We are definitely in the dog days of summer, when the sun is out longer and everything feels hotter and more exhausting than the day before. But one way to beat the heat and have your adrenaline levels comfortably spike is by slipping into the theater to see “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.” The first official spin-off in the franchise sees federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) re-team with reformed criminal Shaw (Jason Statham) to go after a super-villainous baddie named Brixton (Idris Elba). It’s just as explosive and over-the-top as you’d imagine something like this being, with huge stunts, wicked banter, and very cool cars.
We spoke with “Hobbs & Shaw” director David Leitch about his relationship with the franchise, whether or not Keanu Reeves was ever going to join the movie, if we’ll see another “Atomic Blonde” film and, oh by the way, has he heard anything about the long-rumored new installment in “Matrix” series. Rev your engines and get to reading!
Moviefone: Looking at your filmography, it is shocking to see that you have never worked on one of the “Fast and Furious” movies. What your relationship with them before signing on?
David Leitch: It's funny, you're right. I must be the only stunt man in Hollywood who has never worked on one because they use every possible stunt man on the planet. If you've seen the action in those movies … As a guide that directs action movies, to be invited to be a part of the “Fast & Furious” world, it's a big deal, because the set pieces are big, the resources are plenty and the expectation is high. It was really great to be called upon and them say, “Hey, would you like to do your take on the ‘Fast & Furious’ world?” So here we are.
Well what was your take? Were there things that you really wanted to add to the franchise? And was there anything that Universal asked you to include?
There weren't any real directives from Universal per se. I think that they were really supportive of me as a filmmaker, striking my own pose and doing what I wanted to do with the universe.
There was a lot of trust in me that I would remain true to the ‘Fast’ world in a couple of things, but it was never a conversation. And I think we did -- there's elements of family that are hugely important in the franchise and we tackle them in our own way. The set pieces are big and bombastic and, you know, defy physics and they’re fun and meant for the summer movies. And I think we delivered on that.
I think the biggest choice we made was to take the tone in a more fun way. We let the audience know that we weren't going to be so self-serious and that we could actually have some fun with these characters a lot like they do in the three movies that they're in together. So we just built on that. That's where I wanted to take it. When you see Hobbs and Shaw their dynamic from the previous films, I wanted to build on that.
It feels like an eighties buddy movie but exploded to “Fast & Furious” proportions.
Yes. It is sort of like the eighties buddy action movie collided with a ‘Fast’ movie and it exploded. It’s two trains on the track. But that's what I was hoping for. And I think that, there are the movies that I grew up watching like ”Lethal Weapon” where you have these two characters that are so perfectly defined in the first 10 minutes of the movie that you can't wait to see them collide. And that's not unlike what we've tried to do with Hobbs and Shaw at the beginning of this movie.
What is your personal philosophy is in terms of going into these action sequences? Particularly in “Deadpool 2” and this, you've done a really great job of sort of mixing CGI and digital doubles with practical effects.
Well, with “Hobbs and Shaw” it becomes next level. “Deadpool” was a great stepping stone for the integration of practical stunts, which is my forte and where I come from, and visual effects. That was one level. And then there's the “Fast & Furious” level, which is crazy integration. And I guess the way I approached that is I start with the practical and we get as much in camera as possible, more than most directors because they don't come from sort of this analog filmmaking background that I come from. And we do the stunts to the best of our ability and get as many of the assets on camera.
For example, the scene in Samoa at the end, with the cars -- the black hawk helicopters are real helicopters, we're flying another picture helicopter over the chain of cars and the cars on the ground are all real. And then the digital enhancement is when they're hanging off of it. So you're combining all these real elements and you're adding digital assets to enhance them. And what that does is it forces the artists to deliver more compelling work and they have better models they have a better roadmap and it allows for better integration. A lot of times filmmakers just make the digital cartoon from top to bottom and there's nothing real. And that doesn't make those sequences that compelling.
I mean, was there ever a point where you tried to do the motorcycle practically?
No. But my crew wouldn't be surprised if I asked that. The motorcycle became something that was late in the game and we were developing rigs where we could slide the motorcycle on a rig that was being slid under trucks that were on Gimbels. And we were going to shoot it with real cameras. And it did become logistically like, okay, now it's too crazy. But then the idea of the transforming bike took hold and that was something that really had to be created in CG with some great artists.
Obviously we should not ever believe anything we read online, but there were persistent rumors over the past year that the movie’s big bad was going to be played by Keanu Reeves. Was there any truth to those rumors?
We had talks with Keanu and a lot of this stuff takes time on these big movies and he was deep in the throws of ‘John Wick 3.’ It was never talked about like what he would do or what he would play or who it was. But would I like Keanu to be a part of this universe? Yes. So we were never really specific about who he was or what it was going to be, but we were, yes, we're talking about, “Hey, you want to be in there? Because that’d be awesome.” That’s as far as went.
You and Chad created the “John Wick” franchise. Are you blown away by what it has become?
Look, I am humbled by it I really sort of grateful that this small, independent movie we made, collectively had this resonance in the action space and beyond. It’s a testament to the character that that Chad and I created in the first film and Keanu created and I look at characters living on and we're just like grateful and we get to make more of those. It's pretty cool.
I just wanted to quickly ask about a couple of other things: you did “Atomic Blonde” a couple of years ago and Charlize talks every so often about you guys are working on a follow-up. Is that something that you would still like to pursue?
I am. I love “Atomic Bomb” and I love the Lorraine Broughton character. I think that there have been talks about taking that world and going to other places and we've had ideas circling in the past. It'd be interesting what they come up with. So we'll see.
You have worked very closely and on a number of films with theWachowskis and there's been talk that they're coming out of retirement for another “Matrix.” Have you, have you talked to them at all about that?
I haven't and I hope to talk to them soon, but I haven't heard any details or know much about it. But how exciting to see them back in the directorial space and I loved them a lot. Nothing but the best for them and I look forward to catching up with them soon.
“Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” opens tonight.