This post contains spoilers for Fast 9.
In fulfillment of some sort of gear-head prophecy, the Fast & Furious movie franchise vrooms right past the surly bonds of Earth in F9 and sends two of its characters, Ludacris’s tech whiz Tej and Tyrese Gibson’s wisecracking Roman, into orbit. Improbably, they shoot up into space in an airtight, rocket-fueled Pontiac Fiero (though director Justin Lin insists the science checks out). More believably, Tyrese really wasn’t sure if the jaunt into space was the best idea for the movie. “I had to ask them, were they serious?” he told Vulture over the phone. “Then I asked them again.” Then he proposed that, maybe, instead of Roman, Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey, also a tech whiz, would be a better fit for space travel. But Lin persisted, and so Tyrese put on his “hot-ass yellow suit” and filmed his space scenes in front of a green screen. After seeing the audience reaction at the film’s premiere, he’s glad he did. “My phone is going crazy!” He said. “Not just about us going to outer space, but about what I ended up saying and doing when I went to outer space.” While basking in the glow of the enthusiasm for Roman’s space voyage, Tyrese also talked to Vulture about proudly owning the role of comic relief, Roman’s belief that the Fast family has become immortal, and his memories of shooting his first appearance in the franchise with the late director John Singleton.
People have talked about the Fast movies going to space for a long time, but what was your reaction when you heard you were actually going to do it in this one?
First thing I did was chuckle, and then I chuckled again. Then I had to ask them, were they serious? Then I asked them again. At first it was like, “Come on, guys, it’s gonna be corny as hell.” Then when I got to set and realized how serious they were, I actually started campaigning for Ludacris to go to space with his counterpart Nathalie Emmanuel. Because I thought, these characters are always talking about gadgets and computers and that’s not something I really do. Then they just shut it down, man, and I just ended up letting them do what they do. And now my phone is going crazy, not just about us going to outer space but about what I ended up saying and doing when I went to outer space. So they make the big bucks for a reason, they know more than I do.
Well, I guess even if Roman doesn’t have the tech expertise, sending him and Tej together makes sense because you can add the comic relief, and so much of it depends on you being like, “Holy shit, what’s happening?”
Imma be honest, man, it was a lot to process. Obviously, it’s not that this is anything serious. I’m about to shoot the life story of Teddy Pendergrass, directed by Lee Daniels, so the level of intensity of those types of roles could have you actually losing sleep. Sometimes, you just have to remind yourself to have fun and know that you’re here to entertain people. When I got to the set, I was like, “Man, what the hell is going on? What are we wearing? What’s going on here?” But then you’re just like, man, this is no different than Transformers, you’re just here to entertain people.
What was it like filming it? Was it just sitting in a car surrounded by a green screen? Did they have to suspend you for the zero-G stuff?
It was all of the above. It was putting on that hot-ass yellow suit. We did a lot of stuff outdoors in front of the screens. We did a lot of stuff indoors. Justin Lin always had the vision and he, some way, somehow, talked us into doing it. I’m glad we did, having seen the reaction at the movie premiere. I did a lot of dramatic stuff in this film, which was a choice I made. I was like, every time you put the camera on Roman, why do I gotta crack a joke? But when I saw the movie with an audience, I almost regretted doing anything in the dramatic space, because there’s so many people doing drama. Roman became even more necessary for the humor and the comedy. So I hope for Fast 10 or Fast 11, I turn it all the way back up.
Well, Roman does get a lot of moments of humor in F9 anyway. You have the running bit where he becomes convinced they’re all immortal too, which is a fun way of poking at how big these movies have gotten.
One of the things about Roman, which I’ve already appreciated the opportunity to do, is if you say it about yourself, then you take your power back. Roman has been the voice of reality, so to speak, when things get crazy or unrealistic. Now that we’re into outer space, doing all these over-the-top fully entertaining stunts, film critics be trying to eat us alive. But man, save your film criticisms for those Oscar-worthy movies. We’re just trying to entertain people, man.
I went back and watched 2 Fast 2 Furious, your first movie in this franchise, and it was interesting to think about how Roman has changed over the years. First it was you and Paul facing off, and now Roman’s a part of a whole crew, doing a lot more of the wisecracking. Have you changed your approach to playing him?
It’s nothing really to think or overthink about, man! The torch I carry, proudly, is I want to make sure everybody’s having fun. I graduated back in 1996 and I was literally the class clown. Nobody who grew up with me is surprised about the humor that happens when I’m on-camera. I’m very grateful for Vin Diesel and Justin Lin, and rest in peace, John Singleton. My first movie was Baby Boy, my second was 2 Fast 2 Furious, and he directed both. His idea, literally, was “I’m going to make you funny, because you’re funny as hell and people need to see that.”
Back then, they couldn’t make a deal with Vin Diesel for 2 Fast 2 Furious, or Rob Cohen [who directed the first movie] and I said, shit, I’ll do it for two dollars. I’ll do it for per diem. But if you think about it, Baby Boy had nothing to do with 2 Fast 2 Furious. That was a dark, dramatic film. So when I got the call, I was like, Are you serious? Because normally, you get typecast. For them to be able to see the charm of Roman Pearce when I was introduced to Hollywood as Baby Boy was life-changing for me. I had never seen that kind of money in my life. Me and Paul Walker had the time of our life in Miami partying and clubbing every day.
One aspect of Roman F9 picks up again from 2 Fast is that he’s eating constantly, even on the way to space. In 2 Fast, there’s a poignant line where he says he wants to enjoy food as much as he can before he inevitably goes back to prison. Do you remember how John introduced that part of the character?
To be honest with you, he didn’t really talk about food. I think what he did was, he watched Fast One — which I didn’t watch, and which I still haven’t watched. He knew that I was stepping in to be opposite Paul Walker, because they didn’t or couldn’t make a deal with Vin Diesel. I think he just wanted to make me extremely different than Vin Diesel, and not try and come with the deep voice or the intensity or step into the real estate, as we call it, of Vin Diesel. If I’m cracking jokes, if I’m eating food every other scene, then my character has nothing to do with Vin. So when you put us all back in the same movie for Fast Five, all of the characters were able to coexist. If I had stepped into the seriousness of Vin and tried to walk into that same energy, then it would have been challenging to get us into the same film.