsa mentioned she's got this little pistol and you've got this machine gun.
Johnson: It's called my third gun (laughs). Wow. The Rock's third gun. One weapon I have is a very big revolver and I'm attracted to guns like that – just big and muscular and masculine. I also have a much bigger gun that is automatic – there is this one scene where Elsa and I are firing side by side and we were all kind of laughing at it because Elsa is such a petite woman – very beautiful, but petite – and next to me she looks very, very tiny. She looks like a little girl and she has her little 'pew pew' and I've got me 'doodoodoodoodoo.' When it is stripped down it will be very serious, but we laugh because it’s funny.
The cars in the movie are going to be what you expect. They are dynamite vehicles from fast cars to muscle cars to a military Gurkha, which is a big, 10-ton absurdly badass vehicle. When we land in Brazil, I've got me, my men and my Gurkha.
Q: You generally play characters that we root for. In this film are you a villain?
Johnson: No, no that's gonna be interesting. I'm not sure where the audience will be. I just know that I'm rooted in my own truth and my truth is I have a list and your name came up on that list and I'm gonna hunt you and find you and bring you in. If they root for me, great. If they don't, great, I'm still kicking ass.
Q: This feels like a continuation of your role in Faster – a return to action. Is that something you are deliberately moving back towards?
Johnson: It is always about opportunity for me. And those of you who know me know we have discussed this in the past – it's about creating opportunity day to day. There was an opportunity to do three family movies in a row, putting me in a space where I can continue to entertain, knowing that we were still developing on the other end Faster, like these intense action movies we were developing. 'Well, this is ready and it is in the family genre and it tells a good story. The other is not ready, so let's go.' Believe me, I love to entertain, across the board – I love that and enjoy that. At my core, I am a physical guy, a visceral guy, and I love kickin' ass. I love it, so if I can continue to, it comes down to what's available, what's ready, what's cooking?