Giv­ing ‘Fu­ri­ous’ fran­chise its due

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Saba Hamedy saba.hamedy@la­times.com

Direc­tor James Wan re­flects on the spe­cial chal­lenges of work­ing on “Fu­ri­ous 7.”

The high-revving “Fast & Fu­ri­ous” fran­chise has made more than $2 bil­lion world­wide since the first film launched in 2001. “Fu­ri­ous 7,” the lat­est in­stall­ment, took in $143.6-mil­lion in its do­mes­tic de­but over the week­end, de­liv­er­ing the big­gest open­ing for the se­ries. Direc­tor James Wan took over the reins from Justin Lin, who di­rected the last three films in the Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures fran­chise. Wan comes from the world of low-bud­get hor­ror flicks. His 2004 di­rec­to­rial de­but, “Saw,” which cost just $1.2 mil­lion to make, took in $56 mil­lion in the U.S. and Canada. His next box-of­fice hit, “In­sid­i­ous,” was shot for just $980,000 but grossed $97 mil­lion world­wide. Donna Lan­g­ley, Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures’ chair­man, said Wan “brought a lit­tle dif­fer­ent sauce to the menu.” In a re­cent in­ter­view, Wan spoke about the fran­chise’s di­ver­sity, cop­ing with the death of Paul Walker and fi­nally fin­ish­ing the film.

You have a back­ground in low-bud­get hor­ror movies — how did that help your vi­sion for this film? What were some of the chal­lenges of tak­ing on big-bud­get ac­tion?

I think [my back­ground] has helped with prob­lem solv­ing. At the end of the day ... it doesn’t mat­ter whether the film is big or small, there are al­ways is­sues you have to deal with. It just so hap­pens that on a big­ger film, you’re deal­ing with big­ger prob­lems.

My low-bud­get train­ing has forced me to be cre­ative in terms of find­ing so­lu­tions to deal with is­sues. I tried to ap­ply that men­tal­ity to this film. The crowd for the “Fu­ri­ous 7” de­but at the South By South­west Fes­ti­val was mostly non-fes­ti­val-go­ers who were just su­per fans of the fran­chise. Why has it res­onated with fans for so many years?

I think peo­ple re­ally like the char­ac­ters and the ac­tors play­ing the char­ac­ters. The rea­son that the ac­tion can be so larger than life is be­cause the hu­man char­ac­ters are grounded in who they are.

Hav­ing such a di­verse cast and crew is what makes the “Fast & Fu­ri­ous” films so unique to all the other stu­dio tent­pole films that just have a very sin­gu­lar look to them.

I think peo­ple re­ally ac­knowl­edge that and ap­pre­ci­ate that. Our cul­ture to­day that we live in is get­ting so di­verse, yet in Hol­ly­wood there’s not a lot of di­ver­sity.

It’s not just one el­e­ment that makes a movie or se­ries of movies so beloved. I don’t think ac­tion alone is enough to sus­tain a film fran­chise. There are tons of ac­tion movies out there that come and go and peo­ple don’t care about.

So many el­e­ments make up why peo­ple love this se­ries of films. Ob­vi­ously af­ter Paul Walker’s death, ev­ery­one was emo­tional. As a direc­tor, how did you han­dle that on set while also man­ag­ing the cast and crew?

It was very tough for all of us to begin with. We were all heart­bro­ken by what hap­pened.

The con­cept for me as a direc­tor was to pick up the pieces — wake up and get back on set and try to rally the troops to try and fin­ish the movie.

It was a very daunt­ing con­cept ... but it was one that we re­al­ized we had to do. We had to fin­ish this movie. We wanted to fin­ish this movie for Paul, we wanted to fin­ish a movie that he is proud of that would honor his le­gacy and mem­o­ries. What was it like work­ing with Walker’s broth­ers, Cody and Caleb, on set?

The in­cred­i­ble thing about hav­ing the fam­ily with us to fin­ish the rest of the movie was that it felt like there was clo­sure for the ac­tors. Paul’s broth­ers have man­ner­isms like Paul — they moved like Paul, talked like Paul — in a lot of ways it gave the ac­tors clo­sure. I know it also gave the fam­ily clo­sure as well. It al­lowed Cody and Caleb to do one last thing for their brother. … It was im­por­tant for them as well. I think at the end of the day that it was the right thing to do for all of us. How did you feel now that it’s done?

I feel bit­ter­sweet. It has been the most dif­fi­cult jour­ney of my ca­reer; it’s the hard­est movie I’ve ever had to make. It was such a chal­leng­ing movie be­fore Paul’s pass­ing to begin with and it just got more dif­fi­cult af­ter.

Now, to see peo­ple re­act­ing to it and lov­ing it and en­joy­ing it — it’s a big re­lief for me.

I started out as want­ing to make this the most fun movie I could. My goal be­came mak­ing a movie that Paul would be proud of.

Matt Sayles Invision / As­so­ci­ated Press

“PEO­PLE RE­ALLY like the char­ac­ters and the ac­tors play­ing the char­ac­ters,” direc­tor James Wan says.

Scott Garfield As­so­ci­ated Press

THE CAST and crew had to “pick up the pieces” to fin­ish “Fu­ri­ous 7” af­ter the death of Paul Walker, sec­ond from right, ac­cord­ing to Wan.

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