This interview contains spoilers for "Furious 7," in theaters April 3.
From the beginning, the concept of family has been central to the "Fast and the Furious" movie franchise, and it's a feeling that's clearly expressed behind-the-scenes as well. The cast and crew have largely remained together for over a decade, and each time they bring in someone new, it appears that person and their character is embraced and added to this family.
While this closeness is a strength and an undeniably important part of the films' appeal,it also made "Furious 7" a particularly challenging movie to complete. Paul Walker, a F&tF cornerstone since the first movie, passed away in a tragic accident (outside of filming) while "F7" was still in production. Everything related to making the movie stopped, while the family, blood and cast alike, took time to grieve.
While this wound was healing, the studio and filmmaking team held meetings on how -- or even if -- they should continue. It was a tough time that involved numerous difficult conversations, but in the end, the film was completed and now stands as a fitting goodbye to a much-loved family member.
SPINOFF ONLINE spoke with screenwriter Chris Morgan about the good, the bad and the heartbreaking challenges faced in making "Furious 7." Morgan, who has written every "Fast and Furious" film from the third installment on and now serves as executive producer on the franchise, candidly discussed the upcoming release, spoke about the newest additions to the cast, and shared some heartfelt stories.
Chris, you've been with the "Fast and Furious" franchise since "Tokyo Drift." Director Justin Lin joined the franchise with that film as well, and stayed through "Fast and Furious 6." As fans know, the end of the sixth film circled back to "Tokyo Drift" and showed the death of Han again, but revealed a heretofore unknown plot point. How and when did you come up with the idea of circling back to the third film?
Chris Morgan: One of the hallmarks of the "Fast" franchise is that we take the architecture of previous films and try to incorporate established story elements in cool new ways to expand the world. Justin Lin, Jeff Kirschenbaum (Co-President of Production for Universal Pictures), and myself have spent a million hours brainstorming and kicking around ideas of how to link things up -- that's what makes the franchise so damn fun. Han's death coming full circle at the end of F6 was something we had been considering during the script development stage because we wanted something shocking that also catapults the audience into a deeper mystery.
Did Lucas Black know that you were going to circle back? And at what point were you able to tell him that he would be a part of the seventh film?
We'd been talking internally about it for a while, but had to wait for the story timeline to catch up. On a strictly practical front, we couldn't reintroduce Lucas' character (Sean) until Sung [Kang]'s character (Han) had met his fate on the streets of Tokyo.
This film welcomes a new director to the franchise, James Wan ("Saw," "Insidious"). Were there any challenges for him stepping into the franchise?
James is an extraordinary talent and we are incredibly lucky to have him on Furious 7. It's a daunting task for anyone to jump into the director's chair of the seventh film of a massive action franchise, but I was blown away by how smoothly he did it. He made it look effortless, all while bringing his own signature spin on the language of "Fast" films -- car chases, fight sequences and intensely personal character moments. And to top it off, he's a genuinely great guy.
I know Paul Walker's death was a difficult thing to experience for the entire cast and crew, so how did the plan to proceed develop? As a writer, what kind of things do you try to take into consideration when you have to say goodbye to a friend and their character?
After the accident, it was a real question as to whether we would try to, or even be able to, finish the film. To its eternal credit, Universal shut everything down and truly respected everyone's grieving process. After time passed, when everyone could breathe again, we all got together and assessed the situation… and agreed that Paul would honestly have wanted us to complete the film.
This obviously created a lot of challenges for the cast, crew, and for myself as the writer, but I can honestly say the result is incredible. The film is thrilling, fun and incredibly emotional, and it's something I could not be more proud of.
If you had to hazard a guess, what percentage of this story did you need to change after Paul's accident?
I can't really give you a percentage, but his character arc in the film needed to be reshaped. I had to adjust most of the scenes Brian, Paul's character, was in to support the direction we went.
The latest movie brings a bevy of new actors to the franchise, including Jason Statham, Kurt Russell, Djimon Hounsou, Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa. On top of the great cast you have already, I can only imagine the fun you had writing scenes for these folks. Is there anything in particular you were itching to put down on paper once you knew the cast? A smackdown between Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson? Tony Jaa taking on…everyone?
Take your pick! Vin fighting Jason Statham! Dwayne and Statham going toe-to-toe! Michelle versus Ronda! They were all an action-lover's dream to write, but the one that's extra-special to me is the Paul and Tony Jaa fight on a moving bus. Over the years, Paul and I had talked about writing a sequence to really display his martial arts skills, and I feel so glad that we had the opportunity to see it through on this one. It's awesome, and watching it just makes me smile.
Prior to filming, what was the biggest challenge you faced when scripting this installment?
I think the biggest challenge is always the mix -- the ratio of increasingly-heightened action vs. the grounded, expanding character journeys. As our set-pieces get bigger, we need to make sure that our characters' motivations are rooted more strongly in the bedrock of real family dynamics. The only way you care about a car flying between buildings is if you're honestly concerned about the people inside it. We went very big this time, so we knew we had to have big personal stakes for our heroes to match.
Even though you wrote the film, I'm sure the experience of seeing your words come to life is always a thrill. Without giving away any spoilers, of course, what was the biggest surprise for you in terms of seeing the finished product of this seventh film?
The biggest surprise for me is that, in the face of such a terrible tragedy, everyone -- the studio, director, producers, cast and crew -- was all able to link arms and come together to honor Paul and see his final film through to the finish line in such a fantastic, meaningful way. We truly are a family, and I'm extremely proud to be a part of it.
You have a few other projects cooking that a lot of movie geeks (like myself) are excited about: "Legend of Conan," the Universal Monster Movie franchise, and the recently announced "Chrononauts." Can tell us anything about these projects at this time?
I can't say anything about the last two, but I'm super excited about "Legend of Conan." Will Beall is the writer, and he's done an incredible job capturing the tone, spirit and world of our favorite Cimmerian. He gets the voice and attitude of Conan better than anyone I've ever met. It's been an absolute joy spending hours talking story with him, and the studio is thrilled with the draft. I can't wait to get that one greenlit!
Finally, what was your first car? And what kind of car do you drive now?
My first car was a '67 Corvair Monza -- white with blue interior and seriously worn-through floorboards. Now, I drive a black Porsche Panamera. Guess I always had a little "Fast and Furious" in me...
"Furious 7" opens on April 3.