After four installments in the Fast and the Furious franchise, you might expect another one to roll effortlessly off of the assembly line, so to speak. But for Vin Diesel, making Fast Five equal (if not superior) to its predecessors is a challenge he doesn’t take lightly. "I'm a little beat up, but I'm feeling good, " Diesel said with typical gravel-voiced seriousness while on the set of the film late last year. "Normally I wouldn't do press while I'm working, but since everyone else came and since you guys have been here all day, I'll talk to you guys for a second. But when I'm in work mode, I'm in work mode. I'm trying to make a f***ing movie."
In November 2010, Movies.com joined a small coterie of journalists in Atlanta to talk to Diesel and his co-stars about the process of mounting the fifth – but according to Diesel, not final – film in the Fast and the Furious saga. In addition to dishing on the series’ potential future, Diesel discussed his approach to acting, even in films where the stars are often the cars, and offered a few insights into his ongoing experience with the franchise.
Q: You've been filming today and yesterday with Dwayne Johnson. Can you talk about that?
Diesel: We've been filming this fight sequence that has been going on for what feels like a week. It's been pretty intense. But Dwayne's great - he's been a buddy of mine for a long time.
Q: How important was it for you to find a great adversary to go against?
Diesel: The role was initially written for a Tommy Lee Jones/Josh Brolin and with I guess the physicality that fans would expect from Dom - I mean, Dom's a mechanic who races cars. He's not an athlete like xXx. He's not a sci-fi/intergalactic killer like Riddick. He's like the most normal guy I got, really. But at the same time, the studio was wanting to find somebody who would be formidable enough to, I guess, increase the legend of Dom. We've always wanted to do something together, [and] there was a woman who left a comment on my Facebook page about six months ago… and she said, "I'd love to see you guys do a movie and I really think it would be dynamic." I read this comment from one of the fans on the Facebook page, and next thing you know, we got my buddy in this movie. It's been pretty special. It was almost a perfect match in that regard to have somebody who would be taken that serious as a formidable opponent. Not to mention that, when Fast and Furious came out last year and opened at $72.5 [million] opening weekend, the only person in Hollywood that called me to congratulate me was Dwayne. Kind of weird. Only person, out of all the people I've worked with. Not that they should. The only person who said anything, that said, "Congratulations, brother" was Dwayne, long before we really knew when were going to shoot the next one.
Q: Do you and Dwayne's characters respect one another or do you just loathe each other?
Diesel: That's a good question. You gotta see the movie. I can tell you this: We definitely have fun with that composition and that chemistry. I think you're gonna have a lot of fun.
Q: How has Dom changed since the last one?
Diesel: Good question. First, you're going to have to see the movie. Second, we're still in the process. It's hard for me to talk about Dom right now because I am Dom right now. So it's a really strange exercise to try to reflect on something that I am at the moment. But I guarantee you that when I'm done with the movie and you ask me that question, I'll be able to give you something insightful.
Q: Can you talk about the feeling of appearing in a franchise ten years after your first Fast and Furious movie? How has the atmosphere changed?
Diesel: I guess there's more pressure now than there was then, but I always thought there was pressure. [But] there's a great benefit to working with actors that you've worked with for ten years. The idea of exploring character relations and their development over a decade has to be appealing for any actor who cherishes his craft. When I first did The Fast and the Furious, I didn't want there to be a sequel on the first one. I thought, "Why would you rush to do a sequel - just because your first film is successful?" My gut feeling about sequels is that they should be premeditated: You should try to write a trilogy first or at least sketch out a trilogy if you have any faith in your film. So, when I did Tokyo Drift, they asked me to do this cameo. I had always said no to doing sequels to Fast and the Furious and I had said no because of the script, and the producer said, "If you don't like the scripts that we're producing, then you produce a script." And that was Fast and Furious.
Q: You mention the acting method. Is there a certain way of walking or speaking or something you're wearing that clicks the most for you in finding a new character?
Diesel: Sure - staying in the pocket of the character is very important. I was raised in New York City and raised in the New York City theater world. My father was a theater director and an acting teacher, and it was not uncommon for me to have long discussions about the method and what the various different processes were to finding a character and exploring character and realizing that character. For me, I'm not in a good mood today because I'm thinking about beating the f**k out of somebody. I'm in an angry mode. That's inside me. That's the character. So I'm not the nicest person right now. Whereas if you've interviewed me at any other time, I'm the nicest guy in the world. I will talk ‘till you're blue in the face. In fact, I get in trouble for being so talkative. Is that a sharp contrast to my energy now? Completely. And why? Because this is so f***ing sacred right now. I'm doing this movie, which costs so much money and everything is relying on what that energy is. Everything is riding on how much soul you put in the movie. So if I'm putting a piece of soul in a movie, the last thing I'm gonna be doing is talking about it in a reflective way. I can't get out of myself to talk about it.
Q: Your approach must make your collaborators step up their game, too.
Diesel: Everyone steps up their game. It's a secret of mine in any movie I'm in, to make every other player shine. That's how you get these really magical scenes that provide for these experiences that are hopefully heartfelt. I'm not even talking about the repeat of all the people out there that love the movie and watch it again and again once a month or once a week - things that I never discovered until I had this Facebook page. People would use these movies as a frame. What was bizarre, when I was younger, I never watched TV. I would rather watch a movie 100 times than to watch a TV show, just to find another nuance. I can't tell you how many times I've watched On the Waterfront, just to find a flaw so that I can learn and try to improve my thing.
Q: How important was it for you to pull together this all-star cast from the other films?
Diesel: It was a fun thing, but it wasn't paramount for me. Obviously, for me, story is first and foremost, even in the face of the attractive idea of having all the cast there, or having a great piece of talent come to it. Sometimes a studio can rest on that and that's okay because they'll make a million, but it's story, story, story, story, story, story. All the fights and all the battles and everything that goes on before we ever start filming is story related. You fight your ass off to get the story just at a decent place before you start shooting, and you have to be a genius at every turn trying to fix all the outstanding ideas before you get to build up the parts that haven't developed or blossomed yet in the movie. So it's a very sacred experience making movies and it calls for us to treat it as such. Or at least that's how I see it.
Q: Is this franchise particularly sacred to you?
Diesel: This franchise is not more sacred than another franchise except for the fact that it has been with me for so long. I've felt protective about the franchise and evermoreso protective after Tokyo Drift. They were saying, "You do this cameo and we'll let you produce the next Fast and the Furious. Since you don't say yes to any of the scripts we have and you're such a big shot and you have all the damn answers, you go do it." I said, "I don't want any money for the cameo, aside, of course, from them letting me produce the next one, I'll do it for a song." So we did Tokyo Drift and we're in Tokyo, and when I come onscreen, if you can remember what you hear, it's a song called "Los Bandoleros. " Why you're hearing a reggae tune in Tokyo is, I guess, the whole point of it: they honored that. It was a catalyst for so much because it lead to the studio letting me bring these artists into the film to add a whole other dimension. It led to the short film Los Bandoleros - not only do we do the film, but we all go for free and shoot this 20 minute short film. Who does that? They want me to do another one for this. I love the opportunity for that because it offers another chance to do an episodic story, to build and to highlight. And my hat went off to the studio. I mean, who does that? Imagine if The Dark Knight had a 20 minute short film and how crazy we would love that. All of that was in the service of respecting and honoring the fans of the franchise and the fans of the movie.
Q: Has Dom finally gotten over Letty in this one?
Diesel: That's a dangerous question – [she was] so important to that character. I will answer you this way: When I was thinking of this Fast and Furious, I thought of it as three stories. The one that you saw, this one and the final one.
Q: So this is a trilogy?
Diesel: This is a trilogy, in the same way that we've seen other franchises reinvent themselves and it was kind of what they had to do. If you remember seeing the posters for Fast and Furious, there was no number on the poster. That's bizarre. That doesn't happen a lot. It was a subliminal way of saying, "We're not going to go on and on and on. We closed up the last three and it's almost a fresh start."
Q: Do you think you'll take it to Europe in the last one?
Diesel: I think we'll be in Europe in the last one.