‘Fast X’ Director Louis Leterrier Talks Those A-List Cameos and the Twisted Scene That Required Approval From the Top
[This story contains spoilers for Fast X.]
Fast X director Louis Leterrier may have joined the Fast Saga in the most unusual of circumstances, but he’s made his presence felt in a big way.
Leterrier, who film fans know most as the helmer behind The Incredible Hulk (2008) and the Transporter franchise, replaced Fast mainstay Justin Lin, as the filmmaker departed the tenth chapter just one week into production. So when the offer to replace Lin came in, Leterrier, who was once in the running to direct The Fate of the Furious (2017), couldn’t resist the opportunity to finally join the franchise, even if it meant he’d be hitting the ground running with no time to prep. In fact, when he first walked onto the set, he was immediately bowled over by Charlize Theron, who was going all out in a fight scene that was already being directed by the second unit.
But when the dust settles, Leterrier will likely be remembered as the director who helped broker a peace treaty between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, resulting in the return of Luke Hobbs to the main Fast storyline. Just two years ago, Johnson stood firm that the Fast Saga would conclude without him.
“The peace treaty … I kind of [brokered it]. We all did. Ultimately, the movie did,” Leterrier tells The News84Media. “We sort of looked at each other from across the room and winked a few months back, saying, ‘We should work together.’ And then I had this idea and I presented it to the producers and the studio. And then we reached out to Dwayne and his team, and said, ‘Just come and watch the movie. You have to love the movie first.’ So he came to see the movie and really loved it, and then we started talking. It was very smooth, and frankly, as a fan, I could not conceive continuing the franchise without either Dwayne or Gal Gadot.”
In perhaps the franchise’s most sadistic scene, Jason Momoa’s Dante Reyes, the vengeful son of Fast Five villain Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), has a one-sided conversation with two dead henchmen he no longer had a use for, all while painting one of the henchmen’s toenails. The scene proved to be divisive among test audiences, but Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley ultimately cast the deciding vote.
“We wanted to see Dante behind closed doors and realize that he is really twisted. It’s not just an act,” Leterrier says. “So we shot that scene, but we thought it would be a DVD extra at best or in the director’s cut version later down the road. So we started testing the movie without it, and then we started testing the movie with that scene. And the audience went crazy for it. Some were angry and some loved it. And frankly, it was the studio’s Donna Langley who watched the scene and said, ‘I love it. I love the insanity of that scene. And so she gave us the OK.”
Below, during a spoiler conversation with THRLeterrier also discusses the Fast cast member who gave him a ringing endorsement, before going into detail about how new footage was incorporated into existing Fast Five footage.
Well, given your history with the Transporter franchise, did Jason Statham put in a good word for you when Fast X Needed a new director one week into principal photography?
I certainly hope so. You know who put in a good word? Nathalie Emmanuel, who I worked with on Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. So Jason and I know each other, obviously, but I don’t know if they called him. But I know that they called Nathalie, and she put in a great word. So it’s very much thanks to Natalie, and I thank her very much.
I can’t imagine you had any time for prep, so did you just acclimate to Justin Lin’s storyboards and whatnot?
Yeah, there was a lot of stuff that Justin Lin had done, and that was fantastic. But unfortunately, the moment I stepped onto the plane to fly to London, they lost the main location for the third act. So everything had to change, and we had to rewrite. Dan Mazeau, one of the screenwriters, was still on, and so we had to rework the story, the third act at least. And then the second act into the third act had to change. So, as I got more comfortable, I added my DNA throughout the entire movie.
Was Justin available by phone if you absolutely needed clarity on something?
Absolutely. He and I are really good friends. We have a commercial company together with the Russo brothers. Obviously, it was all moving very, very quickly in the beginning, and I jumped from Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting. And eventually, I reached out to Justin. I didn’t want to reach out before I had the job, but when it felt like I really had it, I reached out and said, “Hey Justin, I think I’m going for it.” And he gave his blessing. He said, “It’s the greatest cast and the greatest crew,” and he was absolutely right. I was lucky enough to walk into the best crew and the best cast that I’ve ever worked with, and no one new was brought in. So it was just perfect, and I was like, “I now understand why these movies look the way they look and feel the way they feel.”
Clearly, you and Vin Diesel got along well since you’re directing Fast X Part II or whatever it ends up being called. What’s the key to a successful collaboration with Vin?
I think you have to get along. Well, it’s not getting along; you have to want to talk about the same themes, and respect the audience and the crew and the other cast members in the same way Vin does. No good movie is made in spite of the star or the studio or everything. If we all — and when we all — get along, the shooting is smooth, the experience is smooth and the results are great. If we’re all saying the same thing and speaking the same language, the audience will feel it. So the movie really resembles what we all decided to do together.
Speaking of Part IIis that the final movie in the Fast Saga? Or is Fast X now the start of a trilogy?
Let’s see what happens. Going back to every other franchise in the world — except for Lord of the Rings, where they had the books and knew when they needed to stop — you don’t work on the next next movie. You can have high hopes for what’s to come, but you should work and give your best to the one movie that you’re working on. So I will give my best to Part 11 or Part B, and we shall see what happens.
Unfortunately, we all had to learn about the mid-credit surprise from another publication’s report. So how did Dwayne Johnson’s cameo end up happening? Who brokered the peace treaty?
(Laughs.) The peace treaty … I kind of did. We all did. Ultimately, the movie did. I didn’t know Dwayne, personally, but we reached out to Dwayne and Dwayne’s team. We sort of looked at each other from across the room and winked a few months back, saying, “We should work together.” And then I had this idea and I presented it to the producers and the studio. And then we reached out to Dwayne and his team and said, “Just come and watch the movie. You have to love the movie first.” So he came to see the movie and really loved it, and then we started talking. It was very smooth, and frankly, as a fan, I could not conceive continuing the franchise without either Dwayne or Gal Gadot. This franchise was built by actors and characters. The set pieces are wonderful. They keep you entertained and keep you shoving popcorn in your mouth, but the characters make this franchise what it is.
Were you actually on set with Gal Gadot? I only ask because she had to shoot a recent cameo without her director and scene partners.
I was on the set with her. I was lucky enough to see Gal Gadot and give her a big hug and a thank you at the end of the shoot. That was a highlight for me. I was lucky enough to direct one commercial with her, and I saw the power of Gal Gadot for 30 seconds. So, now that I get to not only work with her but also bring back Gisele into the franchise, I’m the happiest fan in the world.
You had to shoot new flashbacks of Jason Momoa’s character in order to insert them into the existing one Fast Five footage. But did you also gain access to the Fast Five dailies so you could use alternate takes and different angles?
Absolutely. Since we had to Rashomon that Fast Five scene, it was completely essential that we looked at all the dailies, and that’s what we did. Universal Studios has an amazing archival department, and so we dug it all out and looked at everything. Our movie was shot digitally, because most movies are shot digitally now, but Fast Five was shot on 35 mm. So we transferred all the footage and realized afterwards what unused footage that we could use and tweak. So we put our characters into pre-existing footage through motion control and CG, and then we also shot new bits with the same film stock and cameras as Fast Five. Stephen Windon was our DP, and he has shot most of the Fast movies since [Fast & Furious (2009)]. So he also shot Fast Five, and he remembered exactly what he did and what his light meter read back then. So it looks and feels seamless. You can’t really tell what’s new and what’s old, because every shot is a hybrid.
Jason Momoa’s nail polish scene might be the most twisted scene in the franchise. Was it controversial at all with the studio or test audiences?
No, it was never controversial, but it is a very polarizing scene. It was not scripted. We wanted more of Jason Momoa’s Dante, so we improvised a little bit more. We wanted to see Dante when he is not peacocking. We wanted to see Dante behind closed doors and realize that he is really twisted. It’s not just an act. So we shot that scene, but we thought it would be a DVD extra at best or in the director’s cut version later down the road. So we started testing the movie without it, and then we started testing the movie with that scene. And the audience went crazy for it. Some were angry and some loved it. It was all so different. And frankly, it was the studio’s Donna Langley who watched the scene and said, “I love it. I love the insanity of that scene.” And so she gave us the OK.
Jason’s character likes to say the French word “enchanté.” As a French man yourself, was that your suggestion?
(Laughs.) That was my suggestion. What you have to realize is that Jason and I love each other. We found each other on this movie, and we realized that making each other laugh was a great way to create Dante. So we rewrote the dialogue together. I’d say, “You should say enchanté,” and then we would add “very bad daddy.” So we really liked making each other laugh, and the extra points, the joker of our game, was to get Vin to crack up and come out of character as Dom Toretto. So we tried really hard, like when Dante calls Dom “butthole,” but Vin is so focused when he is on set that it was impossible. And when we would call cut, Vin would be like, “Oh, you guys tried really hard!” So we were like kids on set, and it was absolutely fun.
Charlize Theron is one of the best action stars in the world, but as far as action scenes, she’s been underutilized in the last two films. So, in light of her two terrific fight scenes Fast X, was everybody determined to get her more involved on that front? Was that a goal from the start?
It was. It was a goal from the start to literally get her out of the box F9 had her in and got her kicking ass. And frankly, Charlize wanted that. When I arrived on set, Charlize was shooting Cipher’s fight against her own men, and I was terrified. I was like, “I’ve done a few action movies, but I’ve never seen an actor give themselves fully to a scene like that.” Oh my God, I literally had to talk to the second unit director and ask, “Are we doing too much? Are we pushing her?” And he said, “No, it’s her.” She really wanted to do as much as possible, if not more. So we had to hold her back because she would have done everything if it was up to her.
Fast X is now playing in movie theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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