This weekend the sixth "Fast and Furious" installment, "Fast and Furious 6" (or 'Furious 6,' if you want to be really cool), races into theaters nationwide. This new film sees much of the cast from the original movies returning, with some notable additions (like Gina Carano from "Haywire") and an even bigger scale – one action sequence involves a tank, the other a runaway plane.
And a little while back, we got to chat with director Justin Lin, who has shepherded the franchise since the third movie, "Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," transitioning it from a silly "Point Break" rip-off to one of the most consistently entertaining action franchises around. Lin told us how he has been mapping out the franchise since the beginning, what thoughts he has for James Wan (who will direct the next installment) and how Robert Altman was a big inspiration on this movie (yes really).
Did you ever think, in your wildest dreams, that you were going to shepherd the franchise on after directing part 3?
Actually that was in my wildest dreams. I actually pitched everything. And a lot of the stuff that you'll see in "Fast Six," I remember talking to Vin and the studio about it back in '05. So for it to come to life it is the dream come true. It is a culmination of everything that was talked about way back when.
What I wanted to try and accomplish in 'Tokyo Drift' was alter the sensibilities of the franchise and build these relationships of all these characters. The first obstacle and the first test was to convince him to do that cameo. I had heard all the rumors and that it was a bad break and that was going to be impossible for him to do it but when I sat down with him and talked with him and showed me the footage I think he sparked to that. And when he said yes it was like, okay, that's good, because he's the patriarch of the franchise and if I passed that test it means we're doing something right. He's a huge "Dungeons & Dragons" guy so he loves back-story and character arcs. We really hit it off and in that moment I laid out a plan to rebuild the franchise through building the mythology and let's acknowledge the fact that these characters have evolved and matured.
I was also very fortunate to have a studio who, usually with a sequel they get very conservative, but Universal – they have been such a great partner. Because every time I go to them and say, 'Listen I know that was successful but I want to try something different,' they say, 'Go ahead.' That's by design and I think as we moved along, we talked a lot about if we got to do another one, have the characters come back together because at the core it's about family. The Letty coming back in 6, people said, 'Well when did you figure that out?' And we figured out at the beginning of 'Fast 4.' So all these things were plotted out and the plane sequence at the end of 'Fast 6,' I started designing that in 09, before 'Fast 5.'
Some of this stuff was a long shot but my greatest hope was that the audience was going to embrace it and we were going to be able to keep growing it. So by the nature of that the obstacles became bigger and we started going into other genres. I like to think that we did it the organic way instead of artificially saying, 'We're gonna try this next.' It's been a lot of fun. It's been really fulfilling and a big part of my career and my life.
Part of what we were looking at were the character dynamics and certain themes and the root of the family. I felt like Eva was perfectly used for the tag in "Fast Five." And talking to her, again I want everything to be organic. She's on this great track of doing these indie dramas and her character, I could never figure out a way anyway. So the best way to incorporate her was the tag. And she was grateful enough to come in and do it, and she's obviously a part of the family. Anything more than that, I couldn't figure it out. Maybe somebody can figure it out from seven on.
This one really feels like the end of an internal trilogy. Was that something that you wanted to do?
Yeah. Very much so. It got to a point where 6 got so big that we were going to shoot it as two movies. We had 13 characters and I had a lot I wanted to do. And as you can tell, there's so much action that it could fill two movies. But at the end of the day I figured we could do it all in one. But it was always plan to end this chapter on 6. It was very gratifying to see that jump from 4 to 5 and see how much people had embraced it. As a filmmaker I couldn't ask for anything more.
What was your inspiration for this one?
You know it's funny people have asked me that so much today and they've named off all these action movies. But to be totally honest with you, I would say my biggest inspiration for this was Robert Altman. I love Altman. And if you watch the plane sequence at the end – there's 13 characters and I was trying to tell a story without leaving anybody behind. I love ensemble movies and Altman was more of an inspiration for this because I had so many threads and characters and I also wanted to bring in an antagonist that, for the first time, wasn't merely serving the plot. I wanted an antagonist that had a philosophy that was valid and could challenge Dom. Having Luke Evans join us was a dream come true – I needed someone of his talent and presence to be able to stand up to Dom. So all of that in one movie. But yeah, Altman was where I would go.
Well you had been inspired or at least watched both "Haywire" and "The Raid" since you borrowed cast members from both.
It was interesting because you always have a wish list. It's very hard for me to say, "Gina's great I want to use her." The route for Gina to join us was that when we were working on Letty, I really needed a character to physically counter her and to really have her find herself. And I couldn't think of anybody else better than Gina. Because when you meet Gina she's the nicest person you could ever meet but her confidence comes from knowing she could break you. That came about organically. And of course with Joe, I had seen "The Raid" and Joe reached out. I thought – this guy is tireless. He just works all the time and he also had the confidence I wanted. I had seen the movies and I had a list of people I wanted to put in the movie, but there's no way I would try and artificially do it. Luckily it was a great fit for both of them.