F9: Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez on Justice for Han and the Franchise Endgame

As movie theaters open back up in the U.S. and around the world, summer movie season is quickly becoming something to look forward to. And F9, the ninth chapter in the Fast & Furious saga, is one of the most highly anticipated upcoming releases. To preview the film that hits theaters on June 25th, director Justin Lin (who helmed the third, fourth, fifth and sixth films in the Fast franchise), stars Vin DieselMichelle Rodriguez, and John Cena (who is a newcomer to the global blockbuster franchise) held a press conference to get fans hyped for the release, and Collider attended.

In F9, Dom Toretto (Diesel) is living off the grid with Letty (Rodriguez) until his estranged brother Jakob (Cena), who is not only a high-performance driver but also a skilled assassin, threatens everything Dom holds dear.

During the interview, Lin, Diesel, Rodriguez and Cena talked about the family that’s formed from telling a story that’s spanned nearly two decades, continuing to top what they’ve done previously with each installment, bringing the women to the forefront of this story, embracing a new family member, the importance of bringing Han (Sung Kang) back, and whether there could ever be a Fast & Furious and Jurassic World crossover.

Question: Vin, you have literally spent two decades with these characters, and now we’re to get this penultimate chapter and then a final chapter broken across two films. How do you feel going into this, knowing that you can see that light at the end of the tunnel, but also knowing where you want these characters to go? Is it bittersweet?

VIN DIESEL: It is bittersweet. It has been a part of my life. The family that you see on screen has become my family off screen. It’s such a blessing to have been able to work with people that I love and to work with people that share that passion and that desire to make magic at the highest level. Who can tell where the future goes? I do know that we had always envisioned, at least in the first phase, what the finale of this mythology would be. So, I’m very excited about that. I’m very excited about 10.1 and 10.2 But it is bittersweet because I hope to work with these people that I call my family for the rest of my life.

Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez in F9

Image via Universal

A Fast movie is always an event and it’s always a global phenomenon, in so many ways. Justin, returning to this and knowing what’s mapped out over these next films, is it daunting? What was it like coming into this one, knowing that you just want to continue to top what’s been done before?

JUSTIN LIN: Vin is usually 10 steps ahead of me. When I left, I thought, “Okay, this is time for me. I don’t have any more to contribute.” And I remember, I would be shooting a film or be in a cutting room, and Vin would call me and we’d just be talking about Dom and the Fast family. It’s through that and also just a lot of the conversation through the years, whether it’s just fans stopping me and talking about the characters and the world. When the right idea and the right themes landed, it just felt very organic. It felt like I wasn’t really away, at all. Our mantra, from the very beginning was that we earned our next chapter. This is the first time, for me, where it’s not just talking about one movie, it’s talking about the final chapter. That’s very exciting. I feel very grateful. To be back with everybody, the fact is that I get to grow and we actually developed this family. A lot of times with sequels, it’s like, “Well, let’s do the same thing over again.” That’s not the case here. We’re always challenging each other to evolve and to push. So, it felt like I was away, but it also felt very poetic to be back, trying to wrap everything, or at least this saga, up.

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Michelle, in this particular installment, the ladies are really at the forefront. After producing the documentary Stuntwomen, about the driving and the stunt aspects of Fast 9, did that become even more important for you to have the films showcase?

MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ: My heart warmed when I saw that there was actually not one single bit of resistance against the idea of bringing the females of the franchise into the forefront. Justin was super on board with it. Vin was super on board with it. He’s always been supportive of strong women. And the studio hired an amazing writer to come on board and touch up all of the female characters. When I actually watched the movie, I was like, “Yeah, okay, drop mic. I can chill now.” I felt like all of the females in the franchise got equal amounts of love, and that, to me, warmed my heart. If they win, I win. To see Nathalie [Emmanuel] doing something other than typing into a computer and doing techie stuff, to see this wonderful new character who’s a walking weapon just kick ass and take names to see me as character, and to see Jordana Brewster’s character Mia come in and get her hands dirty again in full-on fight action sequences, I was like, “Yes, that’s what I’m talking about, guys. Let’s do this!” I was super happy.

Director Justin Lin on the set of F9

Image via Universal

John, what was it like, with the family aspect of this, knowing that you’re joining this two decade long saga and coming into it representing the Toretto last name? How seriously did you take that?

JOHN CENA: I certainly didn’t overlook the responsibility of the opportunity. I get to reap the rewards of this family who has poured the foundation and built the structure of a global delivering blockbuster. I get invited into the ninth installment to share the last name Toretto and to be Dom’s greatest adversary of all time. That is not lost. I think it has to start there. It has to start with respect. It goes back to what Justin says about earning your next chapter. I believe that’s a nice metaphor for life, as well. Everything we get should be earned. I was grateful enough to develop a relationship with Vin, and Vin was gracious enough to give me a chance. I forever thank him, and I always do, for betting on me. I remember telling him a long time ago that I wouldn’t let him down because I love the body of work that’s been established and it’s an honor. I knew what it’s like, in my experiences in the WWE, to be the new kid in the locker room. I also knew what it’s like in the WWE to be the 15-year vet, when I look at the new kid in the locker room like, “Who the hell is this?” You always want to make sure someone’s intentions are genuine and their passion is true. Regardless of how many installments of the franchise you’ve been involved with, I believe if the heart is there, you get to experience that welcoming family environment. I experienced it firsthand on set and after the workday was done. It’s memories that I’ll remember forever. It’s a very wonderful experience.

RODRIGUEZ: To be fair, John, you kick ass and take names, hardcore. You body of work in the WWE is no joke. I remember when Vin was like, “What do you think about John Cena?” And I was like, “Duh!” It was a no-brainer. His moral stance, even in the WWE, and who he stands for as a character is just so on par with Fast and what we’re all about. You’re a perfect fit, bro.

DIESEL: And to that end, I will just add that years before we actually started casting, Justin and I were playing with this concept. Justin and I both have brothers. All of us have brothers. That interesting dynamic of what your brotherly love is and how complex it can be, at times, makes for great storytelling. But I remember, once we started getting closer to production, Justin and I would talk about how harrowing it would be to actually have to cast a new Toretto, for the brother of Dom Toretto. There are so many different directions that you can go. And I remember John Cena coming into this Dom shrine that I had, where I would go meditate and train and start getting into that Dom state of mind. John came in and call this crazy, but I remember feeling as though Pablo – Paul Walker – had sent him in. I talked to Justin that night and said, “My gut and my heart feels like this was meant to be.”

Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez in F9

Image via Universal

This franchise continues to go to new and exciting locations. Is there anywhere in the world that you haven’t taken the franchise, that you’d like to go?

DIESEL: One of the magical things about this saga is that we get to travel to all of these wonderful places. Part of the reason why Fast 10 has to be broken into two different movies is because there’s so much ground to cover, and there are so many places and so many locations in the world that we have to visit.

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Justin, what was the biggest challenge with this film? What was the most challenging stunt to put together?

LIN: It’s interesting because we want to always make sure we prepare and it’s safe and we’re very lucky to have the best crew in the world to make it happen. A lot of times, four seconds will take eight months to 12 months of prep, just to get that. At the end, when we finally execute it, it ends up being a year’s worth of work. For me, it’s the moments that we’re trying to capture. Whether it’s Jordana and Michelle, and we’re in Tokyo and they’re having this conversation, and it’s something that we’ve been talking about in theory, but emotionally, when you can feel it, those are the moments that make you go, “Okay, this is worth it.” Or it’s the first day where Dom and Jakob are on set. It felt right. I remember we did 15 takes, just to keep going and find our rhythm with each other. Those are the magic moments, and I know for us.

John, your involvement in this seems to be put in motion by Charlize Theron’s character. What role does she play for you?

CENA: A lot of the questions that people have, and the hallmark of a spectacular trailer, is about what happens next and that’s our reason to siphon people into theaters to go see F9. The fact that they watch the trailer and come up with their own theories means the excitement is still there and the buzz is still there. Fast is one of the very few franchises that has electricity around its release. That’s why we’ve asked audiences around the world to be patient because this film belongs in theaters. Now it’s time for people to begin to contemplate going back to theaters, so now it’s time for us to start establishing that buzz again. Anytime I hear a question like, “How come we’ve never heard Jakob?,” or “What is your relationship with Charlize?,” or “What happens after I saw this?,” that means that the heart is still beating, the buzz is still there, and people are ready to go back to the movies to see F9 . . . We’ve been waiting for so long, so to come this close and to spoil it, forget Universal, I would feel bad about that. We’ve waited. I’m not gonna be the one to open the Christmas gift on the 20th.

DIESEL: That’s so true. It’s not about Universal. It’s about the fans, and it’s about allowing them to experience this in the theater and to be excited about what they see.

Vin Diesel and John Cena in F9

Image via Universal

Vin and Michelle, especially because you guys have your own relationship with Han, coming back from the earlier films, what was it like to have Sung Kang return?

RODRIGUEZ: For me, originally hearing it, it sounds the same way that it sounded to a lot of the individuals who were like, “That’s crazy!,” when they were talking about bringing me back to life. There’s absolutely nothing that I could possibly say other than I can’t wait to see how they pull this off. It’s just curiosity. And I love Sung Kang. He’s fantastic. He’s the kind of dude that’ll work for nothing, just because he loves what he does and he’s really good at what he does. Nobody that’s ever met him or hung out with him could ever say a bad thing about the guy. So, I can’t wait for him to come back. He’s awesome to work with. I just love his vibe and his energy. So, I was all about it. I was literally like, “Vin, how are you gonna make this happen? Justin, how are you bringing this to life?”

DIESEL: This installment is, in so many ways, about fatherhood. To really grasp the significance of that, we have to examine the brotherhood. We have this interesting and fascinating and mysterious character in Jakob, who is a blood brother. [Han] is just that person you want to have on set, every day. You want to have him on your team, all the time. You want to champion him. You want his magic to be a part of your production. Aside from that, just from a story point, with Justin and I thinking about story, there’s significance in the brotherhood of Dom and Han. There was no brotherhood between Dom and Brian. Brian was a cop and Dom was an outlaw. There was a brotherhood between Han and Dom. They were outlaws in Mexico. They were brothers. So in creating this whole mythology, the presence of Jakob was beautifully balanced by the return of Han and the return of a brother. That’s been a brother that was there when Dom and Letty got married so long ago in the Dominican Republic. There’s a relevance and power that lives in this mythology, that only Sung Kang and Han could bring to it.

There have been questions about whether the Fast franchise could go to space, but to take it one step further, because they’re both Universal franchises, could there ever be a Fast and Furious and Jurassic World crossover?

RODRIGUEZ: I’m all in! Once you reach a certain pinnacle, there’s nowhere to go, but to cross brand and merge. It’s what big corporations do with each other when they get too big. You just have to brand and merge with each other. The only thing standing in the way is lawyers and studios. Usually the brands that you’re trying to merge belong to different studios. But if it’s under the same umbrella, I don’t know. I’m just saying, it works.

LIN: I never say never to anything. Part of our philosophy is not to ever be boxed in or labeled. That’s all I will say.

F9 opens in theaters on June 25th.

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Christina Radish
(4778 Articles Published)

Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.

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