How ‘Fast X’ Director Louis Leterrier Brings the F&F Series Back to Earth while Pushing Limits
Louis Leterrier, pictured above with Vin Diesel, was destined to direct a Fast and Furious movie.
“I watched the first one 22 years ago,” the French director told Autoweek in an exclusive interview. “And I tell you exactly where I watched it and who I watched it with: It was on the Champs Elysse that I watched. It was the first week of my first feature film Transporter, and my best friend, actor Jason Statham, was sitting next to me.”
Both of them realized then and there that they must join La Familia.
“We sort of took this all in and just loved it so much. The lights came up. And then we looked at each other and said, ‘This, this is what we want to do. This is where we’re going with our career.”
And they did, both of them. Leterrier’s first big film, Transporter, starring Statham, had opened only the week before, full of the very same kind of violence and honor that would become central themes of all 10 movies in the Fast franchise.
“Transporter had just opened a week earlier and in a sense it (F&F) defined Transporter, which defined our careers,” Leterrier said.
Statham has been in five F&F films and one spinoff (Hobbs and Shaw), and now, finally, he is joined by his best friend in Fast X, now in theaters.
“So there’s a nice little full-circle thing happening. Jason has been part of this franchise and I join him now. The two of us meeting on set again.”
Getting Leterrier into the director’s chair took a number of coincidences—and possibly one Hollywood ego—to make happen. Vin Diesel, who plays the mountainous, musclebound, monosyllabic Dom Toretto, had irked five-time Fast director Jason Lin one time too many. Shortly after filming got under way for Fast X, Lin left, saying, according to the Hollywood trade publication Variety, “This movie is not worth my mental health.” Diesel’s domineering dictatorial demeanor had also, according to more than a few sources, forced Dwayne Johnson to depart after Fast 8, The Fate of the Furious. Is there a more F&F actor in Hollywood than Dwayne Johnson?
Leterrier didn’t know about Lin when his phone rang and it was Universal Studios asking him to direct Fast X. He thought it was a mistaken call. But he quickly recovered and said yes. Fast X isn’t too far off what he had done in the Transporter movies with Statham: A noble guy with strong fighting chops is forced—through no fault of his own—to fight for what’s right. Gunfire, explosions and punches follow.
In addition to all that, in Fast & Furious movies there are many cool cars. For Leterrier, the cars take precedence.
“For me, they’re the most important. They’re the capes to all the superheroes. They are their superpowers. Our heroes are very human. And then they became superhuman once they’re put behind (the wheel of) a car or on a motorcycle.”
And in Fast X, those scenes with cars and motorcycles will return to moviemaking that’s almost… reasonable.
“That was very important for me to bring them back to the center stage of this franchise. I mean, they went to space last time. I could not top that. So I was just, ‘Okay, let’s ground it back down, let’s put them behind the wheel and push the limits, but push it in a way that is, if we can do it practically, you know, at least relatively, as safe as we can practically. And we really push those limits.”
So the stunts will be believable?
“A Fiero could not go to space. Sure, a (Dodge) Charger could go down a dam with a fire avalanche behind it. But it’s, you know, it’s really pushing the limits. But that’s what’s fun about Fast is, we ground it. We somewhat respect the laws of physics. You know, we make it fun, make it fast. I’d be remiss if I didn’t push the envelope in my Fast. I wanted to be grounded, but also make it fun.”
The car stunts are important to the franchise after all.
“It’s a very interesting topic, because it’s like a balance, like the cars are very important and they’re the frame in which this story plays. But the characters, frankly, are what’s above and beyond more important than anything in the franchise, more than the action, more than the scope, more than the globetrotting. It’s really that sort of zooming in to this family—this man with the greatest heart and courage to save the world, protect his family and other people surrounding him—and how foes become friends, how forgiveness is more important than revenge. These are the themes of this movie. These are themes that have been spearheaded by Vin Diesel since the very beginning.”
And remember, these themes and this movie series has been around longer than just about any other.
“A quarter of a century with the same actors playing the same characters. There’s no franchise in the world that has that—James Bond, Star Wars—they had their moment and then eventually, those actors moved on to other things. They didn’t come back, even in the Marvel world.”
Some of the best chase scenes in cinema have come from French movies or at least those set in France. Remember Ronin and The French Connection? A good chase scene can fulfill the role of drama in advancing the story and revealing characters.
“It’s very true: Action scenes, chase scenes, fight scenes, they’re all drama. They’re all storytelling. They are character development. And I think Fast and Furious has done that so well. There’s always a three-act structure in Fast and Furious in all their action scenes. There’s a beginning, middle, and an end. There’s a twist, there’s a change. For a director it’s very pleasurable because you’re still playing with your characters, and you see the audience leaning forward instead of leaning back. This stuff that makes your mouth hang open—you’re really at the edge of their seat, it’s storytelling and it’s character development.”
If you do go to see Fast X, see if you agree with its director, and let us know in the comments below.