Set Visit: Fast Five interview with Vin Diesel
On Monday, we brought you our report from the Atlanta set of FAST FIVE and yesterday an extended interview with star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Today we've got an interview with the man who's been there from the very beginning - Vin Diesel. He starts off by saying he normally doesn't like talking to press while on set so consider this a rare opportunity to hear from the man while he's actually working...
You've been filming today and yesterday with Dwayne Johnson. Can you talk about that?
We've been filming this pretty intense scene. We've been filming this fight sequence that has been going on for what feels like a week. It's been pretty intense. I should have brought a picture. Actually, since you brought me over here, I'm going to show them a picture. (sends his assistant to get a photo)
We talked to Dwayne and he said, "Yeah, I kick his ass."
Dwayne's great. He's been a buddy of mine for a long time.
Was it really important for you to find a great adversary to go against?
The role was initially written for a Tommy Lee Jones/Josh Brolin and with today's level of phsyicality and, I guess the physicality that fans would expect from Dom -- I mean, Dom's a mechanic who races cars. He's not as vain as xXx. 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 and whatever. Whatever way you could. I've known him for ten years. We've always wanted to do something together. There was a woman who left a comment on my facebook page about six months ago. Jan Kelly, I think. I don't know why I remember that. But she said, "I'd love to see you guys do a movie and I really think it would be dynamic." Justin and I were in New York earlier in the year talking about casting and 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. When you do a fight sequence like that, if you're working with an athlete like I did on Babylon -- I did it with a mixed martial artist named Jérôme Le Banner -- it added something dynamic to that scene. Who better skilled at the art of creating choreographed fight sequences than somebody who comes from a world of choreography? 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 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.
How has Dom changed since the last one?
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.
Do you and Dwayne's characters respect one another or do you just loathe each other?
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. (Shows us the photo of breaking through the glass)
Isn't that bananas? Am I crazy, or is that bananas? That's yesterday and at a velocity that you can't even imagine. Him pushing me through the fucking -- It's amazing. And it's so weird that we're even talking right now because just two days ago the studio came down and told me not to tell anything on my Facebook page about Fast and now they're like pulling me from a scene in a moment to talk to press. It's kinda perverse.
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?
I guess there's more pressure now than there was then. But I always thought there was pressure. I was of the mindset that I was lucky to work. I was of the mindset that nobody wanted me in Hollywood. I approached Hollywood with that idea: Nobody wants me here, so I've got to work extra hard. 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?" I've always had kind of an allergic reaction to taking a reactionary approach to a sequel. 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. You should think about where the film is going over a series of films. Our public is so apt for episodic storytelling. I grew up with GOODFELLAS and then the next generation was growing up Sopranos. It's the same genre and the same genre, but one you're able to see every week and one you see when it opened up in the theater. 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 the last Fast and Furious.
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?
Sure. There's so many things. Staying in the pocket of the character is very important. If you were here in the last five hours, you would see me by myself and you would see another actor talking to people. It's just a style. I was raised in New York city and raised in the New York City theater world. It was how we approached acting. My father was a theater director and an acting teacher. 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 fuck out of somebody. Somebody is gonna get punched. 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. They hate how much I talk. I talk, talk, talk, talk. I try to be generous to journalists. In fact, I get in trouble for being so talkative. I bet when you talked to me before, somebody had to say, "Vin, get up!" Is that a sharp contrast to my energy now? Completely. And why? Because this is so fucking 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.
So you're not gonna let Tyrese get you on Twitter?
(Laughs) No. These guys quickly learn that doing a movie with me is different from past experiences they've had. It's that much more sacred.
And that must make them step up their game, too.
Everyone steps up their game. It's a secret of mine in any movie I'm in. To make every other player shine. Sometime you'll having people asking, "Why are you doing that? Why are you forcing them to take this scene?" For some reason, when it comes down to the ticket buyer and the public that has to take their family to the movies on the weekend, we really don't have anything in the world sacred anymore but movies. It's movies and computers. The only thing that computers can't do is give that computer experience. We're the last sword against the computer, essentially. But when people go to the movies, they want to escape for two hours. You have to put everything in it. You have to put 24 hours a day into that movie. You have to be able to look at everything. Especially if you're the producer. Especially if you're accountable as producer. But the secret is to make everybody else 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.
How important was it for you to pull together this all-star cast from the other films?
It was a fun thing. 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. And thank god you fight. You fight your ass off to get the story just at a decent place before you start shooting. And they 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. Every movie I make, I tell these clowns, I tell the world, I tell the good guys and the bad guys, "You could die at the end of the movie." The way I think of it, you could die at the end of the movie.
Because you're working that hard and putting that much of your soul in it?
You're definitely putting part of your soul in it. It takes so long to get that back, too. To refuel that. I don't know why I think about it like that, but each movie could be the last thing you say to the world. To your children. Everything. It's that sacred.
Is this franchise particularly sacred to you?
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 even moreso protective after TOKYO DRIFT. They were saying, "We're never going to make another Fast and Furious after TOKYO DRIFT. We need you to come and do the cameo. 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." And I had actually found the way to continue the character by being on this street by the water by the oceanside in the Dominican Republic. I was walking there literally after having gone to meet the President for this film program. This kid wanted to shine my shoes and I had sneakers on. He opened up the box and he had CDs and he said, "will you buy some of my CDs?" I said, "Okay, I'll buy them." And there was one song on one CD that deserves as much credit for the success of Fast and Furious as anything else. If you remember TOKYO DRIFT, when they asked me to do the cameo, they could have paid me a million dollars or whatever to do the cameo. 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. It's regional for Tokyo. When I come onscreen, if you can remember what you hear, it's a song called Los Bandoleros. It's a reggae tune and you're in Tokyo. Why you're hearing a reggae tune in Tokyo is, I guess, the whole point of it. They honored that.
Even though, like I said, it's like putting Lil Wayne in MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. It's not what you'd think of. It was a catalyst for so much because it lead to the studio letting me bring these artist into the film to add a while other dimension. It lead to the short film LOS BANDOLEROS. If you see that film, you could argue that I'm very, very protective of this franchise. Because not only do we do the film, but I go off and shoot this. 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. You saw it. It was so clearly the first act of the movie. You got more backstory. 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. It was kind of a real -- I don't think the movie industry realized what it was. And because of that, it they didn't handle it right. Universal wanted to be able to release it on the third week as a real surprise thing. See it with LOS BANDOLEROS. But because they had never done anything like that and didn't have the rights to that, they couldn't make it happen. But people that saw the movie said that they understood the movie, but were able to see the characters in a different light. They were able to get more of that Dom/Letty relationship that they felt was lacking in the last one. But all that was in the service of respecting and honoring the fans of the franchise and the fans of the movie. Whether it's a fan or somebody that just vibes off that movie or escapes with that movie or can just get into the character archetypes in the movie. Who know why people connect? My father used to say, "They're connecting with you not just because of what you say verbally but what you don't say." There's a connection happening that's not your dialogue. That's the real profound part. I guess I don't know why people connect with so much.
Has Dom finally gotten over Letty in this one?
That's a dangerous question.
Well, because she was so important to that character.
So important to that character. 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/
So this is a trilogy.
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."
Do you think you'll take it to Europe in the last one?
I think we'll be in Europe in the last one.
Can you talk about Dom's reaction to a bigger group of people that he doesn't necessarily know?
I think they're all quick to realize who that leader is and who that father figure is. Even if some of them can be reistant, which makes for good texture. This film is driven by circumstances that none of them, especially Dom, realized. He was content dying off essentially without his love. What's fascinating is that it starts off with two characters, Brian and Mia retaliating against an injustice that they felt the system did. They thought -- we all did -- "Hey, this dude just took down a guy bigger than Pablo Escobar." They're not trying to become criminals to make money. This isn't Ocean's 11. This isn't Ocean's 18.
When you figure out the specific way you're approaching each character, are you reliant on the director or is this something you figure out entirely on your own?
That's a good question. Years ago, you would have relied on the director for that. A time when directors had just come from theater. When you're dealing with directors who have that approach to movies. That old style, like Sidney Lumet. It's a completely different process now. Directors are forced to be masters of so many different reins that they can also be old school. It comes from a more old school approach to theater. In fact, my approach all around is a little old school. It's kind of antiquated in the days of CGI and Avatars and so on and so force. I'm kind of left over.
Do you have to do something with the other actors to let them know what character mood you're in on any given day?
I think that they get it and I think that they appreciate it. There are so many directors out there that have contempt for actors that when they come onto a set that when they're encouraged to think about their characters and encouraged to explore, they appreciate that. There's many a time where actors say how much they appreciate that kind of encouragement and that so obvious me wanting them to be the best they can be. There's never been anything formal about it. I never really thought about it. I'm just kind of airing it out right now. I can tell you that it goes back as far as I can remember. I remember back on Fast and Furious when the film was called RED LINE. I was on the Universal lot and I had just done PITCH BLACK, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and BOILER ROOM. We did a whole table read -- which you have to fight for now, to do table reads -- we did a table read on the lot of Universal, all the actors, director and writers and I kept asking questions to the writers. I saw the other actors start asking questions. What do you think of this? And they'd say, "What do you think, Vin?" But challenging the writer on all fronts. I walk out and I see the head of the studio coming over. I think, "Oh fuck. I talked too much." It was a guy named Scott Stuber. He said, "Vinnie, I'm counting on you." I said, "What are you counting on?" He said, "All these actors look up to you. I'm counting on you to get a performance out of all of them." I said, "I don't know how the hell I'm going to do that." But it dates back that far, even before I did the first one. Pretty crazy.