Stepping in to Finish Directing Fast X Wasn’t Stressful at All, No Sir

Louis Leterrier recalls going pale when asked to take over for Justin Lin, afraid of becoming the “guy who destroyed the Fast and Furious franchise.” Photo: Universal Pictures

In Hollywood-production-run-amok terms, it was the directorial equivalent of Vin Diesel leaping out of a speeding hot rod to snatch Michelle Rodriguez in midair from an endo-flipping tank. In April 2022, just one week after filming on Fast X had begun, its director, Justin Lin, reportedly found himself in a “major disagreement” with Diesel and dramatically quit over “creative differences” (Lin stayed on to produce and is one of its credited writers). With A-list talent already cast, international locations already secured, and production money burning like an out-of-control forest fire, producers on the tenth Fast and Furious installment and the movie’s studio distributor Universal began scrambling for a replacement. Within a matter of days — after discovering that previous F&F moviemakers David Leitch, F. Gary Gray, and James Wan were unavailable — they found their man: Louis Leterrier.

The journeyman French helmer, who got his break in the business as a production assistant on Gallic mogul Luc Besson’s 1999 The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, had parlayed his successful stewardship of the ’00s Transporter film series (starring future F&F stalwart Jason Statham) into a career directing respectably lucrative if not outright blockbuster movies (and later TV). But no title among Leterrier’s greatest hits — 2010’s Clash of the Titans (which grossed $493.2 million worldwide), The Incredible Hulk ($254.7 million), and two installments of the mid-budget magic-crime-thriller Now You See Me (nearly $700 million combined) — necessarily suggested his suitability for the penultimate chapter of the Fast series with a budget that spiraled to $340 million.

With its interlocking plotlines and pile-on of characters old and new — OG crew Diesel, Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, and Sung Kang; a trio of Best Actress Oscar winners, Brie Larson, Charlize Theron, and Helen Mirren; and more recent franchise additions such as John Cena and Rita Moreno as well as a scenery-chewing Jason Momoa as bad-guy mastermind Dante Reyes — the movie hops from country to country (Rome and London, Brazil and Portugal, even Antarctica) before ending on a cliffhanger. That conclusion tees up 2025’s Fast X Part 2, which will also be directed by Leterrier and will either stand as the final film or second-to-last F&F movie, if Vin Diesel’s recent comments are to be believed.

Overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles that would have prevented a lesser franchise from even reaching the starting line, Fast X zoomed to $318.9 million worldwide over its opening weekend to topple Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 as the year’s second-biggest theatrical rollout. But as the congenitally cheery, 49-year-old Leterrier tells Vulture, directing arguably the most massively scaled, narratively complex, and expensive installment in the franchise’s history wasn’t that big a deal. He has nothing but positive things to say about the reputationally disagreeable and occasionally infuriating Diesel. And for all the film’s complexities, Leterrier describes his drop-everything-and-get-over-here participation in its production as something of a joy.

I heard that when Justin left, they called you out of the blue about directing this film, and you stayed up all night reading and rereading the script. And then you said no before you said yes.
Louis Leterrier: Well, no, no. I said yes and then — well, I didn’t say yes. I said maybe. You never say yes. I mean — whatever — it’s an amazing opportunity. And I said, “Maybe, maybe.” Read the script, thought it was amazing, had a couple of meetings with the producer. I think I said all the right things. And then it felt good. Went to sleep exhausted with my head spinning.

Then it dawned on me, what the task was going to be. If I mess up, I’m the guy who destroyed the Fast and Furious franchise. I woke up, and I was like, “Oh, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” And my poor wife was sick that day, and she was in bed, and she opened her eye and said, “Wow. You’re pale as a sheet. What’s going on?” And I was like, “I think they want me to do the next Fast and Furious.” I said, “But I can’t do it.” And then she went, like, full Exorcist. She was like [in a deep, scary voice], “You’re doing it! You’re calling them. You’re doing it!” And I said, “Oh, okay, okay, okay. Yeah.” But, I mean, Chris, you have to understand, it’s just massive. And with no runway, it’s very hard. It was a very difficult decision to make.

A couple of days earlier you had no idea that this was going to be your assignment. And then suddenly you’re thrust right into the heart of one of the biggest-budget movies that Hollywood has to offer. That must have been intense.
Yeah, four days earlier, I’m on the beach walking my dog. And then I’m in London and I’m saying, “And action, Charlize Theron.” I’m like, “Ah! You have to stop thinking about anything else but Fast and Furious!” That’s what happened. I went in full Fast mode. I was living, breathing; I watched no movie but Fast and Furious. I was not allowed to take any break. I thought it would be a high-stress situation. And, sure, the pressure was on. But the energy I received from this crew and, honestly, this cast — the studio first — they were like, “You’re the guy. We believe you. Go. And your vision is going to be the vision of the movies.”

So it was on instinct. I was shooting the movie that I wanted to shoot. No second-guessing myself. No notes from the studio. It’s just on and on with the crew and cast that I was learning to love and respect. My relationship with, first, Vin, who I met as I literally walked out of the plane, took a car, went straight to the set, and had a three-hour conversation that could have lasted 16 hours. I was so interested and loved the man so much. Then Michelle, then Charlize, then everybody was coming, plus new actors who were coming on to the franchise for the first time. I was in the same plane as Brie Larson, and we saw each other across the luggage thing. I was like, “Eh, hi. I’m your director.” There was no time to —

No time to second-guess yourself.
Or let that fear settle in. I just was working, working, working, working, plus figuring out what I wanted to do. We had lost the location for the third act, so I had to rethink what the third act was going to be. Basically, normal director’s work that you do in 30 weeks I did in 30 hours.

How different is your version of Fast X from the version that Justin handed off to you? 
The script was great, and the structure of the script was great. I think what makes me slightly different, or my approach to the franchise a little different, is I like to play with tone. I have no problem going from comedy to thriller to horror to romantic things. I love to juggle ten tones and just switch and go back and forth. The intercutting between all the story lines was really helping me. And I think having done TV shows for the last couple of years has made me a better movie storyteller, because I’m like, “Okay, I worked on this canvas, now I can go back to this canvas.” We can do the same thing you’re doing there but, like, on a two-hour thing.

Did you ever consult with Justin? Did he ever give you advice on how to handle Vin or the complexities of making one of these movies?
No. The bastard never told me anything! No, we’re really good friends. We have a production company together with the Russos, this production company that we all started together. So we’re friendly. But when that happened [Lin abruptly departing as director], I actually didn’t know what had happened, ’cause I was finishing something else. Before I got the job, I texted him, “Hey, so you know, I might be the guy.” And he was like, “There’s no one better than you. I’m so supportive. The crew’s amazing. The cast is amazing. You’re going to have a great time.”

And then I jumped in; I had no time to think about anything other than the essential. I just played with his crew, his friends, the people he’s worked with over 15 years, and we really, really got along. I love him. He’s given me the greatest gift anybody’s ever given me: to be passed the reins of this incredible franchise that — he might have not created it, but he made these movies into a global franchise. The man is a hero. And everybody misses him. There’s always a lot of “What would Justin do?”

Tonally, the movie takes the Fast and Furious governing concept of family and turns it inside out. Alan Ritchson’s new character, Aimes, makes fun of the family. Dante ridicules them, and then family becomes Dom’s biggest liability.
That’s the evolution of Dom Toretto as a character, from a street racer doing what he wants, with a strong moral compass but an even a stronger sense of freedom, to a man with true responsibilities to not only his direct blood family but also the family he created. His family has also become sort of like his Achilles’ heel. That’s where he cannot cover everything. He can outdrive anyone, outfight anyone. But, when you have a 7-year-old kid who goes to school, you’re worried for them. Especially since this man has suffered so much.

The concept was that family is his greatest weakness, and family is also our greatest insult — the way to almost hurt him by teasing him with this. Aimes does that in the beginning, and Dante does it throughout. Dante never had a good family and his family was taken away from him, so he has no respect for the idea. He is going to use Dom’s family as the insult. It’s used as a curse word. It’s used as a weapon.

With this bad-guy character Dante, Jason Momoa looks like he’s having so much fun. He’s sort of messianic, and he’s flamboyant. He’s evil and he’s funny. He’s doing another man’s toenail polish in one scene. “I’m Dante. Enchanté!” I was wondering if Jason was trying to present as a gay person in the film.
It’s funny, we screen-tested the movie, and people were like, “Is he gay? Is he gay?” I’m like, “Who cares?” Frankly, you go, like, “Is he Christian? Is he rich? Is he poor? Does he read? Blah, blah, blah.” Honestly, who cares what they do in the bedroom? I really do not care about labels. Frankly, we’re having fun with it, and Jason was having so much fun with it. There’s no one manlier than Jason. He dresses in pink, and he wears nail polish, and he kisses you, and he is all loving, but who cares? I will cast Black actors in the role of white actors. I don’t care. That’s our modern world. It’s a performance built on more than a sexual orientation. It’s built on so many things.

Photo: Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures

Paul Walker died during the production of Furious 7, which created an enormous amount of turmoil. But I also heard that film’s director James Wan’s health suffered because he was under so much stress from how difficult these movies are to make. Here, you’re directing one with a $340 million budget — the biggest budget in the history of the franchise — it must have been extremely challenging. How did you cope with all the stress?
You know what? I never felt the stress. I’m being super-honest! And people were like, “Really?” I had the greatest time on this one. First of all, I was given this amazing opportunity. Every day was amazing. I mean, sure, there’s some stressful moments. I mean, every day’s a stressful moment. But the little battles that you win every day, the great shot, the amazing scene, and then you get to assemble your movie — it’s a great stress reliever.

At the end of every day, Vin and I met in his trailer. It was nice. It was the summer; we’d sit in the compound outside and have dinner together and talk about the day and about life. So I was not going from the shoot to my hotel and stressing about what we’re going to do. There are some moments of decompression and really human moments, weekends spent together with the cast. What’s stressful for me is when there’s a real separation between work and life. But when you never stop working, and you know that everybody involved in the movie has this level of passion and you spend weekends with your cast and your crew talking about this stuff but also going to see Top Gun and having the greatest time —

You saw Top Gun: Maverick with the cast?
Yeah. And with some of the crew. But you just enjoy your time on set, because it’s life and you get to do it together. I hate when sometimes — rarely, but it sometimes happens to me — where you have to sell your stuff to your actor. You’re like, “I want to do this.” “Why?” “Because there is that.” “Why? What’s my motivation?” This was very different. So there was no “why?” You build it together; that’s really great. But that can only happen if you really know each other.

You are also going to direct Fast X: Part 2. Have you shot any of Part 2 yet?
We have not shot it. We haven’t started Part 2. But obviously there’s some stuff in Part 1 that will be referred to in Part 2, and so we shot scenes in various ways that you’ll be experiencing.

Could you speak about what we can generally expect as a closure to these Fast and Furious films?
When you write a script, you end up rewriting the beginning when you know the ending. So that’s what we did. We went back and planted seeds from lines, props, points of view on pictures. There’s a lot of stuff that we did that is going to become — they’re not Easter eggs, but they’re just good storytelling on a multipart movie that we’re going to pay off. All these moments are going to truly pay off at the end.

Then when you watch not only Fast X movies, but when you watch all the Fast and Furious movies, you’ll be like, “Oh, I recognize this there; I recognize this there.” That is the brilliance of Justin, because Fast 4, 5, 6 worked very well together, but the first three also worked so well. Then moving the architecture and the timeline of all this stuff, that works so well. And that really is how lucky I am, that I’m handed the keys to this amazing kingdom so that I can pay it off. Knowing where we are ending, I was able to go back and then work my way in.

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Stepping in to Direct Fast X Wasn’t Stressful at All, No Sir