Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw is another bold new direction for the franchise that began 18 years ago with mostly-unknowns Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker driving really fast street racer cars.
Diesel is not in this one, because as the title suggests, Hobbs and Shawfocuses on the characters played by Dwayne Johnson (he’s Hobbs) and Jason Statham (he’s Shaw) in the past few FF films. They have to take on Idris Elba’s super-enhanced soldier Brixton to save Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby from last year’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout) who has been infected with a deadly virus.
Chris Morgan has been involved with these movies all the way back to 2006’s Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, writing each subsequent installment until he transitioned into a producer role on the last few movies, including Hobbs and Shaw. If there was ever any serious to the “Fast franchise” (or whatever you want to call it), that’s thrown out the window as Hobbs and Shawis a straight-up buddy comedy with Johnson and Statham tossing barbs at each other while trying to save the world. Like any good spy thriller, this one directed by David Leitch(Deadpool 2) takes the duo across the globe to places like Russia and even Samoa.
The Beat got on the phone with Morgan last week to talk about his latest attempt at world domination with a spin-off franchise featuring Johnson and Statham, but also we discussed some of the tropes that have been “F&F” mainstays over the past 13 years i.e. “family” and crazy action sequences!
THE BEAT: It was nice to see “Chris Morgan Productions” at the end of this movie, which must have been a nice step up after writing these movies for so many years.
CHRIS MORGAN: I gotta say. Yeah, it does. It feels so good. When that comes up, just starting as someone who is just a fan of films and a fan particularly of the “Fast” films, to reach that point and put that up there, it’s great. It meant something. It means something about the brand about the long history with the studio and a really, healthy good partnership. So when I see that, I get really proud.
THE BEAT: It’s a rarity, too, because there haven’t been many franchises where there’s been a single writer guiding it along, maybe “Harry Potter” or some of the recent James Bond movies but they have other writers.
MORGAN: I’ve been doing this since the third movie. It’s just been a really great collaboration with the studio, with our directors. We all have a similar creative vision with our casts just dreaming up what the next stories are going to be. What are the hurdles we want to put the characters through? What are the lessons each character has to learn and how do we do it through crazy action sequences with vehicles is kind of the formula…but I think it’s pretty cool.
THE BEAT: At what point did you realize that Dwayne and Jason could make such a great spin-off movie. Obviously, they were hilarious in Fatetogether, but did you already know before that that you had to put those guys together, cause it’s gold?
MORGAN: Yeah, we’d been talking about a “Fast” spin-off since Fast 5, and specifically, we knew with Dwayne and with Hobbs, that character, he’s such an interesting character, we want to learn more about him. He’s kind of magnetic on screen, and audiences are kind of drawn to him. We had been talking about what that would be, and then when we were shooting the fight scene between Jason and Dwayne in Fast 7 that was electric and cool. But you’re right. You hit it. When we watched the sequence in Fast 8, I remember being on set that day. We put them in their opposite prison cells, and they just start smack-talking, and then Dwayne comes in and says, “I got something, what about this?” I go over to Jason and he’s like, “What about this?” Just back and forth, we’re running back to each other and coming up with things and laughing. I remember leaving that day, and my jowls hurt so bad ‘cause I’d just been laughing so hard all day. That’s when we knew. The studio watched the dailies, and they’re like, “Yeah, this is a good chance for us,” and specifically those guy, because they’re energy, it’s a really good engine for story. The characters are so different.Hobbs is this big, muscley, tough lawman, and then Shaw is stealthier, more stylish, more sleek and the way that they go about trying to solve the missions are very different. Everything about them is opposed EXCEPT they have a very similar code at their core that frankly all of our characters in “Fast” do, and that comes down to it… and I almost hesitate to say the word… but it’s literally the most crucial thing in the “Fast and Furious” franchise… it’s family. That these guys, even though they’re tough and they can fight, they get their strength and they’re made stronger by their connections with the people they love around them.
We knew specifically with these two guys, let’s get to digging a little bit more on their back stories. Let’s see where they come from – let’s see Hobbs’ family in Samoa and Shaw’s family in London – but let’s pit them against a villain who is so much better than they are, that beats them down so badly that the only hope they can possibly have of solving the dilemma of the story is if they swallow their pride and work together. That’s kind of the genesis of the idea.
THE BEAT: I’m sure you know this, but “Honest Trailers” loves making fun of the “family” thing in these movies…
MORGAN: They do.
THE BEAT: They even bring it up to make fun of other movies.
MORGAN: I totally get it. Again, I’m first and foremost a fan as well, and it’s one of those hallmarks of the franchise. I get it, too, that some people have made drinking games out of it, and every time they say “family,” you drink. I think it’s funny, but I will also say as well that as the guy who writes it, when each character says the word “family,” they mean it. They mean it to the bottom of their soul, and I think the audience recognizes it. So is it fun? Yes, but do they truly believe in the power of that? They do. I think that resonates also, and frankly grounds our movies that we can get very heightened with our over-the-top crazy action. Having that human core connection is what lets us get away with it. It lets it feel slightly more real because the characters are actually banked into something people in the audience believe in as well.
THE BEAT: Having Dwayne and his company as co-producers, you bring in more of his thing, including having Samoa, having him have a daughter – he has a daughter in almost every movie now…
THE BEAT: What’s that like having him as co-producer? You’ve been writing for him for all these movies, so in some ways, you’re providing his voice as an action star since that’s what people know him for, the personality he exudes in these movies.
MORGAN: For sure. I gotta say the process was not really different at all. One of the blessing that I had working on this movie is that I got to work much closer with him and his production company, 7 Bucks Productions, specifically his exec., his producing partner Hiram Garcia, who has known Dwayne forever, knows his voice, knows his tone. We would sit in Dwayne trailer or on set — with Dwayne and Hiram and myself and actually Ainsley Davis, who runs my production company – or we’d sit in Jason’s trailer, and we would just go back and forth and banter. It is literally some of the most fun times I’ve had in my whole life. At the end of it, you’d get these great scenes or funny dialogue or really human moments. One of the most awesome things in this film and one of the things I’m most proud of is that look, the agenda was to dig into Hobbs’ and Shaw’s backstory – where did they come from? Who are some of their family members are? What troubles them? We had discussed early on with Dwayne, leaning into at least half of his own cultural background, which his Samoan. He would tell stories about his family, about extended family members who were wrestlers, and magical moments would come out of those things. There’s a great speech that Hobbs’ Mom makes, Lori [Pelenise Tuisano] is the actress – when they go to try to find weapons to fight on the island at the end of the movie, there’s no guns, and Hobbs goes “Momma, where are the guns?” and she goes, “I got rid of them,” and she says, “It doesn’t take a man to pull a trigger. If you’re going to fight, you’re going to fight with this,” and she holds up her fist, “and you’ll fight with this,” and she points to her heart. That’s a story that Dwayne told me that his grandmother said to his father. I heard that. I should really let him tell that story but as point of fact, sitting in the trailer and listening to him talk about his own background and his own story, you know you want that to be in the film. It feels real, it resonates.
Again, I’m very proud of it only in that I think it’s the first time – and you’ll have to correct me if I’m wrong – I think it’s the first time in a major global blockbuster movie that Samoa has featured as a culture and a character. We got to bring that to the world. I remember being on set the night that we were doing the Siva Tau – that’s the sequence where Dwayne comes out with his brothers and they do the war dance. I remember looking over at Dwayne’s Mom off to the side, and she has a little tear in her eye ‘cause she sees her son speaking her native language and doing the Siva Tau, and she knows that’s going to go out to the world and represent the culture. She was so proud of him. It got me. I’m sitting there, and I got very emotional watching a Mom be so proud of her son.
THE BEAT: I just recently rewatched Cliff Curtis playing Dwayne’s brother, and I kind of teared up in the moment between him and Dwayne since I’ve had issues with my own brother, so it was touching. In these movies, there’s always these crazy action moments that people always point out, like the torpedo in Fateand in this case, you have a chain of jeeps, a great trailer moment. Do you write those in the script or are those things that you come up with the director once you’re planning the action scenes?
MORGAN: I do. I’m a big action guy. I was raised on Raiders of the Lost Ark, and when I write I’m very specific about the action and the dialogue. The action sequence isn’t just crazy stuff happening. It’s how does it affect the character? What’s the drama? Why are we worried? What are they learning? How do they fix this crazy problem? If stuff just happens, I’m not interested. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is. I want to know how the character is reacting in every moment, so I tend to be very specific about action stuff. Having said that, a lot of times I’ll write a big action sequence in the movie, and then in collaboration with our director or our stunt crew or the studio or our stars, we’re very “best idea wins” and maybe someone else has a better or a more awesome idea, and they’ll pitch it. If we hear it, and it’s great, we go for it. I will say that it’s one of the best things about these films is it really is a super-super-collaborative effort, because everyone believes in fighting for the audience. At the end of the day, that audience is coming there, they’re taking their time, they’re taking their money, they’re taking their family, and we want to make sure to give them a.) a smile on their face and b.) maybe take something home that resonates with them. I think that’s why the family thing again is so core for “Fast.” Little life lessons, little nuggets, little something that stirs you and you bring home in your own life. But yeah, we’re a very collaborative group, so we’re passionately advocates for the audience, and there’s no ego in it, and we’ll all just put our ego aside and fight to make the best movie.
THE BEAT: Are you the world’s biggest Italian Job fan? After reuniting Charlize Theron and F. Gary Gray with Jason for Fate, and you threw in another reference in this one. I also forgot that you wrote Cellular, so you’ve worked with Jason for a while. Have you reached the point where you want to go to Paramount and say, “Hey, let me do another Italian Job or bring that team back together.
MORGAN: Don’t tempt me. I’m really glad you recognized that. We had this moment where we were putting together what Shaw’s cars are going to be in his lair, and we wanted them all to be British, and we were going through the list. It just hit me as so iconic, that film and those cars, and Jason. It was like, “We gotta do it, we gotta do it.” So we did. We put a little nod in. I’m glad you got that, it’s great.
THE BEAT: How are things going on the ninth movie? Are you already writing a tenth movie, too? I know you’ve been busy with this but I also know you’ve been doing a few of these at the same time so are you working on building up another ensemble around Vin?
MORGAN: Right now, kind of the way it works is that they’re both being developed and worked on at the same time. This spin-off is so important to the “Fast Universe,” the fact that it’s our footstep out there and widening the “Fast” story world that they really wanted me to stick on this, take care and just give it the best shot of being a viable franchise in its own moving forward. They’re working on 9 right now. I’m focused on delivering this one, and we’re almost there, almost there. I’m really excited. The good thing is that the vision is that all these stories fit in the “Fast Universe,” in the “Fast Timeline.” They will interconnect. Things that happen in these movies will have ramifications in the other films and vice versa. It’s one big interconnected universe, and I think it’s just a super-cool endeavor to be part of.
THE BEAT: One of the things I liked about Fast 5 is that when you decided to make a heist movie … which also throws back to The Italian Jobin some ways.
MORGAN: A little bit, and this one does a little more sci-fi superheroey…
THE BEAT: Yeah, it goes into spy movies and buddy comedies and you’re able to play with other genres, which I really like. I’m hoping that it can keep going, because you obviously set up a lot of things we’d want to see more of.
MORGAN: Thanks, man. I appreciate that, and I will say that the audience gives us a lot of leeway with this stuff, and again, when we design what the challenge is for our characters in the film – what do they have to overcome? What do they have to learn in each movie? And then we get to design our set pieces, and along with that, we get to pick a genre sometimes. So Fast 5is a great example. When Mia is getting ready to have a baby, and there’s nowhere for them to turn, how do they go off the grid permanently? Well, you do the most awesome heist ever, right? You get enough money, and you disappear forever. This one as well, we decided to a little more sci-tech and buddy action film, but the reason behind it is that you have these two – specifically with the Idris character who is this genetically-engineered soldier – you’ve got these two Alpha action stars the audience knows can handle everything and they’re tough guys, and that don’t want to work together as characters. Hobbs does not want to work with Shaw and vice versa. We knew that we needed someone to step in, who was so bad, who was so powerful, ominous and threatening and can beat them down to the point where the only hope they have of solving the problem is working together. We were fortunate to get Idris, but that’s what led us to take that step is who is that one person who can step in and just run these guys down. Thus, we end up in a little bit of superhero territory.
THE BEAT: By the way, the women at my screening applauded when Dwayne took off his shirt, so you might have to make Hobbs shirtless the entire next movie.
Morgan: I will tell him that today.
Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shawopens Thursday night, August 1, and stick around for my interview with WWE superstar Roman Reigns sometime this week. Also check out what Morgan had to say about Universal’s failed “Dark Universe” plans. I also have some spoilery stuff about the movie that I’ll save for next week, as well as a review and Box Office preview, both coming Wednesday.